Father’s Day is upon us once again this Sunday, June 17, and while you’ve hopefully already bought dear old Dad a cool gadget or witty card to mark the occasion (and if you haven’t, stop reading this and go get one!), you may have some questions about the holiday. Do we have Hallmark to thank (or curse) for it? Which came first, Father’s Day or Mother’s Day? Read on for answers to those questions and more.
There are two stories about the origins of Father's Day
The lore goes that the holiday is the brainchild of two women. The first, Grace Golden Clayton of West Virginia, suggested to her pastor in 1908 that the church honor fathers, an idea likely inspired by a mining disaster in nearby Monongah the year before that killed 362 men and left 1,000 widows and children.
The other woman, more widely recognized as the creator of Father’s Day, was Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington. Dodd and her five siblings were raised by a single father in a time when that was largely uncommon, and in 1910 she started a petition to recognize the holiday.
The first piece of legislation regarding the day was a 1913 bill by Congress specifying that “[t]he third Sunday in June is Father’s Day.” While its popularity waxed and waned over the years due to — no joke — tie manufacturers, it slowly gained popularity from the 1930s to the '60s. (Read my colleague Phil Edwards’s piece "How the necktie industry saved Father’s Day" to get the whole fascinating story.)
In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation to mark the celebration of Father’s Day, and in 1972, President Richard Nixon finally signed it into law.
Father’s Day is now celebrated in many other countries, including Russia, Thailand, and Australia, though not always on the same day as in America and not always in the same fashion. For instance, the Telegraph notes that in Germany, "[in] certain regions it is traditional for groups of men to go into the woods with a wagon of beer, wines and meats. Heavy drinking is common and, according to official statistics, traffic-related accidents spike on this day."
Wait, is it spelled Father’s Day or Fathers’ Day?
It’s definitely Father’s Day, with the apostrophe before the S. If you want to dig into the grammar of it, Dictionary.com offers this rather touching explanation:
With the apostrophe before the s, Father’s Day "belongs" to each individual father. If the apostrophe fell after the s, the meaning slightly changes. That would be a holiday "belonging" to all fathers as a collective.
In other words, Father’s Day is a time to celebrate the greatness of your own dad, and to hell with the rest of them. (More broadly, if you're confused by apostrophes in general, Vox’s German Lopez has a great explainer.)
If you don't care about grammar in the slightest, here’s the simplest explanation: Though founder Dodd spelled the name Fathers’ Day on her original petition to recognize the holiday, the 1913 congressional bill spelled it Father’s Day. And thus it has remained.
Father's Day in pop culture
There are at least two (very different) movies about the holiday. The Father’s Day of 1997 stars Robin Williams and Billy Crystal as two strangers who go on a quest to find a boy after their mutual informs them both, separately, that the kid is their son. Roger Ebert was not a fan, calling it "a brainless feature-length sitcom with too much sit and no com."
But if you’re looking for something more family-friendly, perhaps featuring Julia Roberts, we assume it’s only a matter of time until someone takes a cue from the late "holiday-themed supervillain" Garry Marshall and unleashes a hellish vision of Father’s Day upon the world.
Mother's Day still trumps Father's Day — in retail terms, at least
Motherhood may have certain detrimental effects on women’s earnings potential, but when it comes to commercial holidays, the moms have a clear lead. Though greeting card companies and sporting goods stores now rake in profits every third Sunday in June, there are a few pieces of evidence for Father’s Day being the smaller of the two parent-focused holidays.
One is that Mother’s Day has just been around longer — as Edwards explains, the mother of Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis, created the holiday in 1908, and President Woodrow Wilson made it a national holiday six years later. Father’s Day, meanwhile, didn’t become an official holiday until 1972, courtesy of Nixon.
It could also reflect a difference in home life structure. According to the Census Bureau, there were 1.9 million single fathers with kids under 18 in 2015, versus 9.9 million single mothers. And in two-parent families where one parent stays home with the kids, there’s a big discrepancy in who it is: The census found that among married couples, there were 5.2 million stay-at-home moms in 2015, versus just 199,000 stay-at-home dads.
The sales data bears this out: The National Retail Federation estimates that Mother’s Day this year resulted in $23.1 billion in spending, while Father’s Day–related sales are expected to be around $15.3 billion — not exactly chump change, but a significantly smaller sum nonetheless.
What should I get my dad for Father’s Day?
Here’s how Father’s Day gift-giving breaks down, according to National Retail Federation data:
If you’re under 10, congrats — not only do you have excellent reading skills and taste but you’re one of the lucky few who can get away with presenting a novelty neckwear item of some sort (Tabasco ties were my go-to). Otherwise, you could take your dad to the movies; per CNN, Father’s Day weekend was the fourth-highest-grossing box office weekend in 2015. You could send him a card (like 74 million people do each year, according to Hallmark), though if you haven’t already put one in the mail, an e-card might be more realistic this year.
Regardless of what you get him (or don’t get him), your dad probably just wants your love, so spend time with him if you can or give him a call if you can’t. Unless, of course, he’s one of the 14 percent of dads Zagat surveyed who just want to be left completely alone on Father's Day.