Father’s Day and the Christian connection

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The year their only son was born saw John and Sonora Dodd attending the Mother’s Day service at their church in Spokane, Washington, USA. As we mentioned in a previous article on the Christian connection to Mother’s Day, this was a celebration that was only just coming into vogue, due to the efforts of Anna Jarvis.

As Sonora listened to the sermon in 1909, and heard from the Scriptures the virtues of mothers and motherhood, her mind went back over her childhood. And she pondered about the notion of there being a Father’s Day, too.

She remembered how her father William, a Civil War veteran, lost his wife as she gave birth to a sixth child. Sonora was only 16 at the time, the eldest and the only girl, and much of the role of raising her five brothers fell on her shoulders.

Through those difficult years she remembered her father “as a very strict man” but also “a kind and loving parent who kept them together and happy.”

After the church service she felt inspired to propose that fathers receive equal recognition. Her pastor was very encouraging and supported her as she approached the local Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and the Ministerial Alliance. Both these organisations endorsed Sonora’s Father’s Day idea.

There had been other attempts by a number of Christian folk and a Lions Club International member to instigate a Father’s Day celebration. However Sonora Dodd’s protracted efforts appear to have gained the most traction.

Her Father’s Day concept was further advanced by a front page item of the Spokane Chronicle, June 6, 1910. Part of the article sets out the aims and goals of such a celebration:

“A Fathers’ Day would call attention to such constructive teachings from the pulpit as would naturally point out;

  • The father’s place in the home.
  • The training of children.
  • The safeguarding of the marriage tie.
  • The protection of womanhood and childhood.
  • The meaning of this, whether in the light of religion or of patriotism, is so apparent as to need no argument in behalf of such a day.”

    Sonora was advocating for the first Sunday in June, which was close to her father’s birthday (as he was still alive). However, most pastors went for the third Sunday in June. Many of the churches in the Spokane area chose to give roses to the men as they celebrated their first Father’s Day, just as carnations were for Mother’s Day.

    The popularity of the Father’s Day celebration was very slow compared to the growth of the Mother’s Day celebration, which had become a nationally accepted celebration within two to three years of its inception in 1908.

    It took about 15 years for Father’s Day to have some sort of national representation. And it was not until 1966 that Lyndon Johnson, the then President of the United States, proclaimed the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. The US Congress passed it as a public holiday in 1970 and President Nixon signed it into law in 1972.

    Local businesses that had already profited from the Mother’s Day celebration started taking out newspaper advertisements with a Father’s Day theme. Many trade groups that would benefit most, for example manufacturers of ties, belts and braces, helped Sonora to receive national coverage for Father’s Day. The powerful New York Associated Menswear Retailers founded the Father’s Day Council to help Sonora. By the mid-80s the Father’s Council wrote that “….Father’s Day has become the Second Christmas for all the men’s gift-orientated industries.”

    Nations celebrate Father’s Day at different times and dates. Several do so on June 14, regardless of the day of the week on which it falls. Some 72 countries celebrate it on the third Sunday in June, and this includes the USA, the United Kingdom, South Africa, China and India and many more.

    Australia, New Zealand and some of the Pacific Islands, by contrast, mark it on the first Sunday in September, whereas the Scandinavian countries as well as Finland have it on the second Sunday in November.

    Sonora Dodd’s efforts to celebrate and promote Father’s Day were a practical expression of what the Lord had ordained in the Fifth of the Ten Commandments: “Honour your Father and your Mother.”

    May this biblical and divine instruction be an ever-present reality in our lives.

    Published: 15 June 2014

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