Roll out the drums: It's Fathers' Day!

Fathers' Day is usually a day set out by many communities all over the world to appreciate the wonderful roles fathers play in the family particularly, and in the society at large. On this day, many mothers encourage children to acknowledge the important roles played by fathers in raising them and consequently building a stronger society. In most countries, Fathers' Day is celebrated on the third Sunday in June. And this year it falls on June 16. In actual fact, fathers have been revered at all times by civilizations across the globe but somehow, for inexplicable reasons, the significance of fathers' roles in their children's lives was not officially recognised until last century.

Consideration for the institution of Fathers' Day is said to have begun when Ms Sonora Louise Smart Dodd of Washington in America began a vigorous campaign for an official public adoption of a day to celebrate fathers. Sonora's unflagging struggle to officially set a day apart, to honour all fathers, is widely acknowledged by scholars. Many believe that it was because of her tireless campaign that, today, Fathers' Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. If that is true, it would mean that the current tradition of celebrating Fathers' Day may have originated in the last century. Though there are several people who are credited for furthering the cause of Fathers' Day, Ms Sonora Louise Smart Dodd's contributions seem to be the most accepted world-wide. A thoughtful daughter from Spokane in Washington, Ms Dodd has become widely recognized as the Founder of the Father's Day Celebration.

Despite this world-wide recognition, however, some scholars still contend that there had always been a tradition to celebrate Fathers on a special day in the last 4,000 years. Their study showed that about 4,000 years ago in Babylon, a man called Elmesu carved a Fathers' Day message on a clay card for his father. In his message Elmesu wished his father a long and healthy life. There is no mention of what may have transpired between father and son thereafter, but it is widely believed that several countries had retained the custom of celebrating Fathers' Day.

As the story goes, the concept of Fathers' Day shaped in Sonora's mind after she listened to a Mothers' Day sermon in 1909. Sonora, then 27, began to appreciate the hardships her father must have gone through while bringing up his six children alone. When Sonora was 16, her mother had died while giving birth to her last sibling. Her father, a veteran of America's civil war, by the name of William Jackson Smart, raised his six children, including the newly born, on his own. Sonora reasoned that if there is a day to recognize mothers, why is a day to honour fathers not part of the system?

Many people laughed and joked about Sonora's idea because, traditionally, the mother is regarded as the one who nurtures the child. The role the father plays is often relegated to the background when compared with that of the mother. Yet, it is common knowledge that the father is just as important for the balanced growth of a child as the mother is. The fact that mothers are the heroines of child rearing does not, by any stretch of the imagination, underscore the fact that father-figure is crucial in the emotional development and well being of a child. Children depend on fathers for their spiritual, emotional, physical, financial and social well being. For daughters, Father is the ideal man in the world, the first man they adore, and for sons, Father is an idol and the strong man they aspire to emulate.
Sonora was not daunted when people cajoled her about her idea. Rather she saw it as a challenge which spurred her on to start a sincere campaign for the public recognition of a Fathers' Day. Her hard work began to show signs of success when Spokane celebrated its first Fathers' Day about a year later, on June 19, 1910 with the support of Spokane Ministerial Association and the local Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). To pay tribute to her affectionate father, Sonora wanted Fathers' Day to be celebrated on her father's birthday which was June 5. Unfortunately, that was not to be, exactly. Fathers' Day came to be celebrated on third Sunday in the month of June.

The great idea of celebrating Fathers' Day became popular in America. President Woodrow Wilson approved of the Festival in 1916. President Calvin Coolidge also supported the idea. But it was President Lyndon Johnson who signed a Presidential Proclamation declaring the third Sunday of June as Father's Day in 1966. In 1972, President Richard Nixon established a permanent national observance of Fathers' Day to be held on the third Sunday of June. Father's Day became a popular Festival. All over the world, people began to appreciate and eulogize their fathers on the third Sunday in June. Children would give their dads Fathers' Day cards and flowers. Ties became popular gifts on the occasion of Fathers' Day. Due to the tradition of giving gifts, card makers, florists and gift sellers campaigned for Fathers' Day Festival in a big way and cashed in on the sentiments of the people.

Fathers' Day Festival is considered extremely important because it helps the society to acknowledge the contribution of fathers to individual families and to the society as large. Fathers' Day also provides children an opportunity to express love and respect for their fathers. Their attachment to their fathers, propped up by the Festival, goes a long way in strengthening father-child relationship which many consider crucial in the emotional development of a child.

Over the years, the concept of celebrating Fathers' Day spread beyond America's geographical boundaries. Today, millions of children across the world express gratitude for their dads' lives and presence as they celebrate Fathers' Day. Many poems have been written in acknowledgement and in appreciation of fathers. A favourite poem of mine, titled: What Makes a Dad eulogies fathers thus:

God took the strength of a mountain,
The majesty of a tree,
The warmth of a summer sun,
The calm of a quiet sea,
The generous soul of nature,
The comforting arm of night,
The wisdom of the ages,
The power of the eagle's flight,
The joy of a morning in spring,
The faith of a mustard seed,
The patience of eternity,
The depth of a family need,
Then God combined these qualities,
When there was nothing more to add,
He knew His masterpiece was complete,
And so, He called it ... Dad

Though traditionally the father is seen more as a provider and guide for children, the situation in today's nuclear family culture appears to be significantly "mixed". Most husbands and wives work. So, fathers of today are as involved in child-rearing responsibilities as the mothers are. Today, most fathers change children's nappies and take turn in the difficult task of lullabying the baby to sleep. In a sense, this “new school” demand is helping to strengthen father-child relationship which is essential in the emotional development of a child and consequently in the building of stronger family bonds.

Most often children unwittingly take the love of their parents for granted. Fathers' Day proffers them the opportunity to express thanks to Fathers for all their unconditional love and affection. Besides, observance of Fathers' Day makes fathers feel that their contributions to the family and to the society are not made in vain – that they are acknowledged by their spouses and children, and by the society. It makes them feel proud of themselves! During Fathers' Day celebrations, children come closer to their fathers. The celebration of Fathers makes them ponder for a while on the important role fathers play in their lives. It helps them appreciate the selfless care and protection provided by fathers and to discover the need to come emotionally closer to their dads. Therefore, children must be allowed to make full use of the opportunity of the day to express their gratitude to God for giving them fathers. The best way to do so is to do small things that daddy appreciates and by saying “I love you, Papa” with a gift.

I cannot bring closure to Fathers' Day without mentioning that though most fathers are great role models, there are a few who are not worth calling that precious name "Father". A few examples will suffice: There was Byron Keith Perkins who was temporarily released from prison in 2006 to enable him donate a kidney to his dying son. But instead, he zoomed off with his girlfriend to Mexico. He was re-arrested a year later in Puerto Vallarta. There was the case of Constantine the Great who, for unknown reasons, ordered the execution of his son, Crispus in 326 AD and erased his name from official records. There was the American multi-millionaire, Bruce McMahan from Florida, who loved his own daughter so much that he married her. The pair secretly exchanged vows in 2004, even though McMahan was still married to his 5th wife and his daughter, Linda Schutt, lived with her husband in Mississippi. There was Johnny Eric, already convicted for child neglect and for assaulting his wife. This American from North Carolina was said to have circumcised his two infant sons with a kitchen knife. There was Ivan the Terrible, a Russian Tsar who, in 1581, beat his pregnant daughter-in-law for wearing clothes he considered revealing. As a result, she miscarried. Ivan was angrily confronted by his son, also named Ivan. He struck the younger man with his sceptre. The man died few days later. There was the notorious case of Josef Fritzl now serving life in jail. Josef kept his own daughter, Elizabeth, in an underground dungeon for 24 years where he repeatedly raped her. Elizabeth forcefully bore 7 children for her “father” while in the dungeon. Her plight came to light after she slipped a note into the pocket of one of her children while she was going to a local hospital for treatment. And there was the case of Marvin Gaye Senior. A day before his son's 45th birthday, he had a quarrel with his wife. The younger Marvin had intervened and was later shot by his father. Gaye said he shot his son because he was afraid for his life after the Junior Gaye struck him during the argument. He did not contest a verdict of voluntary manslaughter and he received 6-year suspended jail term and 5years probation. The list could go on and on. So, while fathers are being appreciated and honoured, they need to look inwards as well and ask themselves the soul-searching question: have I done my best to be a good father to my children? If the answer is yes, then roll out the drums and celebrate. It is Fathers' Day!

* Sir Asinugo is the editor of London-based Trumpet Newspaper.

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Articles by Emeka Asinugo