Photograph by Steven Senne, AP
Updated June 20, 2010
As Father's Day hits its centennial today, sons and daughters around the world are expected to open their wallets wider—slightly—in celebration. Because of the slowly recovering global economy, people are expected to spend about 4 percent more than in 2009 on cards, ties, tools, clothes, and other Father's Day gifts.
But the first Father's Day, a hundred years ago, was decidedly humbler, and refreshingly noncommercial.
Father's Day was only officially made a national holiday in the U.S. in 1972, when President Richard Nixon declared it to be the third Sunday of June. But the holiday actually traces its origins to early 20th-century Washington State.
Inspired by a Mother's Day sermon she heard at church in 1909, Spokane resident Sonora Smart-Dodd—one of six children being raised by a single dad—also wanted to honor her father. She encouraged local churches to institute the first Father's Day observance the following year, and the idea caught on. (Learn more about the beginnings of Father's Day.)
Psychology lecturer Nicole Gilbert Cote at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, who researches Father's Day phenomena, noted that U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1994 launched a gender neutral "Parent's Day" on the last Sunday in July.
"Ultimately, Parent's Day did not take off as people had probably hoped and expected," she said. "And that makes perfect sense to me, because Mother's Day and Father's Day have such commercial appeal."
Some are taking special steps to celebrate the Father's Day centennial. The Coeur d'Alene Brewing Company in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, which is about 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of Spokane, brewed a special Papa's Pale Ale for the occasion, for example.
George Stromberg, the brewing company's president, told the Spokesman Review that the local visitors bureau put him up to the Father's Day task. "They thought there was a natural connection between dads and beer."
Shortchanged on Father's Day
Even though fathers will likely receive more this year, they'll still stay way behind moms, according to the National Retail Federation, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group. For instance, in 2009, Father's Day cost individual consumers an average of $90.89, while Mother's Day spending was $123.89.
The retail group expects gift givers to spend an average of $94.32 on Father's Day today. For moms, shoppers shelled out an average of $126.90.
"Dad is a little more laid-back and easier to shop for," said federation spokesperson Kathy Grannis. "His gifts usually range from a simple tie for work to a new spatula for the grill, all of which can make dad very happy."
Mother's Day gifts tend to be more luxurious than Father's Day presents—jewels, flowers, a trip to the spa, or dinner at a restaurant, for example.
Easy to Please on Father's Day
Still, the smiles are likely genuine when millions of fathers across the U.S. open boxes, peel back tissue paper, and admire their new neckties—still among the most popular Father's Day gifts—said Gilbert Cote, the psychology lecturer.
Her research shows that even though dads get less attention on Father's Day than moms do on Mother's Day, fathers are more likely to be satisfied on their holiday. (Read about the five "worst" animal moms.)
Part of the reason seems to be that moms expect to be relieved of stereotypical chores such as cooking and cleaning up on Mother's Day, but that doesn't always happen.
"The bar is lower, and Dad is OK with that," Gilbert Cote said, adding that the way families—even those that espouse egalitarian ideals—celebrate the two holidays reinforces such stereotypes.
Father's Day 2010 Is in the Cards
This makes Father's Day the fourth largest card-sending holiday in the U.S., behind Mother's Day (141 million), Valentine's Day (152 million), and Christmas (1.8 billion). In total, according to the retail federation, people will ring up about $749 million in cards for this year's Father's Day.
Fifty percent of Father's Day cards are purchased for dads and another 15 percent for husbands. The remaining fall into a broad "other" category, which includes grandfathers, sons, brothers, uncles, and other loved ones, according to Deidre Mize, a Hallmark spokesperson.
"It might be someone who served in a father role," she said. "Or it could be a stepdad." (Read about a society that shuns fatherhood.)
Despite all the cards given on Father's Day, Hallmark didn't have anything to do with the origins of the holiday, Mize added.
Hallmark, she said, didn't start printing Father's Day cards until the 1920s.
Feed the World
How do we feed nine billion people by 2050, and how do we do so sustainably?
We've made our magazine's best stories about the future of food available in a free iPad app.
Latest From Nat Geo
These cooing Casanovas use showstopping plumage to court females and fend off rivals.
Meet a trapper who keeps Florida's streets, sewers, and Kennedy Space Center alligator free.