The 1990 University of Oklahoma Dad’s Day was the worst. At 18, my go-to response was melancholy and sadness.
Dad had died suddenly the year before. It was isolating to watch sorority sisters pose for cheesy party pics with hugs and big smiles before going off to the football game.
Not wanting to be the Debbie Downer at O’Connell’s Irish Pub, I sulked in my room, watching VCR tapes of soap operas.
That changed the following year. Mom had remarried a wonderful man who was happy to be my dad for a day, but it didn’t end there.
My 1991 OU Dad’s Day attracted my stepdad, two uncles and Grandpa Klein. They found out about my pity party and weren’t going have that happen again.
They posed for many photos, chatted up the other dads and skipped the game for cheese fries and beer at O’Connells. I don’t remember details, only a warm feeling of being remembered and included.
Word had gotten around in my family that there would always be a dad available for such things.
Fathers come in all forms: granddads, uncles, cousins, big brothers, stepfathers, friendly neighbors, coaches, teachers and mentors.
It doesn’t matter where the guys come from. It only matters they give support, acceptance and love. Those are the best lessons any man can give a child.
In the U.S. last year, about 11.3 million families were headed by a single parent, and 81% were led by a woman.
Reasons for the rise in single parenting vary. Deaths play a role, but nearly 4 out of 10 children are born to unwed mothers and a high divorce rate are the leading factors.
This doesn’t mean fathers aren’t involved in their children’s lives. It does require more planning for quality visitation.
Families come in all shapes and parenting dynamics.
At least 86,000 lesbian couples are raising children in the U.S. (28,000 male couples are parenting), according the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law. About 3 million grandparents in the U.S. are raising their grandchildren, according to AARP.
Each day, about 443,000 U.S. children are in foster care.
Rather than force a conventional vision of how a family looks, Americans are forming family structures working for them.
Father’s Day was founded by Sonora Smart Dodd, one of six children raised by a single dad. William Smart was a Civil War veteran who lost his wife during childbirth.
It is believed Dodd had the idea while listening to a church sermon on Mother’s Day in 1909, just when that holiday was being adopted.
Others had failed to get traction for a father’s celebration, but Dodd strongly believed they deserved equal recognition.
Leaders in her Spokane, Washington, area embraced the idea. Washington state celebrated the first U.S. Father’s Day on June 19, 1910 — the birthday month for Dodd’s father.
Several decades passed with no federal support until Maine Sen. Margaret Chase Smith in 1957 chided her colleagues for honoring “just one of our two parents.” In 1966, President Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, and President Nixon signed it into law.
The annual day of pampering dads has been in place since, though awareness is growing that not all families have a traditional father.
A recent movement in schools calls for eliminating or rebranding parental events like Doughnuts for Dads or Muffins for Moms. The evolution is appreciated and may take the pressure off kids.
I’ve been there.
That first OU Dad’s Day was miserable, but what grew out of it was lovely. My sister and I ended up with more fathers than we could say grace over.
My stepdad was a calm, steady presence, attending every holiday and major event. His death in 2008 was as crushing as Dad’s. My mother’s third husband has been a gracious and kind supporter.
All Mom’s four brothers have stepped up at some point from helping in job hunts to hanging out on weekends or after work.
These men have listened, embraced, laughed and given advice when asked. We’ve vacationed together, and they are now a part of our children’s lives.
I’m convinced the influence of these men led to my sister and me into loving marriages to men who are amazing fathers.
None of this diminishes my memories of Dad. He made big impacts that continue to motivate and inspire me.
If anything, it took many to fill his void. Also, their actions honor Dad.
On this Father’s Day, the celebration shouldn’t be limited to just biological fathers but to all men who have been a dad, even if for a breakfast of school doughnuts.