Fathers Day – The Real Story

I have recently been involved in a research program by Laura King who tweets @fathersatbirth , the program has been called “from hiding in the pub to cutting the chord” looking at fathers and their roles, this culminated for me in a performance at Warwick Arts Centre and being a member of the discussion panel after.

This led me to reconsider some of what I believed to be the changing roles in fathers over the ages.  I think for me the conclusion I have come to, is fathers have always been quite involved in their childrens upbringing, maybe the way they have done this has changed, but their basic desire has always been that of a father.

What has changed, is society’s expectations have changed. Society still reinforces stereotypes around disinterested fathers, useless fathers etc but seems to suggest we should be made to be more involved. We don’t need to be made, we want to do it, we just need some support.

So when and how did fathers day come about?

There are a number of different versions relating to the origin of Father’s Day, but the most widely held version is this:

It originated in America through a young girl named Sonora Louise Smart, who lived in Spokane, Washington. Apparently, after listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in 1909, she wondered why fathers weren’t celebrated as well. At 16, Sonora lost her mother in childbirth and her dad, a civil war veteran, raised Sonora and her five siblings. Determined to have Father’s Day recognized as a special day, Sonora finally witnessed the first Father’s Day celebration on June 19, 1910. Subsequently, the idea gained popularity all over the US and thus Father’s Day became a national day of celebration.

In fact, President Woodrow Wilson, noticing how popular it had become, officially approved the idea in 1916. Next,President Coolidge, who loved this idea, proclaimed Father’s Day as a national celebration in 1924. This proclamation though did not make it an official celebration, this is because Coolidge met a lot of resistance, hence the reason for his Presidential proclamation which was strongest support he could achieve at the time.

BUT,  one very interesting occurance around fathers day in America, was when Margaret Chase Smith, a Senator from Maine,  pointed out in the year 1957 that by ignoring the celebration of Father’s Day, the nation was actually ignoring the contributions made by a father in a family. So many were pushing for its official recognition they were still meeting so much resistance they were unable to make it happen.

It wasn’t until 1966 that President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation stating the third Sunday in June would be officially declared Father’s Day. President Richard Nixon eventually established the observance of Father’s Day in 1972 as a permanent fixture in the calender. (although after 62 years think that was a given!!)

Today, Father’s Day is celebrated around the world; however, not all countries celebrate it on the same day. In fact, in Australia and New Zealand, for example, it is celebrated on the first Sunday of September.

It’s amazing what one person can do, isn’t it? Sonora Smart was a girl who felt her father deserved to be recognized, because of her passion and belief she  started a celebration that is shared around the world.

I wonder how she would feel today if she could see what had become of her vision? Do you think she would be happy with what had become of it?

Is father’s day really celebrated by recognizing dads contribution to the family, or is it just a vehicle for cynical companies to try and boost sales?

Isn’t it time we stopped the stereotyping of Dads such as those portrayed in the Huggies advert which was quickly withdrawn after huge complaints? Shouldn’t Proctor and Gamble have thought harder about their Olympic campaign and made it about both parents?

Some companies like our supporters BabyBjorn and The Gro Company recognise importance of dads all year round, should more do the same?

No I am not saying we should always celebrate both parents together, Mother’s Day should be just that, a celebration of Mothers around the world, but I do think more recognition needs to be now made of the fact that the majority of Dads want to be more involved and we should celebrate that and SUPPORT it.

When we normalize something we remove the fear and make it easier to do, this is why we need to normalize and support the role, the majority of dads want to play in the birth and parenting of their child.

We need to understand male psyche, as man if we are unconfident, nervous or feel criticised, we tend to withdraw! So the next time you hear someone or find yourself judging a dad who you think isn’t making the effort, ask yourself, has anyone supported him to be a father? Has anyone shown him what to do? I would bet that most dads you judge that way want to be involved, they just are not sure how!

So come on let’s celebrate the changes and make it normal for dads to want to support their partner through birth and be involved in the parenting of their child.


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