Why do we give dads a gift on Father's Day?

tags: Fathers Day

Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of history and education at New York University who lives in Narberth, Pa. He is the author of the recently published “Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education.”

... From the start, Father’s Day has focused almost completely on the gift. And that tells you something about gender and parenthood in America, where Dad is still seen as the economic provider. So, on Father’s Day, we provide for him.That’s what Sonora Dodd envisioned when she founded the holiday in 1910 to honor her own father, a Civil War veteran who raised her and five siblings after their mother died. To publicize Father’s Day, Ms. Dodd encouraged merchants in her native Spokane, Wash., to advertise presents for the man of the household.She also hoped to piggyback on the economic juggernaut of Mother’s Day, which had been started two years earlier in Philadelphia by West Virginia teacher and activist Anna M. Jarvis. 

But whereas Ms. Jarvis resented the commercialization of Mother’s Day, condemning candymakers and other businesses for capitalizing on “her” holiday, Ms. Dodd happily embraced commerce as the engine of Father’s Day. “After all,” Ms. Dodd wrote, “why should the greatest giver of gifts not be on the receiving end at least once a year?”And that’s been the main theme of Father’s Day ever since. 

In Spokane, one shopkeeper created what might have been the first Father’s Day poster: a picture of George Washington, along with a reminder to “Remember Father.” Within a few short years, retail chains were running nationwide sales campaigns with similar messages.

But which day was the right day to salute Dad?

In 1925, tobacco companies launched a campaign commemorating Father’s Day on the second Sunday of June. That raised the ire of patriotic groups like the American Legion — not because they objected to tobacco, but because Flag Day often fell on the same date. The companies apologized and resolved to observe Father’s Day on the third Sunday of the month, where it has remained ever since.

In 1936, newspapers noted that tobacconists, clothiers and sporting goods dealers “enjoyed a cheery Sunday” on Father’s Day. Still, only one of six fathers received gifts. So retailers resolved to redouble their efforts to make Father’s Day into “a second Christmas,” as sales agents called it....

Read entire article at Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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