Father’s Day is the one on which to remember and reflect on our dads and what they mean to us.
The Italian writer Umberto Eco neatly summed up today’s importance with the words, “I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
Today’s recognition of fathers is based on a great deal of incidental insights as well.
Discovered in the 4,000 year old ruins of Babylon, some scholars suggest that Father’s Day originated when a boy named Elmesu printed a message wishing his father good health and a long life on a clay tablet.
One archeological finding does not make a day, but the idea for one may have started then. With regard to American history, Father’s Day originates from several incidental but distinct sources.
The Monongah Coal Mine Disaster
At 10:27 on the morning of December 6, 1907, Monongah, West Virginia was quiet. A minute later, everything in that small coal town changed.
Two massive explosions ripped through the Fairmont Coal Company’s number 6 and number 8 mine shafts, causing the earth in and around the community to shake as far as eight miles away.
Of the 367 miners, only five emerged alive.
The worst mine disaster in American history, it widowed over 250 women and left over 1,000 children without fathers or orphaned altogether.
In mid-summer of 1908, Grace Golden Clayton (whose father died in the explosion) suggested to her pastor at the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church that a special service be held to honor and pay tribute to the hundreds of fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, grandfathers, uncles, cousins and friends who had lost their lives.
On Sunday, July 5, 1908 (just a few months after the first observance of Mother’s Day in Grafton, West Virginia) the first Father’s Day celebration was observed in Fairmont, West Virginia.
This first-time event did not become widely recognized as the first Father’s Day, largely because it was overshadowed by Fourth of July celebrations.
A Church Service in Spokane, Washington
Listening to a sermon about Mother’s Day on Mother’s Day in 1909, Sonora Smart Dodd decided to create a Father’s Day.
Dodd and her five younger brothers had been raised by their father after their mother’s passing, and she believed that he should be remembered.
Inspired by Anna Jarvis’ efforts in creating Mother’s Day, Dodd convinced the Spokane Ministerial Association and the local Young Men’s Christian Association to support a Father’s Day. She succeeded, and on Sunday, June 19,1910 Father’s Day was first celebrated.
Growing Support for Father’s Day
Four years later in Washington DC, President Woodrow Wilson used telegraph signals to unfurl a flag in Spokane to honor Father’s Day. He wanted to make the day a national – not a federal – observance; however, Congress did not agree.
In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge recommended that the day be observed, but he did not issue a national proclamation. Again, Congress did nothing.
Maine Senator Margret Chase Smith had had enough of this failure to act, and in 1957 she had some hard words for her colleagues when she said, “Congress has been guilty now for 40 years of the worst possible oversight … perpetrated against the gallant fathers of our land. Either we honor both our parents, mother and father, or let us desist from honoring either one.”
Almost a decade later in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers by designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day.
The day finally gained its present national observance on April 24, 1972 when President Richard Nixon signed Public Law 92-278 urging the American people “to offer public and private expressions of such day to the abiding love and gratitude which they bear for their fathers.”
Those are the words of wisdom.