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Father’s Day – Pic of the Week

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Gen:  George Washington, the father of his country [between 1835 and 1856], from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC),
Gen: George Washington, the father of his country [between 1835 and 1856], from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC),
Our Mother’s Day post generated an inquiry from one of our readers:  “Is the history of Father’s Day similar?”

The answer is, at once, yes and no. As with Mother’s Day, there may have been informal or even local celebrations that took place prior to it becoming a nationally observed holiday. However, the reality with Father’s Day is that despite early efforts, it was first observed nationally until 1966. Proclamation 3730 of 1966 notes that the “third Sunday in June has for many years been observed as Father’s Day.”

I should clarify that the proclamation was issued in response to Senate Joint Resolution 161, which became Public Law 89-450 of June 15, 1966. The law provides that the “President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling on the appropriate Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on such day, inviting the governments of the States and communities and the people of the United States to observe such day with appropriate ceremonies, and urging our people to offer public and private expressions on such day to the abiding love and gratitude which they bear for their fathers.”

The Law, however, aimed to “designate the third Sunday in June 1966 as Father’s Day.”  To be clear, the provision was limited solely to 1966.  There were no provisions to make this an ongoing holiday.  Until April 24, 1972, with the issuance of House Joint Resolution 687, which became Public Law 92-278, that the “third Sunday in June of each year” [emphasis mine] came to be Father’s Day in the United States of America.  In accordance with the provisions of P.L. 92-278, President Richard Nixon issued Proclamation 4127 on May 1, 1972, which I found very moving, and I will provide a sampling for you below:

To have a father–to be a father–is to come very near the heart of life itself.

In fatherhood we know the elemental magic and joy of humanity.  In fatherhood we even sense the divine […].

Our identity in name and nature, our roots in home and family, our very standard of manhood–all this and more is the heritage our fathers share with us.  It is a rich patrimony, one for which adequate thanks can hardly be offered in a lifetime, let alone a single day.  Still it has long been our national custom to observe each year one special Sunday in honor of America’s fathers; and from this year forward, […] that custom carries the weight of law.

This is fitting and good.  Let each American make this Father’s Day an occasion for renewal of the love and gratitude we bear to our fathers, increasing and enduring through all the years.

The proclamation concludes with a presidential request that “June 18, 1972, be observed as Father’s Day.” And “direct[s] Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings, and […] all citizens to display the flag at their homes and other suitable places on that day.”

The picture above reminds us of the patriotic sentiments that are woven into this family day by drawing attention to George Washington, the father of this nation.  To continue that theme, I would like to encourage you to take a look at an endearing album of several presidents of the United States in their capacity as paterfamilias.

To all the fathers out there, have a very happy Father’s Day!

Comments (4)

  1. Thanks for the Father’s Day blog. I enjoyed the Presidential family photos. Interesting that this holiday is so recent and focuses on the individual’s father rather than as a collective celebration of all fathers- though I wonder if legally speaking whether there would be a difference in any legal case. You used the word paterfamilias. Is that a collective phrase ? Our legal system takes so much from the Roman system yet I think this blog would have been even more interesting if you had also included references to other types of paternalistic customs as well. We are after all a very diverse culture. So Roman fathers legally owned their own wives, children, etc? How did their legal system deal with the different cultural and legal rights of fathers in the non Roman cultures they ruled? Did they not leave such laws intact as long as the culture remained loyal to Rome? Do we also have some diversity in father’s rights according to the different states vs Federal laws that reflect the Roman influence upon English law? Again. Thought provoking. As it should be. Thanks.

    • Your point is well taken. And certainly this space can become a forum for that sort of conversation. Perhaps instead of me setting this out, some other readers would feel free to share their cultural experience or knowledge. I used paterfamilias, more than in a legal sense–in a lay sense. I’m Mexican. And because we have a connection to our Latin past, we frequently season our interlocutions with these sorts of Latinisms. So, I meant it purely as “father of the family”–but certainly there are legal implications.

      I think the term “owned” is problematic because it looks at the past through a lens of presenteeism. Certainly patriarchal societies held the “man of the house” as the decision maker and authority figure. But it’s a little more complicated than women and children being owned. Women went from being part of one household and then became part of another household–depending on the fate of the man of the household she was affiliated with. However, ownership implies that they had no agency. And, at least in aristocratic circles in antiquity and the medieval period, you may find scholarship that makes a more nuanced distinction, clarifying the varying levels of agency, power and rank.

      You certainly bring up fascinating points–and each of these could easily become a treatise in and of itself. I do hope other readers will use this space to further elucidate the subject or to address some of your points. Thanks again for your comments and interest.

  2. @ Francisco Macías : Thanks for the reply. I have always wondered why with so many people who probably read these blogs that there is so few comments and no discussion thread. Seems like this would be an excellent place to edify one another. I shall certainly research the information you have given. Thank you.

  3. Oops. Pardon my incorrect grammar in previous comment. 😉

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