From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, if you're called dad, pop, padre, daddy or father in almost any language, your day will be celebrated on the third Sunday in June. Over 70 million fathers in the United States alone will be receiving cards, ties, tools and gift certificates.
Fathers should really thank mothers for this bounty. If it weren't for Mother's Day, there probably wouldn't be a Father's Day. Mother's Day was promoted by the John Wanamaker department store in Philadelphia in 1908 and caught on right away. Thanks to a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, Washington state celebrated the first statewide Father's Day in 1910. But many men scoffed at the sentimental holiday, associating it with unmanly flowers and gifts. And they realized the gifts would probably be paid for by the fathers themselves!
During the flapper era there was a proposal to scrap both Mother's Day and Father's Day and celebrate Parents' Day. But as the Depression spread in the 1930s, retailers recognized they could make money by promoting Father's Day and selling ties, hats, tobacco products and sporting goods. In the next decade some promoted Father's Day as a way to honor American troops during World War II and support the war effort.
It was left to Richard Nixon to make Father's Day a nationally observed occasion. As a result, Americans spend more than $1 billion annually on Father's Day gifts.
Around the world more than 125 countries are known to celebrate this day. Most choose a day in May or June, but Russia selected Feb. 23 as "Defender of the Fatherland" Day. Originally it was a day to celebrate those who served in the Russian Armed Forces, but more recently became a day to celebrate men. In fact, Russian women often give gifts to their male co-workers on that day.
Until the last quarter of the 20th century, dads were thought of as those disciplinarians who left in the morning and returned home at night. But today lots of dads are more involved and nurturing their kids on a day-to-day basis. "This is good news," says Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, renowned pediatrician and author. "Fathers are getting the nod of approval from childbirth classes and so on, that being involved in parenting is a good thing. There are studies which show that if a father is involved with children from infancy by 7 years of age the children have a higher IQ, do better in school and have a better sense of humor."
A study from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that fathers tended to be more involved in caregiving when they worked fewer hours than other fathers; when they had high self esteem and coped well with major tasks of adulthood; when the mothers worked more hours than other mothers; when mothers reported greater marital intimacy; and when children were boys.
Other research has shown that children who receive more love from their fathers are less likely to have behavioral or substance abuse problems.
The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia notes that "married people with children now often refer to themselves as 'stay-at-home mom' or 'stay-at-home' dad, instead of as 'wife' or 'husband,' indicating that parenthood is prioritized over marriage itself."
But even though fathers' roles have changed, we still want to give Dad a special gift. So how about these fairly unusual ones: a subscription to "Jerky of the Month" club, a bonsai-growing kit, a coaster that also is a bottle opener and a man-cave doormat. If you prefer the more traditional, anything personalized is always popular, so choose from T-shirts, desk signs, pocket knives, barbecue equipment, sporting goods and numerous items to be found in local stores or the many Internet sites featuring Father's Day gifts.
Finally, here are some comments on fathers:
"Dad — ask him when Mom says no." — Could be from any one of us;
"My father used to say that it's never too late to do anything you wanted to do. And he said, you never know what you can accomplish until you try." — NBA legend Michael Jordan;
"The older I get the smarter my father seems to get." — Late broadcast journalist and author Tim Russert.
Francine M. Farber is a retired educator and full-time community volunteer.