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Reflections from History & Faith

By Jeff Olson

Father’s Day has its own unique American origin and symbolically represents a foundational component of our culture. The inspiration for the first Father’s Day came from William Jackson Smart, an Arkansas veteran of the Civil War. Smart raised five children on his own after his wife died giving birth to their sixth child in 1898. His daughter, Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, wanted to honor her father for his devotion and got the idea of setting a special day to honor fathers from a sermon she heard on Mother’s Day in 1909. Dodd drew up a petition recommending the adoption of a national father’s day to be celebrated during June, the month of her father’s birthday. Through Sonora Dodd’s efforts, the support of the Spokane Ministerial Association and the local Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), Spokane celebrated the first Father’s Day on June 19, 1910. Over the years, many resolutions were introduced to make the day an official national celebration. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge recommended the widespread observance of Father’s Day to “establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children and to impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.” In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson officially proclaimed it a national holiday and in 1972 President Richard Nixon signed Father’s Day into law.

The vital role of fathers has been extolled throughout history in virtually every religion and culture. It was abundantly clear to our Founding Fathers that families with both mothers and fathers were critical to the well-being of children. John Adams wrote, “The foundation of national morality must be laid in private families…. How is it possible that Children can have any just Sense of the sacred Obligations of Morality or Religion if, from their earliest Infancy, they learn their Mothers live in habitual Infidelity to their fathers, and their fathers in as constant Infidelity to their Mothers?” His wife Abigail wrote, “What is it that affectionate parents require of their Children; for all their care, anxiety, and toil on their accounts? Only that they would be wise and virtuous, Benevolent and kind.” James Wilson stated, “It is the duty of parents to maintain their children decently, and according to their circumstances; to protect them according to the dictates of prudence; and to educate them according to the suggestions of a judicious and zealous regard for their usefulness, their respectability and happiness.”

According to Christian author and speaker, Dr. Edwin Cole, “the lack of effective, functioning fathers is the root cause of America’s social, economic and spiritual crises.” Writer and editor Mark Alexander states “The failure of fatherhood is more than just a social problem; it is a menacing national security threat. The collective social pathology of the fatherless has dire consequences for the future of Liberty, free enterprise and the survival of our republican form of government as outlined by our Constitution.”

Most importantly, we are commanded by God to honor our fathers and mothers (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:2), and not just two days out of each year. This we do, not only through love and respect, but in continuing the moral and virtuous qualities of their legacies through the lives we lead. Fatherhood, like motherhood, best serves God’s design and purpose and finds its most complete and enduring expression within the marriage covenant.

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