Editorial: Father's Day is more than an afterthought

AP file photo.

Sometimes, Father’s Day can feel like an afterthought - a belated companion to Mother’s Day, which was founded (unofficially) more than 30 years earlier.

And historically, that’s not far wrong. But Father’s Day is more than that - and as an ever-increasing body of research shows, fatherhood plays a crucial role in the success and happiness of our children.

As for the afterthought, it was had by a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, as she listened to a Mother’s Day sermon at the Central Methodist Episcopal Church in Spokane, Washington, in 1909. Why not set aside a similar day for fathers? Her own father, William Smart, had raised six children by himself after the death of his wife.

Ms. Dodd organized a Father’s Day observance on June 19 of that year. She didn’t get much support; even her hometown newspaper mocked the notion of a made-up holiday.

It didn’t help that she soon allied herself with the Associated Men’s Wear Retailers, a trade group - hence the inevitable ties, the bane of many a modern dad on this day.

But by 1913, Congress was listening. The New York Times records that a bill commemorating fathers was introduced by “Representative J. Hampton Moore, who has eight children.” Perhaps with that many children, he stood more to gain.

But even Moore’s resolution couldn’t work up much originality; it called for “an expression of sentiment corresponding to that of Mother’s Day.”

It still wasn’t taken all that seriously; it wasn’t recognized as a federal holiday until President Lyndon Johnson issued a proclamation in 1966.

Former President Barack Obama is in a unique position to add his thoughts on fatherhood; he grew up without one.

In a speech he made on Father’s Day in 2008 (while still a candidate), Obama said “too many fathers are missing - missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”

The importance of fathers is now undeniable. And currently, 24 million American children - 34 percent - don’t live with their biological father. That’s not to say stepfathers and grandfathers and uncles don’t step in and do it well; but there’s a unique role a father plays in a child’s life.

“We know the statistics,” Obama said. “Children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of school and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves.”

He spoke of his own absent father, who left when Obama was 2.

“So I resolved many years ago that it was my obligation to break the cycle - that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father to my girls,” Obama said.

Fathers are no afterthought. As for Father’s Day, it’s an appropriate time to celebrate both the role and the man.

The tie is not obligatory.

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