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Reflections on a day for fathers
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Forsyth County News
A day honoring mothers has been part of human history. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all had celebrations in one form or another.
But until much more recently, fathers have been given short shrift — probably for a number of good reasons.

There has never been any question about the indispensable role mothers play in everyone’s life, from giving birth to raising the child. An incredibly strong intimacy forms between mother and child.

The father, on the other hand, is a different story, even to the extent that many societies function on the principle that at least the identity of the mother is almost always unquestionable. A maternal instinct seems to be operable from the moment of birth (or before), whereas many fathers feel awkward and uncomfortable until the child is old enough to toss a ball around.

What do you do with an infant? Moms know these things. Dads have to learn, and many of us are slow and reluctant learners.

From a biological point of view, a mother’s role starts at conception, and builds as the months go by. A father’s biological role, after initiating the process, ends abruptly. And even though there may be a great deal of interest in what has been created, the continuing role for the next nine months probably most manifests itself in helping to care for mom.

It’s hard to imagine any bond as strong as that between mother and child, and even though the father works as a provider, perhaps with the exception of the day on which the child is presented with a new car, it’s just not the same.

The first identifiable celebration of Father’s Day in this country was in 1908 at the William Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South in Fairmont, W.Va. Grace Clayton suggested the idea specifically to honor 361 men who were killed in a nearby mine explosion. The following year, in Spokane, Wash., Senora Dodd suggested a celebration to honor all fathers. Dodd and her siblings had been raised by a single father. After listening to a Mother’s Day sermon, she felt that something honoring fathers was equally appropriate. June was selected because that was the month of her father’s birthday.

The idea grew slowly and with difficulty. Many saw it as an attempt just to create another commercial holiday. The local Spokane newspaper made fun of the idea. Given the times, most of the negativism came from men — fathers — perhaps recognizing the enormous differential between their roles and that of mothers.

In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge recommended the establishment of the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. In 1926, a National Father’s Day Committee was formed in New York City and a national committee, founded by The Associated Men’s Wear Retailers, subsequently joined by a number of trade organizations, was organized in the 1930s to further the idea.  Their intent clearly was to commercialize the holiday and promote “gift-giving to Dad.”

Father’s Day was recognized by a Joint Resolution of Congress in 1956, but it wasn’t until 1966 that President Lyndon B. Johnson designated Father’s Day as a federal holiday. Not until 1972 did President Nixon establish it as a permanent national observance.

Today many nations have some type of celebration honoring the role of fathers. Unlike Mother’s Day, which tends to be a solemn, reflective and sentimental day, it tends to be one more focused on activities — a barbeque, movie or sporting event. It’s interesting, however, that at the time of its genesis, at least in this country, sentimentality was a major element. For example, the rose was designated as the official flower, with a red rose to be worn for a living father and a white rose for one deceased. Somehow, in today’s cell phone, iPod, Twitter, fast-moving environment, it seems difficult to connect roses with the holiday.

Times have changed, and so have the roles of mothers and fathers. The History Channel reported that in 2006 there were an estimated 159,000 stay-at-home dads.

“These married fathers with children younger than 15 have remained out of the labor force for more than one year primarily so they can care for the family while their wives work outside the home. These fathers cared for 283,000 children.”

They are my true Father’s Day heroes.

Also in 2006 there were “26.5 million ... fathers who are part of married-couple families with children younger than 18 ... [and] ... 2.5 million single fathers, up from 400,000 in 1970.”

The History Channel estimated that at that time 19 percent of single parents living with their children were men.

There are many millions of fathers, like me, who don’t give much thought to Father’s Day until the telephone rings on that day. It’s nice to get the children’s greetings, but even more wonderful are the small voices that accompany them, those of the grandchildren. Children often call out of a sense of obligation. But with the grandchildren, it feels more like a sense of joy.

For me, the most amazing thing about Father’s Day is three-fold. First, my children and I both managed to get through to this point in our lives. They turned out pretty well, despite everything that was done to them or not done for them. So I guess Father’s Day is somewhat an observance of mutual survival.

Second, it is a special occasion when we all, parent and child, stop to talk and recognize the value of our relationships and loving ties. For those more fortunate to have their children close by, it also provides a reason for family gatherings, an important occasion in a time where getting together has diminished in importance and frequency over time.

But perhaps most significantly for me, it is time when I realize the enormous debt we all owe to mothers. Without them, most fathers wouldn’t have reached the point where they deserve the respect and admiration of their children.

So to me, Father’s Day is also a wonderful day for family but, in particular, a wonderful day to recognize the supporting role we have played to the principle star of the family ... Mom.

Dr. Melvyn Copen lives in both Georgia and Arizona. He is an educator and businessman who has worked and lived in many foreign countries and provides consulting services throughout the world. His column appears every other Wednesday. Please share your comments with him via e-mail at melcopen@hotmail.com.