West Virginia can take pride in establishing Mother’s and Father’s Days. Due to the urging of Anna Jarvis from Grafton, West Virginia, Mother’s Day was initially recognized in 1908. The first reference to celebrating a day to honor fathers was proposed at the Methodist Church in Fairmont on July 5, 1908, following the Monongah Mining Disaster in December 1907 when 361 men died and about 1,000 children were left fatherless.
Looking at the path to creating a national holiday honoring fathers reminds me how fathers’ roles have changed and continue to do so in our country.
1908 was a difficult year for Fairmont, so their idea of a national holiday for fathers didn’t receive much publicity. Yet, at the same time, people in various areas sought a special day for the same purpose. In 1910, Sonora Dodd, from Washington state, wanted a holiday to recognize her father’s efforts in raising the six children in her family after her mother died in childbirth.
Jane Adams, a Chicago social worker, Harry Meek, a Lions Club International leader, and others over the years pushed for a day to recognize fathers. In 1966, President Johnson issued the first Father’s Day proclamation, and in 1972, President Nixon signed this holiday into law. Interestingly, since the Middle Ages, recognition of the importance of fathers was celebrated in Catholic Europe as St. Joseph’s Day on March 19th.
During the time this American holiday was proposed, fathers’ roles were clear and traditional. Dad was to provide for and control his family’s finances, be the boss and have social freedom. His spouse was in charge of domesticity and children. One problem with this model was that, contrary to public opinion and TV shows, father did not always know best.
According to the Pew Research Center, today, Dad is the sole breadwinner in a minority of American families. About two-thirds of families now need both parents to work to meet all their expenses. Dad’s and Mom’s roles are now often intertwined in childcare and economics. Int he 1960s, I fondly recall the shock displayed by some of our acquaintances when they learned that Maury was giving our new baby boy the midnight bottle and changing diapers. Men just didn’t do those things at that time.
The “Just wait till your father gets home” statement is a rarity today. Most mothers feel quite competent to discipline their children and the fact is that fewer than half of all American families have the old traditional family pattern. Single parent families are now frequent, often leading to economic problems and an exhausted parent. The stay-at-home dad is becoming increasingly common. About two million fathers are providing primary child care services for their kids.
With the legalization of same-sex marriages, there are now thousands of children being raised in families where there are either no dads or two dads. Additionally, millions of children have stepparents and multiple father figures.
Whether or not one likes the direction that American families have taken in the past few decades, the reality is that children benefit from having really good and caring parents of either sex who truly care for and protect them. As we grow older and become parents ourselves, we recognize that parenting is a tough game and we appreciate and understand our parents even more.
So in honor of Father’s Day, here’s wishing fathers everywhere a great day and the recognition that while this role has definitely evolved in our ever-changing society, it remains vitally important.
[Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. She lives with her husband Maury in Huntington, West Virginia. This article first appeared in the Huntington, WV Herald-Dispatch on Thursday, June 15, 2017.]