The History of Fathers’ Day

The Dads’ Day...a little journey through history

With Fathers’ Day upon us we thought it would be worth taking a little look at the day so widely celebrated across the world - it happens to be 5th biggest card seller in the UK.

In contrast to Mothers’ Day, which dates back to Greek history, the UK has followed in the USA’s footsteps in this rather recent notion. The first Fathers’ Day on record is believed to be on July 5th 1908 in Fairmont, West Virginia, USA. A church service was organised by Grace Clayton to honour her father and over 360 men, who had lost their lives in a mining accident a year previously. July 5th was chosen as it was Grace’s late-father's birthday and roses were worn by all attending the service. A white rose to commemorate the deceased and a red rose for the living. Unfortunately, it was not publicised outside of the parish and was overshadowed by the celebrations of July 4th, so in this instance it was a one-off.

Two years later in Spokane Washington, a 16 year old Louise Smart Dodd started her own campaign to have Fathers’ Day acknowledged. Her father, a Civil War veteran and widow, had raised Grace and her 5 brothers single-handedly after the death of Grace's mother during childbirth. In 1909, whilst sat in a Mothers’ Day sermon, it struck her that a Fathers’ Day celebration was also needed. She drew up a petition for the first Fathers’ Day to be celebrated on June 5th (her father's birthday). Sadly she received only a few signatures but she managed to convince the local church communities to participate. They agreed on the condition that the date was moved to later in June, so they could allow time to prepare.

Over the next 50 years, Dodd travelled the breadth of the USA in her mission to promote Fathers’ Day. It wasn’t as popular as it’s counterpart and was mocked as being a day for commercial gain. However, US press grabbed the opportunity to use the concept during WWII to honour troops who were out in the field.

Over the years, many US presidents were in support of nationalising Fathers’ Day but it wasn’t recognised as an official national holiday until 1972, when President Nixon proclaimed that the third Sunday in June was “an occasion for renewal of the love and gratitude we bear for our fathers.”

There is also thought to be a possible link to the Pagan calendar as the date in June is close to the celebration of the summer solstice. The sun is seen as the 'father of the universe' and at this time of year the sun is at its strongest, the days are at the longest so the God is at his most powerful. So, Fathers’ Day may date back further than we believe!

Fathers’ Day is now celebrated widely around the world - the US and UK follow their celebrations on the third Sunday in June whilst many other Christian countries have chosen March 19th. This is the date of the feast of Saint Joseph in the Roman Catholic calendar, the adoptive father of Jesus and a day that has historically been used to celebrate fatherhood. “Defender of the Fatherland Day” is on the 23rd February in Russia and was initially used to support people in the armed forces but was made a national holiday in 2002.

Not only have celebrations shifted from a religious focus - we more commonly use the day as a family gathering - the role of the father has evolved too. They are no longer considered the sole breadwinners of the family and have generally become more involved in family life. Fathers’ Day not only provides an occasion for a long awaited family get-together, it also gives us an opportunity to embrace and celebrate this evolving and challenging role.

“The role and image of a dad has changed enormously over the last 10 years, with more and more dads now playing a far more hands on role in family life.  Research by Oxford University, and others, shows the clear benefits of emotionally involved fathers in creating a happy and cohesive family unit that provides greater support and confidence as kids grow and develop. So, this Fathers’ Day, let’s celebrate that changing role as well as all those great dads out there; past, present and future."

Happy Fathers’ Day!