The campaign to celebrate the nation’s fathers did not meet with enthusiasm--perhaps because, as one florist explained, “fathers haven’t the same sentimental appeal that mothers have.” On July 5, 1908, a West Virginia church sponsored the nation’s first event explicitly in honor of fathers, a Sunday sermon in memory of the 362 men who had died in the previous December’s explosions at the Fairmont Coal Company mines in Monongah. The next year, a Spokane, Washington, one of six children raised by a widower, tried to establish an official equivalent to Mother’s Day for male parents. She went to local churches, the YMCA, shopkeepers and government officials to drum up support for her idea, and she was successful: Washington State celebrated the nation’s first statewide Father’s Day on July 19, 1910.
During the 1920s and 1930s, a movement arose to scrap Mother’s Day and Father’s Day altogether in favor of a single holiday, Parents’ Day. Paradoxically, however, the Depression derailed this effort to combine and de-commercialize the holidays. Struggling retailers and advertisers redoubled their efforts to make Father’s Day a “second Christmas” for men, promoting goods such as neckties, hats, socks, pipes and tobacco, golf clubs and other sporting goods, and greeting cards. When World War II began, advertisers began to argue that celebrating Father’s Day was a way to honor American troops and support the war effort.
In 1972, in the middle of a hard-fought presidential re-election campaign, Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making Father’s Day a federal holiday at last. Today, economists estimate that Americans spend more than $1 billion each year on Father’s Day gifts.
However, many men, including my father, continued to disdain the day. They “scoffed at the holiday’s sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving, or they derided the proliferation of such holidays as a commercial gimmick to sell more products--often paid for by the father himself.” (see HistoryChanel.com)
My father, Ward Ely Morehouse, died on June 30th, 2012, six years ago. I was not there when he died. He was swimming in his favorite New England pond when he suffered a massive heart attack. The paramedics revived his heart but he was in a coma and died twelve hours later. I have shared with you before that I was in Yellowstone NP the day he died, and, at the precise moment he was having his heart attack I told Frances to pull over the car so I could jump bidden by some unseen force into the glacier lake. Only latter would I learn that the urge to jump into the water happened at the moment he was leaving this earth.
My father was a noble and complex man. Like so many of his generation he was emotionally distant, which is not to say that he didn’t feel, he did, deeply and often with tears. He just didn’t express those feelings often, preferring a stoic response to life. And for good reason, a child of the Great Depression, his father was often absent as a wayward Academic and his mother, my grandmother, who suffered from debilitating depression, was often institutionalized. My father learned early on that emotions were best kept to oneself. I am not like my father in that regard. I express myself openly – sometimes a little too openly from time to time. I have also been tempered by living with six daughters and my beloved spouse. Secrets are not part of our family system.
But despite his distance, he gave me the wisdom of virtues, seen and unseen. Honesty, optimism, loyalty, hard work, vision and flexibility. In honor of my father and all fathers, those biological and those who have held the role, embrace the best lessons you learned and pass them on.
With Grace and Grit, John