Usually at this time of year, I devote this column to the memory of my father. This Sunday marks 17 Father’s Days without his physical presence. I think of him every day, usually with a smile and the comforting knowledge that his spirit still lives within me. But the third Sunday in June always brings poignant, wistful thoughts of what might have been had Daddy lived long enough to see his beloved grandson marry and become a father himself.
Jimmy was raised by my parents for part of his childhood; he loved and admired my dadas much as I did. Now, with three daughters of his own, he emulates his grandfather, instinctively as well as consciously. He is a firm yet compassionate dad who loves his family unconditionally. When faced with a moral dilemma, he asks himself, “What would Grandpa Yogi do?”
So this year, instead of a tearful tribute to Daddy or glowing praise of my son, both of which I’ve done often enough in this space, I decided to research the history of Father’s Day, for a more generic column.
I was surprised to learn that nearly 60 years passed between the U.S. presidential declaration of Mother’s Day (by Woodrow Wilson in 1914) and the official recognition of Father’s Day (by Richard Nixon in 1972). Seemed like both holidays had been around for as long as I could remember.
According to history.com, the first organized celebration of American fathers was held on July 5, 1908, by a church in West Virginia. The Sunday sermon honored 362 men who had perished in a coal mining accident.
The following year, probably inspired by Anna Jarvis’ successful efforts to establish Mother’s Day, a woman in Spokane, Wash., began a campaign to recognize fathers. Sonora Smart Dodd’s father raised his six children alone after his wife died in childbirth. She lobbied the YMCA, churches and government officials in her quest, and on June 19, 1910, the first statewide celebration of Father’s Day was held in Washington state.
The idea caught on, slowly. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge urged state governments to observe Father’s Day but stopped short of making it a national holiday. Subsequent presidents also supported the celebration of dads, albeit unofficially. In 1957, U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith declared in Congress, “To single out just one of our two parents and omit the other is the most grievous insult imaginable.”
In pondering this timeline, it occurred to me that my grandfathers probably never received hand-drawn Father’s Day cards until my cousins and I came along. Both of them came to Hawaii as plantation laborers from Japan and Okinawa, early in the 20th century.
My father’s father died when I was 4, a little more than a year after my parents and I moved in with my grandparents in Haiku. I have only a few blurred memories of Haiku Ji-chan, a soft-spoken, gentle man. Over the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to meet a couple of old-timers who remembered him as their luna at Libby Pineapple. They told me he was fair-minded and compassionate, the kind of boss who appreciated his men and was respected by them in turn.
My mother’s father was a jack-of-all-trades, a handy carpenter, an experienced fisherman and an expert vegetable carver. In his youth, he was a chimney sweep at the sugar mill and earned the nickname “Nezumi,” or Rat, because of the ease with which he would scurry around the top of the smokestacks. He lived to the age of 90, and he spent a good part of his last years living with my parents and me. Though he spoke very little English and I knew even less Japanese, we enjoyed many hours of companionship. He, too, was gentle and kind, and extremely patient with his chatterbox granddaughter.
My aunts and uncles on both sides have shared many happy stories of their fathers, which I intend to recall and honor this Sunday. I’m sure Daddy won’t mind sharing the day with the other father figures in my life. Besides, Father’s Day comes just once a year, but in my heart, every day is Daddy’s Day.
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.