Updated: Oct 22
For the cynic, Father's Day is nothing but another commercial ploy: 'And here we go again! Marketers trying to sell us all sorts of gadgets, from witty mugs (for mugs?) and unfunny T-shirts, to matching ties and socks so silly they are more likely to sleep in a drawer than being worn!'
Are they right?
To a certain extent, yes. I am French, and, guess how Father’s Day came to be popularised in France?... Through Flaminaire, a brand selling lighters! This was in 1949, when taking inspiration from the USA where a Father’s Day was already more or less ‘en vogue’, Flaminaire decided to launch a publicity campaign on the third Sunday of June (yep, exactly like in the USA!) encouraging people to buy lighters for their smokers of a daddy. This was not only a brilliant marketing idea. In France, it also caught on so well that by 1952 Father’s Day was officially decreed a holiday.
Does it mean, though, that Father’s Day is just another profit-making scheme?
Cynics will even point out to another telling fact: that it was imported from the USA in the first place.
In Europe indeed (at least among certain circles!) the USA suffer at times of a bad image, whereas they are dismissed as being, from Las Vegas to Wall Street, nothing but a soulless and giant casino, the country of triumphing and unbridled capitalism and where $$$ and $$$ (and their friend $$$!) rule like Gods Almighty. If a day can be turned into a capitalistic venture, Americans will have no qualm turning into so and cash in the dollar bills -or so we like to portray them! After all, haven't we, Europeans, seen it recently with the import of Halloween and Black Friday, now part of our calendars? Uncle Sam's consumerism always finds a way to cross the pond. Wasn’t Father’s Day, then, the same type of meaningless mimicking?
Not quite so! Believing this, in fact, would be to seriously overlook why Father’s Day came to be in the first place, and so here we go with a quick but necessary history lesson:
December 6, 1907, Monongah, West Virginia. The explosion of a coal mine caused the death of 361 miners, of which 250 were fathers. This was more than a terrible accident, still considered to this day as being ‘the worst mining disaster in American history’. This was also a massive tragedy leaving as many widows to cope with thousands children deprived of their dads. The incident will create such a shockwave, in fact, that a year later it deeply moved Grace Golden Clayton having her church to organise a day of remembrance, to honour the memories of these husbands and fathers. The day she chose for such a celebration was in July, because her own father’s birthday was in July...
Now, for many reasons, the celebration would not catch up that much. Nevertheless, the seed of an idea was in the air. Coincidentally indeed, in the same year as Grace Golden Clayton was celebrating fathers in West Virginia, another woman, in Spokane, Washington state, would also consider celebrating dads although for different reasons and in different circumstances.
This woman was Sonora Smart Dodd, the daughter of an American Civil War veteran who, as a widower, had raised his six children on his own, including Sonora. When Sonora heard of a Mother’s Day being officially celebrated for the first time, she strongly felt that fathers deserved the same respect and acknowledgement. She would therefore engage her church to celebrate a Father’s Day, which she succeeded to see happening in June 1910. The date was set in June, simply because, as you can guess, her own father’s birthday was in June... Hers was better to pick momentum too.
Father’s Day, then, did not start as a cynical mean to sell lighters. It was a day created by loving women, wife and daughter, first and foremost to remember the importance of husbands and fathers. It was to acknowledge hard working men providing for their loved ones as much as women did, even if in a different way at the time. It was to celebrate how important, nurturing, loving and caring fathers can be to their children, especially in the most tragic and difficult of circumstances, while also being a stark reminder of the devastating impact their absence can have. In our societies plagued by gender divide, the alarming rise of fatherlessness, and where dads are still treated like second class parents (especially in the cases of divorce/ separation), we ought to remember that: men can be loved, and fathers valued as strong and necessary pillars in the upbringing of our children. You might not want to indulge in spending spree*, but, at least, you might want to give such statements a thought...
In the end, Father’s Day, like any other festivities, is whatever you want it to be. You can be negative and see it as nothing but a scheme from the gift industry to make a buck and dismiss it as such. You can also decide to use it as an opportunity to ponder and reflect upon how men can be victims of sexism too, how such sexist prejudices are still harming dads when it comes to parenting (with their children as a collateral damage) and how, as a result, fatherlessness became an issue which ought to concern us all. It's not merely about politics or consumerism -it is also about love and gratitude aware of societal issues.
I, as a Father, surely appreciate Father's Day!
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*: If you want to spend money, though, instead of buying witty mugs, unfunny T-Shirts, or yet another bunch of socks and ties, why don't you buy a poetry book? To Dads -with Love is an anthology available on Amazon, cheap, and in support of Families Need Fathers. Just saying... ;-)