Father's Day by Stephanie Phillips

Yesterday when I was in the middle of organising a newsletter for World Childless Week it suddenly clicked that it was Father’s Day for many countries this coming weekend. I realised the importance of acknowledging this day and the range of emotions it can raise for any man who is childless not by choice. Having focused on the history of Mother’s Day earlier this year I decided to follow the same pattern and look into the history of Father’s Day.

There are some references that the idea of Father’s Day may have originated from paganism. Some see the Sun as the father of the universe and as the summer solstice occurs around the same time the two have been linked.

Across Europe many Catholic countries have celebrated Father’s Day on March 19 (Saint Joseph’s Day) since the Middle Ages. Saint Joseph is the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and legal father of Jesus Christ.

In 1908 Fairmont, West Virginia the first Father’s Day service took place. Grace Golden Clayton initiated the service to honour the life of 361 men who died in a mining disaster, many who were fathers. The event was forgotten when other incidents took place and overshadowed the service; Independence Day and the death of a local girl.     

In 1910 Sonora Smart Dodd (of Spokane, Washington) thought of the idea of Father's Day after listening to a sermon on Mother’s Day. She wanted her Father to be acknowledged as he had raised six children single handedly since her mother had passed away.

In 1913 Congress were issued with a bill to recognize the day but resisted due to the commercial implications.

With little initial success and Dodd’s time being taken up studying art she did not push it again until the 1930’s. At this time she approached trade groups that would most benefit from Father’s Day. In 1938 she was helped by the Father’s Day Council, founded by the New York Associated Men's Wear Retailers to

“consolidate and systematize the commercial promotion”.

In 1957 Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith wrote a proposal accusing Congress of ignoring fathers for 40 years while honoring mothers. Despite the opposition the day was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.

Despite the public resisting the day as a commercial enterprise trying to replicate Mother’s Day the trade groups persisted and by the mid 1980’s the Father’s Council wrote…

“... Father's Day has become a Second Christmas for all the men's gift-oriented industries."

So there we have it.

Father’s Day only came about because Dodd realised that by encouraging the trade groups to visualise their potential profits she could sit back and let them promote the day. Trade groups were already lining their pockets with the success of Mother’s Day and now they had an opportunity to duplicate the day and increase their takings. Their aim was (and still is) to hear their tills ring and has nothing to do with celebration or honour.

Money is said to be the root of all evil but it is also the way to gain visibility. Money is the core reason for childlessness being a quiet subject that doesn’t exist in the eyes of so many. Fertility is a great one for business but who wants to support the childless? Our pain is real and we need to be seen but there is no profit to be made by a card that reads “sorry you can’t have children” or “congratulations of your ten year anniversary of being childless.”

In simple terms these “hallmark days” are just hyped up days of commercialism. They have not been created to exclude anyone but to capture the biggest money market possible.

This Father’s Day is a day to do what makes you feel comfortable and what calms your heart. Create your own celebration for who you are and what you do to help the world and those around you. If you can find something that makes you smile then hold on to that thought or action. We cannot predict a time when our pain will lessen or our hearts heal but we will at some point reflect and realise we have changed. Our thought patterns will alter and we will find happiness again.

There is always a positive within the negatives and even if you don’t see it this year I hope that going forward something will spark your happiness. I certainly didn’t expect to find a positive whilst doing this research, but I have. I have been enlightened to a tradition that I am happy to fall in line with on St. Joseph’s Day…

“It is also customary for people to wear red on this day and to indulge themselves with doughnuts and crème puffs”.

Stephanie Phillips

Founder, World Childless Week