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Image: Father's Day Centennial poster
Nicholas K. Geranios  /  AP
A poster announcing the centennial celebration of Father's Day created by Spokane tourism officials portrays Sonora Smart Dodd, founder of Father's Day, and a drawing of her father, William Smart.
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updated 5/31/2012 10:45:36 PM ET 2012-06-01T02:45:36

Father's Day was started more than a century ago because its founder Sonora Smart Dodd was upset by widespread mocking of fathers in popular culture as lazy, sleazy and drunk.

This June marks the 102nd anniversary of Father's Day, and while today's fathers have come a long way, some would say they could once again use an image boost.

While it is easy to take shots at dads who mess up, it's important to focus on the important role of men, said Michael Gurian, an author who specializes in the struggles of men in the modern world.

"Making fun of guys to get them to perform and prove themselves, that's always going to exist," Gurian said. "But we have to equally celebrate them and empower them."

For Sonora Dodd, the last straw was a church sermon in 1908, when her priest rambled on about the newly created Mother's Day and the importance of mothers.

"I liked everything you said about motherhood," Sonora Dodd recalled telling the priest in a 1972 interview. "However, don't you think fathers deserve a place in the sun too?"

Without fathers, no civilization
Her father, William Smart, survived the Civil War and then moved West to seek his fortune. His wife died in the winter of 1898.

Image: Sonora Smart Dodd
AP
Sonora Smart Dodd, founder of Father's Day, in a 1940s photo in Spokane, Wash. This June 20 marks the 100th anniversary of the holiday she started.
But Smart, with the help of Sonora, the eldest of six children and the only girl, held the family together. Sonora became convinced of the importance of fathers, at a time when they were not considered that relevant to the family.

While William Smart's sacrifice might have been somewhat unique in its time, these days 15 percent of single parents are men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In addition, there were 158,000 stay-at-home dads in 2009 who raised the kids while their wives worked, the Census Bureau said.

And 71 percent of 6-year-olds ate breakfast and dinner with their fathers every day in 2006, the agency said. Fathers are also good about reading to their children, praising them at least three times a day and taking them on outings, various reports compiled by the Census Bureau said.

At the other extreme, Gurian said 90 percent of homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes. Also, 71 percent of high school dropouts and 63 percent of young people who commit suicide are from fatherless homes.

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"Without fathers you would have no civilization," Gurian said.

He acknowledged that men tend to take more risks, fool around more (see Edwards, John) and suffer more crippling addictions (see Sheen, Charlie) than women. They also seem slower to mature these days, often living at home into their 20s.

"Father's Day is hopefully a time when the culture says 'this is our moment to look at who our men and boys are," he said. "If we don't protect fathering, we are going to really be messed up."

'She knew how to get things done'
Sonora Dodd certainly did her part. She pushed for the first Father's Day celebration, which was held in June 1910, in Spokane. Fathers in church were given red roses, and people whose fathers were deceased wore white roses.

Some also credit the invention of the holiday to Grace Golden Clayton of Fairmount, W.Va., who is said to have suggested to the pastor of her church in 1908 that he hold a service in honor of fathers.

But it was Dodd who campaigned nationally for the holiday.

Mother's Day was quickly accepted as a national holiday, with Congress in 1914 designating the second Sunday in May. Father's Day had a much longer road, perhaps reflecting the societal split involving mothers and fathers. It was not until 1966 that President Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers and set the third Sunday in June as Father's Day. In 1972, President Nixon signed the law that made it permanent, to the delight of necktie and golf club makers everywhere.

Sonora Dodd died in 1978 at age 96 and is buried in Spokane.

"She was a businesswoman and knew how to get things done," said Barbara Hillerman, Sonora Dodd's only grandchild.

Hillerman, 75, a college professor in Vienna, Austria, will be making her first trip to Spokane in decades for anniversary festivities. Her father was Sonora Dodd's only child, John Bruce Dodd Jr.

She did not know her grandmother well, in part because her family moved back and forth across the country as her father rose in the Forest Service.

"My relationship to her was as grandchild and grandmother," Hillerman said in a telephone interview from Vienna. "One of my failures is we didn't talk about Father's Day."

But "I sent my grandmother a Father's Day card every year," Hillerman said.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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