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!