Looking at labor, love on Father's Day
Looking at labor, love on Father's Day
Sunday, June 15, 2008
The Sunday Republican (Springfield, MA)
By RINALDO DEL GALLO III
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the modern celebration of Father's Day in the United States. The third-Sunday-in-June celebration first took place in Spokane, Wash., in 1910. However, the first modern Father's Day celebration in the United States took place on Sunday, July 5, 1908, in Fairmont, W.Va. at a memorial service at the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church. The first Father's Day shortly followed the first modern Mother's Day, which was held the second Sunday that May in Grafton, W.Va., just 20 miles away.
It can properly be said that there are three mothers of Father's Day. It was a woman that led to the June celebration in Spokane (Sonora Smart Dodd) in 1910, and it was a woman that led to its recognition as a federal holiday (Sen. Margaret Chase Smith in 1972), and it was a woman that was behind the very first Father's Day, Grace Clayton. Dodd had been motivated by her father, a Civil War veteran, who had to raise the family when her mother died during childbirth. All three felt that it was wrong to have a special day for mothers, but not one for fathers.
In 1957, Chase Smith wrote Congress that "Either we honor both our parents, mother and father, or let us desist from honoring either one. But to single out just one of our two parents and omit the other is the most grievous insult imaginable." Symbols are powerful. Even though Mother's Day was first officially recognized by Congress and the President in 1914, it was not until 1972 that Father's Day was officially recognized as worthy of being a permanent annual celebration.
It is a great irony that the First Father's Day was born of the father's role of provider and the risk he takes as a laborer throughout the country, being a primary wage earner is the most common reason why father's lose custody of their children in family courts. On December 6, 1907, there was a mining disaster at the Consolidated Coal Company in Monongah, W.Va. It is still considered the worst mining disaster ever. Estimates are that at the very least 363 men and boys were killed during the mining explosion. Most of those that died were Italian immigrants. The Rev. Eugene Francis Briggs (1908-2006), a Catholic priest and a Fitchburg native, dedicated much of his life to the study of the Monongah disaster. In a 1964 article published in Science Magazine, he stated that he believed the number who died was more around 1,000.
It was this disaster that was the impetus for the first Father's Day. In the words of Clayton herself: "It was partially the explosion that it would be a blessed thing if fathers, not only mothers, were given a day for remembering, and honoring, that set me to think how important and loved most fathers are. All those lonely children and those heart-broken wives and mothers, made orphans and widows in a matter of a few minutes. Oh, how sad and frightening to have no father, no husband, to turn to at such an awful time."
During this centennial celebration of Father's Day, we too should remember "how important and loved most fathers are." We should sympathize with the child, who after the separation of the parents, has no father to turn to. Sadly, the father's role as a laborer is the primary reason he is denied custody in family courts throughout Massachusetts and the country.
Ours is a country where the "Father Knows Best" image of fatherhood has morphed into Homer Simpson. Mothers receive loving Mother's Day Cards while fathers receive cards on how much they like to drink beer and golf. We should do more to celebrate the role of father as laborer both in our culture and in our courtrooms. A man may go down a mine shaft, walk across beams a thousand feet above the ground at construction sites, labor in an office, or drive cross-country in a truck to put bread on the table for his family. It is the supreme folly of our legal system that such honorable endeavors become the reason why children are taken from their fathers in family court. In black robes from an elevated bench our jurists see a father's role as secondary and the mother as the "primary caretaker." But whether in Monongah in 1908 or Springfield in 2008, somewhere there is a boy waiting for his dad with grease on his hands to come home to play catch, or a girl waiting so that she can learn to ride a bike. Try telling them Dad is not primary.
Rinaldo Del Gallo III is a practicing family law attorney and spokesman of the Berkshire Fatherhood Coalition.
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