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Its origins may be tragic, but we need to keep celebrating

A few hours on Sunday not too much to ask
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Annual pat on the back doesn't cut it

 I read the email a couple of times just to be sure I was understanding what it said. It came from a company that I have used in the past and as a result get endless emails from. But this one was different. It was an invitation to be removed from their list for any emails related to Father’s Day. It read, “We understand that Father’s Day may be a difficult time for many. If you’d prefer to not receive our Father’s Day emails, just let us know.”

Yes, many have a complicated and difficult relationship with their father. Many do not. Others have a complicated and difficult relationship with their mother. Yet there was no email last month asking customers if they wished to be removed from that list.

The origins of Father’s Day come out of tragedy. The first known Father’s Day service took place on July 5, 1908 in West Virginia after an effort by Grace Golden Clayton to honor the lives of the men who died in the worst mining accident in American history. She was missing her own father who had died 12 years earlier. The mining accident, which killed 362 the previous December, left more than 1,000 children fatherless so the service was meant as a time to console and remember. Clayton said, “It was partly the explosion that got me to thinking how important and loved most fathers are.”

Notice she said “most fathers”. Most.

After Mother’s Day was recognized as an official day, a woman named Sonora Smart Dodd lobbied to create a similar event for fathers, since she had deep respect and admiration for her own father; a widowed Civil War veteran who kept his family together, raising his six children as a single parent after his wife died in childbirth.

It took many years after that 1910 celebration in Spokane, but eventually other American cities began to jump on board. A presidential proclamation in 1966 declared officially that the third Sunday in June would be known as Father’s Day, and was soon after adopted in Canada as well.

I lost my father when I was 18 years old. It was sudden, unexpected and heartbreaking. It happened just a few days before Christmas. The following June, as we approached the day set aside to honor fathers I was, of course, acutely aware of the loss. But I was just as sad the day before…and the day that followed. Because I am one of the fortunate ones. I had, to put it simply, a great dad. His loss was huge in my life. But so was his presence. That impact is still felt in so many ways.

Not everyone can say that about their father. Not every father has done his job. I understand that. But many, many have. And a few hours one Sunday per year to say thank you is simply not enough. But we know that. Fatherhood is not an easy role to take on. So those that do, and do it to the best of their ability, deserve more than an annual pat on the back. Then again, the good ones aren’t looking for that. Their gift comes in watching their children grow into responsible, caring, loving individuals.

Some activists continue to call for the elimination of Father’s Day. They point to the number of non-traditional families that could find the day offensive. Well, frankly, there are commemorations on the calendar that others find offensive, but when that’s the case we can choose to not observe them. It doesn’t mean they are not important to others, just not to me. If I respect the days that matter to others, could others please respect mine?

The relationships we have with the father-figures in our lives are important. And even though we shouldn’t rely on a calendar to tell us when to celebrate an event of particular note, I am glad there is a day earmarked to focus on the gift of fathers, for those for whom the day provides meaning.

 On Father’s Day I can’t plan a BBQ or buy a gift for my dad but I certainly understand the passion of Grace Golden Clayton and Sonora Smart Dodd who, after losing their own fathers, embarked on an effort to honor men who understood the sacrifice and work it entailed to be a good dad. For that reason, I am glad we continue to celebrate Father’s Day. That’s my outlook.