This Side Up

A gimmick that fathers enjoy


I can still hear my father when I asked him about Father’s Day. “What do you think of Father’s Day?” I inquired.

His answer was instantaneous.

“It’s gimmick to make money,” he said with disdain.

I didn’t need to ask for an explanation. He had it.

“It’s a way to get people to buy stuff for Father’s Day gifts,” he said.

From his tone it was obvious that Father’s Day was not up there with Christmas or his birthday. And as I realized in the years to follow, there was no need for me to go out of my way to recognize the occasion. That was a relief, as finding a suitable gift for my father was never easy. And if you got him a card it would provoke a laugh and the admonition that I had fallen for the scheme promoted by chambers of commerce. Even wishing him a happy Father’s Day provoked a grumble.

He’s partially right according to what I could find on the Internet.

Mother’s Day preceded Father’s Day. It has its origins in the post-Civil War era, becoming a commercial holiday in 1908 although it wasn’t until 1914 when President Wilson approved a resolution making the second Sunday in May a holiday in honor of “that tender, gentle army, the mothers of America.”

Father’s Day wasn’t as easy a sell.

According to what I found, Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, one of six children raised by a widower, went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers and government officials to drum up support for a day to honor fathers. Her efforts paid off and Washington State celebrated the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day on June 19, 1910. The idea spread but it wasn’t until 1972 in the middle of a hard-fought presidential re-election campaign that Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday. According to the web, economists estimate that Americans spend more than $1 billion every year on Father’s Day gifts, so my father was right.

His disdain for the commercialism of the day rubbed off on me and I never thought much of the day although it was nice for the kids to wish me a happy Father’s Day. Gifts were never part of it.

Yet I had a great Father’s Day.

Much of it was spent on the road driving back from upstate New York. The best part about the trip was the occasion to spend time with my sons Ted and Jack. Ted was at the wheel. Jack joined us by phone from half way around the world for almost a half hour. We caught up on the news and talked about family until Jack reminded us it was close to midnight in Hong Kong and he needed to turn in. Of course, we all wished each other happy Father’s Day, recalling my father’s cynicism and suggesting how he would react if only he was still alive.

At home I found a card from my daughter and later she called. The wishes were complete.

I have Sonora Smart Dodd to thank.

It took a woman to initiate Father’s Day and a hard fought election – surprised that politics had a role? – for a president to make it official. If it had been left up to the guys, the economy wouldn’t get a boost and for me, anyway, I wouldn’t have such fond recollections of my dad.


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