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6 Fathers Day facts

Father’s Day doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. A modern, secular holiday that arrives on the third Sunday of June, sometime between the end of school and the summer solstice, the day can be overlooked by kids who are immersed in vacation activities or otherwise inclined to take dad’s support for granted. Yet the (mostly) grown-up boys who rule the roost deserve their moment of recognition too, so as a service to the 70 million-plus dads in the United States, here are six fun facts to muse on for Father’s Day.

It was first celebrated in the early 20th Century

The first known Father's Day commemoration, held in West Virginia on July 5, 1908, was a one-off event to honor the roughly 361 men who had died in a coal-mining disaster the previous year. But the version of the holiday that took root is largely credited to a Washington state woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, one of six children raised by a widower. Inspired by a sermon celebrating Mother's Day — itself a recent concept — Dodd set about drumming up support for a similar day for dads among local church leaders and government officials. Although her request to establish the occasion on her dad's birthday of June 5 was rejected (pastors reportedly wanted more time to prepare another sermon after Mother's Day), Dodd's efforts led to the first major Father's Day celebration in Spokane, Washington, on June 19, 1910.

After several decades it became an official holiday

Although Mother's Day became a national holiday in 1914, Father's Day failed to garner the same official backing for several decades. This was largely due to American notions of masculinity; in the words of History.com, many men initially "scoffed at the holiday's sentimental attempts to domesticate manliness with flowers and gift-giving, or they derided the proliferation of such holidays as a commercial gimmick to sell more products — often paid for by the father himself." Nevertheless, commercialization of the day was established by the 1930s, and by World War II, Father's Day was being promoted as a way to honor servicemen. In 1972, President Richard Nixon finally formalized the widespread observations and declared the day a holiday.

Dads want to be honored with a card and a phone call (and maybe a slab of meat)

What do dads desire most for their designated day in the sun? If the results of two recent polls are to be trusted, they want to keep things simple. A 2021 YouGov survey revealed the top answers, tied at 28% among responders, to be a card and a special experience with the family. Meanwhile, a 2019 questionnaire found that dads most wanted a phone call from their children (47%), followed by "a big juicy steak" (41%), the latter choice perhaps unsurprising given that the poll was instigated by Omaha Steaks.


It was once the busiest day for collect phone calls

According to the experts at Hallmark, Americans now honor their fathers by way of 72 million greeting cards purchased annually, making it the fourth-largest such occasion on the holiday calendar. And according to the researchers at Snopes, previous generations of children went the extra mile for dear old dad by inundating him with collect calls on his special day. While that habit has largely died out with the rise of cellphones, an AT&T spokesperson summed up the way of the world back in 1998 by noting: "Father's Day is our biggest day for collect calls — not just the biggest holiday, but the biggest day of the year."

The best dads can win a Father of the Year Award

While getting a child through the day without incident is enough of a victory for some dads, the National Father's Day Committee has sought to recognize the best in this demanding field by bestowing Father of the Year honors on multiple recipients since General Douglas MacArthur claimed the inaugural award in 1942. Sure, the opportunity for recognition increases if you're a famous dad — previous winners include Humphrey Bogart, Arthur Ashe, Peter Jennings, and Joe Biden — but regular Joes also get a shot at consideration by way of the "All-Star Dad" essaysubmitted by children.

It is celebrated in different ways around the world

While families in Canada and the United Kingdom celebrate Father's Day at the same time of year and in a similar manner to Americans, other cultures have their own ways of honoring the man of the household. In countries with large Roman Catholic populations, like Spain, Portugal, and Italy, patriarchal contributions are noted on the annual March 19 Feast of St. Joseph, which honors the earthly father of Jesus, Joseph of Nazareth. The German celebration of "Vatertag" is held on Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter, and marks the start of a four-day holiday weekend. And the Thai version of the holiday, which falls on the December 5 birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is marked by children gifting canna lilies to their fathers and grandfathers.

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