Father's Day Ruminations: Are Fathers Necessary to Create Family Relationships?

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Society and Culture Still Struggles to Agree on Importance of Fathers to Families

The first American Father's Day celebration was held on July 5, 1908, in Fairmont, West Virginia, only about 20 miles from the location of the first Mother's Day celebration in Grafton. The event was an emotionally charged response to a mine explosion that had occurred one year earlier, killing more than 300 men, most of whom were fathers. Hundreds of grieving widows were left behind, along with more than 1,000 fatherless children.

Mrs. Grace Clayton, a woman who had lost two children and understood bereavement well, was moved to establish an annual holiday to honor and remember all fathers for their great contributions to their families. Though this Father's Day observance is mentioned and documented as historical information, it has all but been forgotten, and a separate event that occurred one year later is the one most often referred to as "the beginning of Father's Day."

At a Mother's Day celebration in 1909, a young woman named Sonora Louise Smart was thinking about the sacrifices her father had made while shouldering the responsibility for his six children after his wife had died eleven years earlier. She wondered why there was no day set aside to honor fathers, and made it her mission to see one established. Her efforts were joined with those of many others across America, and while a declaration by President Calvin Coolidge made the day a popular tradition by 1924, it was not until 1972 that the day was finally signed into law by President Richard Nixon.

Interestingly, this formal recognition came just as fathers' contributions to family relationships were beginning to be acknowledged in more important legal ways as well. In 1972 the Supreme Court acknowledged that fathers, like mothers, should be entitled to a hearing before any state intervention that might result in the removal of children from them. The Court also ruled it unconstitutional to begin proceedings to terminate the parental rights of fathers without proper notification.

More than a quarter of a century later, in a new millennium, society and culture is still struggling to agree on the importance of fathers to families, but researchers who study this question are uncovering encouraging news that may give families more reason than ever to celebrate this coming Father's day. Read more about the importance of fathers at http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/page.aspx?id=3136.

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Edwin Stepp
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