According to 2018 statistics from the National At-Home Dad Network, this country has approximately 1.4 to 1.75 million stay-at-home dads. The Network defines a stay-at-home dad as a “daily, primary caregiver of his children under the age of 18.” The number of fathers who choose stay-at-home parenting has risen in recent years from 5% to 21%. Most of these men work part-time or work opposite shifts from their spouse.
In an era when most widowers turned their children’s care over to others or hastily found someone else to marry, William Jackson Smart raised his six children alone. Smart was a Civil war veteran whose wife had died in childbirth.
A resident of Confederate Arkansas, Smart enlisted as a sergeant with the Union Army. Shortly after the war, he married Elizabeth Harris, with whom he had five children, one of whom died in infancy.
Four years after Elizabeth died, he married Ellen Cheek, a young widow with three children, and he later added his widowed sister and her daughter to his household.
Smart went on to father six children with Ellen. His first four offspring now grown, the home was still overflowing with the latest six youngsters, plus his three step children.
With the advent of the railroad, towns began to spring up all over the country. For unknown reasons, Smart moved his burgeoning household from Arkansas to Wilbur, Washington where, two years later, Ellen died in childbirth, leaving him with nine at-home children ranging from newborn to 19 years. He did not remarry.
Inspired by his devotion to family, and influenced by Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother’s Day, Smart’s daughter, Sonora Smart Dodd, wanted recognition for her father’s familial sacrifices.
For the next year, her appeals for a national Father’s Day fell on deaf ears, and initially was scoffed at as just another opportunity for commercialism.
Nevertheless, on June 19, 1910, America’s first Father’s Day was observed at the YMCA in Smart’s home city of Spokane, Washington.
In 1917, then-President Woodrow Wilson attended the Father’s Day celebration in Spokane. Whether he met Smart or his family is uncertain. Smart died there in 1919 at his daughter’s home, his children at his side.
It was not until 1966, that President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed the third Sunday in June as a national Father’s Day, complying with Sonora’s request for a date in June, her father’s birth month. President Richard Nixon later declared it a federal holiday in 1972.
Father’s Day this year falls on June 17, and while national spending on dads amounts to billions of dollars, it still falls behind that of Mother’s Day.
We’re told that in Germany, fathers spend the day in beer gardens, drinking.
Here’s wishing all father’s (including surrogates who may be uncles, cousins, brothers, grandads, or family friends) a most Happy Father’s Day, however you choose to spend it.