- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I look forward to June the way some people anticipate the winter holiday season. The month heralds not only the beginning of summer but also the arrival of vacations, weddings, graduations and genial Father's Day celebrations.

Since its 1910 inception in Spokane, Wash., Father's Day has paid homage to dads and given men, in the words of my own late father, “an excuse to spend an afternoon relaxing and indulging” with their loved ones.

The indulgences of the day — cards, gifts and favorite foods — have altered little in recent years. It is the celebrants who have changed. Today, countries as diverse as India and Sweden, Nepal and Brazil also devote a day to honoring the dads of their lands.

Viji Kanagasundaram, a native of Karaikudi in southern India, did not experience this event as children in India do today. “The culture as such, every day you were honoring your parents and receiving their blessings. There was no specific day to do it,” Miss Kanagasundaram says.

She notes that over the past decade, as Western culture has permeated her homeland, the notion of this holiday has caught on in cities and larger towns. As in North America, Father’s Day in India is observed on the third Sunday of June. On that day, children shower their fathers with cards and presents and take them to the movies or, increasingly, out to dinner.

If celebrating at home, women prepare such special-occasion foods as biriyanis, Miss Kanagasundaram says. A Mogul dish resembling a casserole, biriyani consists of layers of basmati or long-grain rice and marinated chicken, fish or lamb. Although it’s a fairly elaborate meal, it can be made in advance and reheated before serving — a gift to any harried cook.

In Great Britain, Ireland, Canada and South Africa, fatherhood is commemorated in much the same way as we do in the United States and on the same day. Cards remain the most popular way to recognize dads. Clothing and dining rank as close seconds.

Although increasingly viewed as a commercialized event, Father's Day started with humbler motives.

Founded by Spokane resident Sonora Smart Dodd in 1910, it began in response to the 1909 Mother’s Day tribute to moms. Miss Dodd’s mother had died during childbirth, leaving her father, a Civil War veteran, to raise her and five siblings. She reasoned that if mothers received a day of appreciation, caring, hardworking men such as her father warranted 24 hours of deference, too.

Her original observance included a religious service and the wearing of simple but symbolic corsages. A red rose signified reverence for a living parent. A white flower represented remembrance of a deceased dad.

The affair garnered early support from such dignitaries as the governor of Washington state and President Coolidge. More than 50 years would pass before it gained official status. That finally occurred in 1972, when President Nixon signed it into law and declared that the celebration of Father's Day would be on the third Sunday of June.

By the 1970s, though, the day had become associated more with gift giving than with religious ceremonies or memorial flowers. By 1978, the year Miss Dodd died, the holiday was estimated to be worth more than $1 billion in retail sales, according to “Holiday Symbols and Customs” by Sue Ellen Thompson (Omnigraphics).

Despite the emphasis on consumerism, a few countries continue to carry out Miss Dodd’s original intentions. On Gokarna Aunsi — Nepal’s Father’s Day — children travel to the shrine of Shiva to pay their respects to the dead.

Offerings of fruit, eggs and confections are made, and pindas, small balls of rice or barley, are dropped into holy waters or fed to sacred cows. Those with living fathers journey to their homes and toast them with drinks and sweetmeats.

In Brazil, households convene on the second Sunday in August to share a meal and bestow small, often homemade, gifts. “My father still has the collages, cards and paper crafts that I made as a child,” says Simoni Leal-Bhagwandin, a journalist from the northern Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.

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