Father’s Day is a holiday for girls.
Men didn’t think of it. We didn’t popularize it. We don’t perpetuate it. We don’t sentimentalize it. According to at least one historical account I’ve dug up (brownielocks.com. Don’t ask.), the first non-political group of men who even cared about Father’s Day were guys hoping to sell gifts — the Associated Men’s Wear Retailers of New York City, which set up the National Council for the Promotion of Father’s Day in 1938.
Men came up with Flag Day, Arbor Day, Christmas and Easter. But the ones behind Father’s Day have been women.
Initially, it was even inspired by another female invention, Mother’s Day. In 1909, one year after President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother’s Day as an official holiday, a woman in Spokane, Wash., Sonora Smart Dodd, heard a Mother’s Day sermon and decided her father deserved a similar honor. William Jackson Smart raised Dodd and her five siblings by himself after her mother died during childbirth. Dodd started a letter-writing campaign until President Wilson proposed that Father’s Day be proclaimed as a national day of observance. Later President Calvin Coolidge endorsed the idea as well. In the 1950s, Congress recognized it in a joint resolution. In the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation setting it on the third Sunday of June. Finally, in 1972, President Richard Nixon fully established it as a permanent national day of observance.
Thus, after a mere 63 years, Father’s Day was dragged sleepily into existence — mainly for the sake of symmetry. And it was a woman who thought of it, at least according to the most popular version of the holiday’s history. According to the second most popular version, it was also a woman. But a different one.
What are the traditions for Father’s Day? Well, some people who wrote in to parentcenter.com said their traditions included decorating T-shirts with handprints and footprints, picking strawberries, taking videos of the kids and having a family reunion. But wait, that sounds a lot like what other people wrote to the site about their Mother’s Day traditions — which included decorating a tablecloth with their children’s handprints, picking strawberries, taking pictures of the kids and having a big family bash.
Why do the two sets of suggestions sound so similar? Because they all come from women!
What do men say they want? When you finally pry an answer out of them, what their ideas really amount to is that they want one day to go by — one stinkin’ day — without any major screw-ups.
“What would be great?” said Mount Laurel resident Tom O’Brien, after considerable coaxing. “A nap. I haven’t had one of those since ’93.”
In fact, when first asked what he wanted to do on Father’s Day, the immediate reaction from this father of three boys (ages 10, 8 and 5) was “I’m not the one to ask.” Mark that: He’s not the one to ask what he — himself — wants. “I’m always the one who says I don’t want anything. I don’t make it easy for my wife.”
His answer turns out to be pretty typical, when you finally find that corner of parentcenter.com where men give their ideas for celebrating the day. While a few ambitious ones talk about going to a ball game or Disney World, most guys from all over the country sound like Josh Secunda of Boston — “Taking a family walk in the woods, with no imminent pressures to get anywhere (work, daycare, etc.). Then I want a cigar.” — or Peter Armour of San Francisco — “Having the kids pick up their rooms and make their beds — seriously!”
It’s not that men don’t like what their wives and kids end up doing for them. It’s just that, left to themselves, they would never have thought of the holiday or had any idea what to do with it. Whatever the little woman wants is fine.
Father’s Day is a great, big, pink, girly holiday.