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Father’s Day Then and Now

Father’s Day Then and Now

“One father is more than a hundred schoolmasters.” –George Herbert

One hundred and six years ago, on July 5th, 1908, what is considered one of the first Father’s Day tributes in our country was conducted. Following a mine disaster that claimed the lives of 361 men in Fairmont, WV, a local church hosted a service that paid honor to the men and fathers lost in the tragedy. A couple years later, Sonora Smart Dodd, daughter of Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, is credited with the formation of the first Father’s Day celebration. Dodd, who had a very high regard for her own father, got the idea after attending a church service celebrating Mother’s Day in Washington State (notice how both of these stemmed from church services?). On July 19, 1910, the state of Washington officially celebrated the first statewide Father’s Day. However, it wouldn’t be until 62 years later, under President Richard Nixon, that Father’s Day would be officially recognized as a national holiday.

Fast forward another 42 years and we find our nation in spiritual decay, and I would dare say that a good reason for this is the loss of fathers as the family leader. In our upcoming book, The Daddy Gap, my coauthor and friend Dawn Walker makes this powerful statement:

“Unfortunately, we have an enemy who knows that if he can take out the leader, he can weaken, cripple and scatter those in his wake.”

All we have to do is go back a few generations to see the correlation between a greater number of intact, two-parent families and greater stability in our nation both morally and economically. Our current trend away from this traditional family structure is not benefiting our children or our country. So what’s happened in such a short period of time that could have caused such chaos? Well, we can point to many factors, but for the sake of avoiding a debate here I will stick with the obvious and most prominent ones.

Sexual Immorality

Obviously, this is not a new problem. Sexual immorality has been around since nearly the beginning of humanity, as is widely recorded in both the Old and New Testament. Recent history shows an increase in premarital sex and single motherhood starting as early as the 1940’s. Add in the production and printing of pornography in the 1960’s and 70’s, and the Internet explosion of porn in the mid-90’s and it is easy to see how our morality calibrator got so far out of whack seemingly overnight.

This single factor has been so devastating to marriages and families that, as I heard one man say, it’s like “putting out a camp fire with kerosene.” The psalmist writes in Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to your word.” When Satan wanted to drive a missile right into the heart of fathers, and thus our world, he went for one of the easiest and oldest tricks in the book…sexual temptation. Today, in greater numbers than ever, men keep falling for it.

Kicking God Out

Now, I’m not old, but I’m not that young either. I remember when I was growing up that being labeled as a “Christian” individual or family was actually a good thing and to be admired. Today, it is often viewed as a stigma for being bigoted or intolerant. Again, our enemy has been trying to level the playing field since his defeat two millennia ago. Paul tells us that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18) and that “the god of this world” has blinded the minds of the unbelieving (2 Corinthians 4:4). We have seen increasing attacks on expression of our nation’s Christian foundation in schools, public buildings, literature, and even in our own homes over the past few decades. Isn’t it interesting that as so many fathers have forsaken their role as the spiritual head of the household (often because they aren’t even living in the home), more and more Americans are now considering themselves “non-spiritual?”

Ready for the Good News?

As devastating as fatherlessness is in our nation, there IS an upside! The amount of time fathers spend with their children in an average week has nearly tripled since 1965, and recent studies have shown that millennial generation dads are now putting more emphasis on being with their families rather than at work. We have also seen a massive increase in the number of single father households lately (2.6 million in 2011 vs. only 300,000 in 1960).

And although single parent homes are still female-dominated and on the rise, it is very encouraging to see that many of these children are growing up with a father around in some capacity or another. Finally, I can tell you from personal experience that our country is experiencing a huge push through local and national organizations and fatherhood initiatives─many of whom share our Christian values and beliefs. Programs are being created, movies are being produced, and generations are being transformed. It isn’t going to happen overnight, but there is hope ahead.

So, does Father’s Day look the same as it did several decades ago? In many ways, yes. There are still BBQ's to be devoured, golf courses to be conquered, and fellowship to be had. But the fact remains that if we want to stop the bleeding in this nation when it comes to the collapse of our family structure and values, then we MUST continue to invest in fathers and young men!

Dads, celebrating the gift of fatherhood is a wonderful thing; but ultimately it’s the responsibility of fatherhood that will determine our legacy. There is a battle that needs to be fought for our families and kids that needs to take precedence over anything lesser in our lives for a real celebration and victory to be realized. I don’t know where you find yourself this Father’s Day: married or single, with your kids or without, in the battle or in between battles. What I do know is that no matter what, our presence matters tremendously regarding the hope for future generations─ and we don’t get a day off from that.

Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:13-14 NASB).

Matt Haviland is the founder of A Father’s Walk single dad ministry and the author of the book, A Father’s Walk: A Christian-Based Resources for Single Fathers. He currently lives in his hometown of Grand Rapids, MI, is the co-founder of the Grand Rapids Single Parenting Expo, and is a single dad to a beautiful little girl himself. For more information on the ministry and how to form a single dad small group in your own church, please visit  

Publication date: June 12, 2014