Surprisingly, the United
States is one of only a few countries in the world that sets
aside one day of the year to honor fathers, and it took a
woman, inspired by a Mother’s Day sermon
in 1909, to think of the idea. Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane,
Washington had been raised by her father after her mother died
while Sonora was still a young child. His patience, wisdom,
courage and selflessness won her love and admiration. To express
her gratitude and to give other children an opportunity to
do so for their father, she promoted into existence the first
Father’s Day in June 1910, during the month of her Dad’s
In 1924 President Calvin
Coolidge institutionalized the holiday by proclaiming the
third Sunday in June as Father’s Day,
when red roses would be worn for a living father and white
for one who is deceased.
One would have expected
a formal recognition of the father’s
significant role long before Mother’s Day of 1910.
In primitive societies
the father was lionized as the dominant family figure and
the symbol of leadership. The Bible paid fathers the ultimate
token of respect by picturing God Himself as “Father of the World,” with the Christians giving
the mother a strong runner-up role. That has remained the symbolism
until today, and to a great extent it accurately reflects the
strong role the father plays in shaping the lives of their
children—and, therefore, of society.
Sigmund Freud said, “I cannot think of any need in childhood
as strong as the need for a father’s protection.” The
brilliant educator and social psychologist, Dr. Kenneth D.
Clark, in his superb work, “Dark Ghetto,” pointed
out that boys without a strong and sound father-figure in their
life on which to model their behavior often lapse into unstable
and irresponsible relationships with girls. Some attempt to
identify and affirm their masculinity by seducing and dominating
as many girls as possible, confusing masculinity with sexual
prowess. Clark opined further that without a healthy father-figure
in her life, a young girl’s yearning for acceptance and
identity can lead her into numerous frivolous sexual relationships
inviting all the obvious problems they can cause.
These are truly tragic realities in these days of single parent
households, with the father usually the missing parent. Today
approximately 67 percent of the families in homeless shelters
have only one parent. In many classrooms children living in
a two parent household are the exception rather than the rule.
Many family problems
today can trace at least a significant part of the fault
to the absence of a father-figure. Nearly twenty years ago,
in an attempt to help fill the dangerous vacuum that failure
creates in a child’s life, the State
of New York established a mentoring program providing trained
mentors who brought to children-at-risk some of the companionship,
instruction, affection and reassurance that are best provided
by two loving, devoted, and competent parents. As First Lady,
I supervised the first national, statewide, one-to-one New
York State Mentoring program from 1983 to 1995 and thereafter
continued a private, not-for-profit mentoring program for at-risk
children called Mentoring USA or MUSA.
Today MUSA provides
mentors for some one thousand boys and girls in after school
programs and community sites including HELP’s facilities
in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn.
Sonora Smart Dodd has left a meaningful legacy, honoring our
fathers because they are special from the beginning of our
lives, nurturing us, giving us counsel and by example teaching
us values. As we grow older we realize and appreciate the patience
and sacrifices of our fathers. We honor our fathers for a lifetime.
Former NYS First Lady Matilda Cuomo is Founder and Chairperson
of Mentoring USA.