Honoring Single Dads on Father's day

Thomas F. Coleman
June, 2006

If anyone thinks of single dads as being on the fringe of Father's Day, think again. A close look at the historical origins of the occasion reveals that Father's Day was first created as a way to honor a single parent.

In a recent press release, the Census Bureau notes that the idea of Father's Day was conceived by Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Washington, while she listened to a Mothers Day sermon in 1909.

Dodd thought there should be a special day to honor her father, William Smart, a widowed Civil War veteran who was left to raise his six children on a farm.

A day in June was chosen for the first Father's Day celebration. June 19, 1910 was proclaimed "Father's Day" by Spokanes mayor because it was the month of William Smart's birth.

Lyndon Johnson was the first president to issue a proclamation honoring fathers when, in 1966, he designated the third Sunday in June as Father's Day. Father's Day has been celebrated annually since 1972 when Congress passed a law to make it a permanent day of commemoration.

About 66 million men who are alive today claim the title of father. Among these are 26 million men who are part of a married-couple family with minor children at home.

Although married dads predominate, the number of single custodial dads is on the rise. Some 2.3 million men are single dads who have custody of their children, up from 400,000 in 1970. Another 4.6 million single men do not have custody but are supporting their minor children financially.

In 2000, more than 3 million children lived in a household headed by a single father. That's more than triple the 1980 number.

As of last year, the Census Bureau reported that 42 percent of single custodial fathers are divorced; 38 percent have never married; 15 percent are separated; and 5 percent are widowed.

The ratio of single father households to all single parent households has been steadily increasing. Currently, 1-in-6 single parents is a single father, compared with 1-in-10 in 1970.

According to Hallmark, about 95 million Father's Day cards are given in the United States each year, making it the fourth largest card sending occasion.

Whether someone is married or single, being a parent is not an easy task. Being a single dad is even more challenging.

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