A day for fathers

Jun. 14, 2014 @ 04:53 PM

Western society having been generally patriarchal throughout history, one may wonder why we need to go out of our way to honor fathers with a special day.

And, indeed, for decades after we began observing an official Mother’s Day, we didn’t.

Perhaps that was because for generations men sort of saw every day as their day of ascendance. Perhaps it was because until the advent of snow-blowers, barbecue grills and electronic gadgets, a holiday for fathers didn’t have the same prospect for boosting sales as one for mothers. (Although the woman who essentially founded Mother’s Day became horrified at the commercial trappings that soon engulfed it.)

Most likely it was because, as the history.com website quotes an unnamed florist, ““fathers haven’t the same sentimental appeal that mothers have.”

The first event to specifically honor fathers, in West Virginia in 1908, mourned the deaths of more than 100 men in a coal mine disaster.  Several states took up the observance of a father’s day in the ensuing years, and during World War II the idea of honoring fathers – millions of whom were away at war – took greater hold.

The government didn’t officially recognize the holiday until 1972, when then-President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation that designated “one special Sunday” each year as “occasion for renewal of the love and gratitude we bear to our fathers, increasing and enduring through all the years.”

That proclamation came as the role of fathers was shifting -- the women’s movement was striving for greater balance between the genders and women were entering the workforce in greater numbers.

Within a couple of generations, fathers who once expected to be aloof and distant from their children were encouraged to be more emotionally engaged and to be more active parents. The concept of the stay-at-home dad has become quite natural, if still a far less common than that of the stay-at-home mom.

The change is reflected in numbers. “Dads are doing more housework and child care; moms more paid work outside the home,” the Pew Research Center said in a report last year. “Neither has overtaken the other in their “traditional” realms, but their roles are converging.”

In 1965, the study noted, men spend on average 2.5 hours a week engaged in child care – one fourth the average for women. By 2011, those numbers were seven hours for men – up substantially, but still only one-half of those for women.

For all the positive changes, we still struggle as a society with too many fathers who neglect or abandon their children. Some of those may have the best of intentions but may be sidetracked by poverty or incarceration.

We’re a nation these days of broadly diverse household arrangements, and children grow and prosper in far more contexts than the classic “Leave it to Beaver” family.

Nixon’s proclamation noted that a father’s role was “one for which adequate thanks can hardly be offered in a lifetime, let alone a single day.” But we join in honoring that role today.