Sunday is Father’s Day, and this year marks a century since Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, came up with the idea of making it a permanent holiday. There had been a commemoration of American fatherhood on July 5, 1908, at a church in Fairmont, West Virginia, but this was apparently not undertaken with the idea of making it an annual occurence. It was left to Mrs. Dodd to decide, during a ceremony marking the recently popularized Mother’s Day holiday in 1909, that fathers should be celebrated in the same way. She approached a group of ministers in Spokane and suggested that Father’s Day be held on the birthday of her own father, a Civil War veteran. The ministers decided to make it the third Sunday in June instead. The first celebration of the day was held in 1910, and from Spokane, the idea gradually spread across the nation.
Presidents became involved with Father’s Day at an early stage. In 1916, Woodrow Wilson, during a visit to Spokane, took part in Father’s Day celebrations. In 1924, Calvin Coolidge recommended making it a national holiday. In 1966, Lyndon Johnson signed a proclamation designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day, and in 1972 Richard Nixon signed the law making it a permanent national holiday (as I recounted in a TNN post last year).
Father’s Day is sometimes taken for granted. This is not the case at the White House, especially where the current occupant is concerned. As he told millions of readers in his book Dreams Of My Father, President Obama grew up without a father, for all practical purposes; Barack Sr. left Hawaii for Harvard, and then Kenya, when his son was hardly a toddler, and except for a Christmastime visit when the future President was ten, never saw his son again.
This year the President, in a magazine article and in interviews, has repeatedly emphasized the importance of fathers being involved in the lives of his children. To demonstrate that point, today he took his daughters across the Potomac to Alexandria to buy ice cream. It may seem like an ordinary kind of treat, but where parenting is concerned, those are sometimes among the most cherished memories when a child grows up. And undoubtedly, the President is grateful to get the chance to spend the kind of time with his daughters that his father never spent with him.