Commentary: What is the ‘true meaning’ of Father’s Day?


We hear about the “true meaning of Christmas” every December. Why don’t we hear about the “true meaning of Father’s Day” every June?

The first official statewide Father’s Day was celebrated in the state of Washington on June 19, 1910. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson honored the day by using a telegraph to communicate that flags in Spokane (the birthplace of Father’s Day) should be unfurled. Although the holiday grew in participation, Father’s Day did not become a national holiday until 1972. President Richard Nixon’s 1972 proclamation making Father’s Day a national holiday reads, in part:

“In fatherhood we know the elemental magic and joy of humanity. In fatherhood we even sense the divine, as the Scriptural writers did who told of all good gifts coming ‘down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning’ — symbolism so challenging to each man who would give his own son or daughter a life of light without shadow … Let each American make this Father’s Day an occasion for renewal of the love and gratitude we bear to our fathers, increasing and enduring through all the years.”

The debate can go on and on whether holidays like Father’s Day are part of the grand commercialized holiday conspiracy. Regardless, I choose to use Father’s Day as an opportunity to reflect on my own parenting; but equally important, to reflect on my role in the community.

One thing I learned volunteering, coaching, visiting classrooms and serving with WATCH D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) in schools is that too many students don’t have male role models in their homes or their lives. 

Recent reports and census data evidence that almost 40% of students do not have their father living in the home. That lack of daily connection with a father in the home can have major impacts on the development of children. 

The growth in fatherless homes and lack of male role models has left some calling it a public health crisis. Almost 85% of youths currently serving a prison sentence grew up in fatherless homes. Studies have also correlated fatherless homes with increase rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, suicide, depression, poverty and high school dropout rates. It has become too easy for some people to avoid their parental responsibilities.

Children grow up watching how parents relate to each other. They learn by example; relationships, communication, skills and habits are all learned from the adults in the home. That is why it is important to help build stronger families and provide parents with the resources and tools to be successful. 

I recognize that not every relationship is healthy or the situation you want a child to experience. In those cases, we need our positive male role models to step up.

When children don’t have a father in the home, they may look to others in the community. Be the “good” that they turn to when they need it. There are children in classrooms, on soccer fields and at youth groups who want and need you to be the example to follow.

My hope this Father’s Day was that positive male role models continue being visible, volunteering and offering the example this generation needs. If you don’t currently volunteer, Father’s Day is the perfect time to start sharing your wisdom and talents.

So, what is the “true meaning” of Father’s Day? 

For me, the “true meaning” of Father’s Day is that feeling you get when a child you are mentoring trusts you and shares their feelings for the first time.

The “true meaning” of Father’s Day is witnessing a child say nice words to a stranger, take the high road to avoid conflict, show good sportsmanship or even help carry groceries into the house without asking.

The “true meaning” of Father’s Day is seeing lessons learned and daily efforts to be a good father and husband “enduring through all the years.”


State Rep. Peter Abbarno is a Centralia-based attorney who represents the 20th Legislative District in the state Legislature.