How America’s Radical Roots Helped Make Father’s Day a National Holiday

Why President Nixon ended up singing the June holiday into law in 1972.

June 18, 2017 5:00 am
The Origins of Father's Day
(Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

It took some radical thinking for Father’s Day to become a national holiday. As Time notes, up until it was signed into law in 1972 by President Richard Nixon, there wasn’t really any formal holiday celebrating fatherhood.

While Mother’s Day was set aside as a national holiday in 1914, Father’s Day didn’t get the momentum behind it until the ’70s, when there was a shift in perception of what a dad represented.

This partially stemmed from a mini-revolution that took place earlier in the 20th century called the “New Fatherhood Movement,” which preached the positive effects of a paternal connection, emotional as well as financial, to a man’s children.

As historian Ralph LaRossa notes in Time‘s article, a new view of a father’s role as “protector” emerged in the late ’60s and early ’70s—a byproduct of the Vietnam War. Also, the women’s liberation movement played a big part, as women vied for equal rights in the workplace and home, and it seemed odd to celebrate only mothers once that new egalitarianism began to seep into parenting.

On the other side of the coin, making Father’s Day a national holiday could also have been a reaction to men’s lessening role of power in the household.

“It was only after the Sexual Revolution and the establishment of no-fault divorce in the 1960s challenged the prominence and permanence of the father’s role in the home that Congress officially authorized a permanent observance in 1972,” writes professor Timothy Marr, in American Masculinities: A Historical Encyclopedia.

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