The touching and, perhaps, true story regarding the origination of Father's Day celebrations in America goes back to the little town of Fairmont, W.Va. There, at the behest of a Mrs. Grace Golden, a ceremony was held on July 5, 1908 honoring some 210 fathers who had been tragically lost in the Monongah Mining Disaster of December 6, 1907.
But the observance did not garner widespread recognition and was not repeated. Thus, most official recognition for the creation of America's Father's Day goes to a Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Wash., who independently came up with the idea to honor fathers as she sat in church at a Mother's Day service two years later.
The first bill entertained by the United States Congress to honor our nation's fathers appeared in 1913, but it went nowhere. President Woodrow Wilson journeyed to Spokane in 1916 in an attempt to make the observance official, but fearing that the day would become commercialized, Congress refused his overture. President Calvin Coolidge also recommended such an observance in 1924, to no avail.
Some 33 years later, Maine's Senator Margaret Chase Smith presented a bill which did not fly in Congress, perhaps because her wording provided a mild rebuke to the members for not having enacted appropriate legislation prior to 1957.
Eventually, in 1966, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed a proclamation designating the third Sunday in June as the day to celebrate our fathers. Still, LBJ's effort was a mere proclamation, not an official act. In the end, President Richard Milhous Nixon signed Father's Day into law as an official holiday in 1972.
Father's Day is now celebrated in many countries around the world by governments and even religious organizations, albeit on different dates and under varying circumstances. Some nations, such as Spain, tie it to a birthday of a religious leader. Roman Catholic tradition honors fathers on March 19, during the Feast of Saint Joseph. The Hindu teachings contain no concept of Father's Day; nevertheless fathers are honored at Amavasya - or "new moon day." The Arab world honors fathers on the first day of summer, as mothers are honored on the first day of spring. And the Judeo-Christian world, of course, knows well the instruction to "honor thy father and mother" found in The Ten Commandments.
So what might be the proper way to celebrate Father's Day? Well, just as fathers vary in size, shape, race, creed, color, religious preference and a myriad of other categories, so there is a multitude of differing celebratory customs. But the most important thing that really matters to the father, at least in my book, is whether or not his children take the time and make the effort to let him know he is appreciated.
And appreciation is not just a given. For in a patriarchal society, it's the father's role to head up the household, to set standards as to what constitutes acceptable behavior, to lay down the law and, when necessary, to serve as enforcer. Even the smoothest road occasionally features a pothole or unexpected detour, however. So it generally takes time for a child to engender a fuller appreciation of unpleasant punishments meted out by the father as consequences for that child's poorly made decisions during the formative years.
"One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters," advises an old English proverb. And an Old Testament verse from Proverbs instructs fathers to "train up a child in the way he shall go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."
Yet many times children buck against the harness of parental guidance, at which point a father must enforce what he believes to be the right way to go, in order to protect the child from his or her own ignorance.
"I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection," observed the famed psycho-analyst Sigmund Freud.
As for me, I'll always think my father was the greatest man in the world. He's been gone, incredibly, for 43 years; yet I think of him every day. Davis Gray Harwell, Jr., was never promoted to admiral, nor elected governor or president. When he died he wasn't rich, powerful or famous.
But, in the words of the late Pulitzer-prize winning poet Anne Sexton, "It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was."
My Daddy was the greatest man I ever knew. He was humble, kind, generous to a fault, and he never met a stranger.
And so, for me, Father's Day boils down to a quote a late friend once displayed on a plaque in his office. Fittingly, the author is anonymous, for its application is universal.
"Any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be called Daddy."
Nat Harwell is a Covington resident. His column appears Sundays.