Yes, yes, we know that the first Sunday devoted to dads was celebrated a century ago – on June 19, 1910, in Spokane, Wash. A woman named Sonora Smart Dodd thought the thing up as a way to honor her Civil War vet father.
But Father’s Day did not exactly sweep the nation, back in the day, notes Georgia State University sociologist Ralph LaRossa in his book “The Modernization of Fatherhood.” Mother’s Day was different – everybody loved that from its 1908 start – but many people were suspicious of Father’s Day. Some religious figures thought it was just a plot to sell hats. Some men thought it was just a plot to make them come in from the garage and get cleaned up for dinner.
This caused politicians to be wary of standing too close to Father’s Day festivities. President Wilson showed up in Spokane for the nascent holiday in 1916 but sort of waved at the celebration from afar. A few years later, President Coolidge urged states to organize their own Father’s Days.
The holiday’s popularity built slowly over the years. In 1957, GOP Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine blasted her congressional colleagues for ignoring Father’s Day, saying that to single out one parent (Mom) while ignoring the other was “the most grievous insult imaginable.” But it was not until 1971 that Congress passed a bill in favor of making Father’s Day a national holiday.
That’s where Dick Nixon comes in. At the time, his reelection campaign was ratcheting up, and we’ll bet this looked like a political no-brainer. In response to Congress, on April 25, 1972, he issued a proclamation that officially made the third Sunday in June “an occasion for renewal of the love and gratitude we bear to our fathers.”
But in the Nixon household, that year’s Father’s Day was not happy.
This was probably just as well. Sunday, June 18, 1972 – the first government-sanctioned Father’s Day in United States history – was the day news broke about a burglary the previous night at the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate complex.
The secrets of Watergate would eventually spill out and doom Nixon’s presidency. Here’s hoping that on that fateful Father’s Day, someone at least gave him a card or a nice tie.