© Barbara F. Meyers 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
June 20, 2010

History of Father's Day

In 1909 at the Central Methodist Episcopal Church in Spokane, Washington, Sonora Dodd listened to a sermon on Mother's Day, and felt strongly that fatherhood also needed to be so honored and recognized. Her father, Civil War veteran William Smart, had single-handedly raised his children after his wife died at the birth of their sixth child. Sonora decided that she would campaign to establish an official observation of Father's Day, and in June 19, 1910, almost exactly 100 years ago today, the first Father's Day observance was held in Spokane. On that first observance, people went to church wearing roses: a red rose to honor a living father, and a white rose to honor a diseased one. [Wikipedia]

It took a long time, however, for the official observance to catch on in the country. At first, it was derided as being ridiculous - you could honor your mother, but your father? Really! Others thought it was just an excuse for more consumerism. (Maybe some of you think that.) Sixty two years later, in 1972, it was President Nixon who signed a law making Father's Day a national holiday.

Being a Father

The following is a meditation by Kirk Loadman-Copeland that helps us to understand that there are many ways of being a father.

A Father's Day Prayer - Kirk Loadman-Copeland - [Adapted]

Let us praise those fathers who have striven to balance the demands of work, marriage, and children with an honest awareness of both joy and sacrifice.

Let us praise those fathers who, lacking a good model for a father, have worked to become a good father.

Let us praise those fathers who by their own account were not always there for their children, but who continue to offer those children, now grown, their love and support.

Let us pray for those fathers who have been wounded by the neglect and hostility of their children.

Let us praise those fathers who, despite divorce, have remained in their children's lives.

Let us praise those fathers whose children are adopted, and whose love and support has offered healing.

Let us praise those fathers who, as stepfathers, freely choose the obligation of fatherhood and earned their stepchildren's love and respect.

Let us praise those fathers who are helping to raise their grandchildren because their children cannot.

Let us praise those fathers who have lost a child to death, and continue to hold the child in their heart.

Let us praise those men who have no children, but cherish the next generation as if they were their own.

Let us praise those men who have "fathered" us in their role as mentors and guides. Those psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists who have taught us how to overcome problems and emerge healthy and whole.

Let us praise those men who are about to become fathers; may they openly delight in their children.

And let us praise those fathers who have died, but live on in our memory and whose love continues to nurture us.

I can see my father, my teachers and my mentors in many of these images. Let us keep a moment of silence to think of all of those who have fathered us in strong, sheltering, protecting, caring ways.

[Silence for a time.]

As good as these images of fatherhood, I know that for some, fathers have not been positive influences. Sadly, I know it is true that most ministers hear stories from their parishioners of physical and/or sexual abuse at the hands of their fathers or step-fathers. If you have seen the movie "Precious," you have seen just such a sad example. This often leads to lives filled with emotional turmoil, and with no role models for what healthy fatherhood looks like. So, sadly, the cycle of violence can be repeated in the next generation. Let us reach out with compassion to those who have been injured by their fathers, to help them to heal from abuse and move on, like Precious did, to more positive models of fatherhood in their own lives.

My father Harwood Kolsky was raised in very humble circumstances on a farm and small town in western Kansas. But, even though material resources were scarce, he had the advantages of having a keen intellect and loving parents who encouraged it. They moved to Lawrence, Kansas when he was in high school so that he might be able to go to college at Kansas University, as this was the only way they could afford a college education for him.

In college, my father, a physics major, met my mother, who was studying home economics, and they married in before my father was shipped off to the South Pacific as a member of the signal corps in WW II. My mother was a high school home-ec teacher during the war. Returning from the war, my dad entered graduate school at Harvard University, and after 3 years had earned a PhD in Physics. I spent my first 3 years in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I have 3 younger brothers.

My mother used to say that as a young girl, I used to say "I want to grow up to be a scientist just like my daddy." My dad went on to work at Los Alamos National Lab for 7 years, then at IBM for 29 years, where he achieved the highest technical rank of IBM Fellow, and in the third phase of his career, he helped establish the computer engineering department at UC Santa Cruz. As an IBMer myself, I used to run into people all the time who would say that my dad was the person they admired most. Widowed after 61 years of marriage, he now lives in a retirement community and leads a very active, prooductive life.

My brothers and I were raised with high expectations, common sense, and love. Our parents took us unfailingly to church every Sunday and lived their values with their lives. One thing that stays with me is what the minister said at my mother's funeral: "This was a life well lived." So true of both of my parents.

My dad has always been my champion, my ideal, and my general role-model of what it is to be a good and caring person. In some ways, I did grow up to be like my daddy - I got a PhD in a scientific field and worked for IBM for 25 years. And, like him I changed careers, although my career change was more of a departure from my previous career than his was.

When I was hospitalized with depression, he came to visit. I could see that he was greatly saddened by the circumstances. For a time, I felt I failed him and all I was expected and hoped to do with my life. But, he was there, a presence of support and understanding. That meant the world to me. He remains my champion and tells me and others that he is proud of me in my work as a minister. What a blessing he has been to me and to nearly everyone he knows.

I'm glad that Sonora Dodd initiated the observance of Father's Day, because it gives us all time to reflect on what it means to live a purposeful and positive life in the children that we nurture.

May it be so.


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