With Father’s Day on the horizon, I got curious about the origins of this holiday. I was moved to learn that it was first launched by a daughter, Sonora Smart Dodd, in 1910. Dodd wanted to honor fathers like her own, William Jackson Smart, a Civil War veteran and single parent to six children. When the holiday didn’t catch on initially, despite the support of then-President Woodrow Wilson, Dodd renewed her efforts to make it a national holiday during the 1930s. Finally, through a presidential proclamation in 1966 followed by a bill signed in 1972 by President Richard Nixon, the third Sunday in June officially became the day on which we honor fathers in the United States. This determined daughter began her efforts honor the contributions of fathers to their families when she was twenty-eight years old; she lived to see the fruits of her labor in her ninetieth year.
Father’s Day is big news at our house every year. For weeks in advance, Julia and I think of surprises and treats for Tim. This year, we are planning a picnic to River Bend Nature Center, where Julia and Tim have taken science classes and volunteered to dust the natural history specimens. The particulars are top secret, but with a special menu, trivia quiz, handmade cards, new wardrobe items—and a rare afternoon of Doing What Dad Wants To Do—we think he’ll enjoy the day. Tim’s choices will probably involve some televised sports, and Julia and I will probably keep our humorous comments regarding sports to a minimum.
In the spirit of the day, I wanted to spotlight the creativity and sensitivity of dads, and so I include two poems here. The first is by Tim and became an instant favorite when I read it earlier this spring. The second is one by a poet from whom I have learned a great deal: Ronald Wallace, founder and co-director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I did my undergraduate work. (All his volumes of poetry and criticism are delightful. For a full list, please check his bio pages.) His poem below is a palindrome, a rare form that reads backwards and forwards the same. It is a technical tour de force, but the real trick is that it is such a heartfelt evocation of the loved shared by fathers and daughters. I have had this poem memorized for decades, and every time I recite it I feel a little choke in my throat.
How can this tree flourish, untended,
In my grandfather’s orchard,
This island in the returning prairie?
I pick a yellow apple,
See its luster and bruises,
Know I’m caught between past and future.
I give it to my young daughter.
She savors it; understands perfectly.
(Copyright 2013; used by permission; all rights reserved.)
Palindrome: Fathers and Daughters
Fathers read to daughters,
teach love of words and stories,
their hearts full of light.
The fathers give to love
the only hope they have.
But have they hope only?
The love to give fathers
the light of full hearts.
Their stories and words of love
teach daughters to read fathers.
(Copyright 1983; used by permission; all rights reserved.)
For many years, I have been fascinated by labyrinths, those deceptively simple but sophisticated technologies for mediation and healing. This week, I added two new pages on labyrinths; later this summer I plan to post an interview with labyrinth maker Marilyn Larson.