58FortHenryCanada

My father and I at Fort Henry, Canada, 1958

The notion of celebrating Father’s Day in America got a slow start and is a lot newer than most people would surmise. Mother’s Day became an official holiday in 1914 but Father’s Day did not go official until 1972.

It got its initial push on a Sunday morning in May 1909 when Sonora Smart Dodd was sitting in church in Spokane, Washington. The minister was delivering a sermon about the idea of having an official Mother’s Day. But Sonora was thinking about her father who had raised her and her siblings after her mother died in childbirth. It struck her that fathers should get a day too, if mothers were going to get an official day. It started small and locally. She asked the minister if he could also give a sermon honoring fathers on her father’s birthday on June 5th. The minister did but had to bump the sermon to the third Sunday in June.

A bill for a national recognition of the holiday was introduced in Congress in 1913 and in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane to speak in a Father’s Day celebration. Congress resisted two attempts to make the day official, fearing that it would become commercialized.

In 1957, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith accused Congress of ignoring fathers for 40 years while honoring mothers. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day but it didn’t become law until President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.

Mother’s Day still gets the most commerce and is the busiest day of the year for florists, restaurants, and long-distance calls. I’m not sure if it is still true in this age of smartphones, but at one time Father’s Day was the day on which the most collect phone calls were made. That is wide open to interpretation.

Father’s Day is an international holiday with different dates and ways of marking the day varying by country.

For example, in Germany, Father’s Day (Vatertag) is celebrated on Ascension Day (the Thursday forty days after Easter), which is a federal holiday. Regionally, it is also called Men’s Day, Männertag, or Gentlemen’s Day, Herrentag. It is tradition for groups of males from the teen years on to do a hiking tour with small wagons, Bollerwagen, pulled by manpower. Depending on the region, the wagons carry wine or beer and traditional regional food, Hausmannskost. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, alcohol-related traffic accidents multiply by three on this day.

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