Why Our Fathers are Our Heroes

8By Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

In our Mother’s Day blog post, we noted our research finding that people listed their mothers as heroes more often than any other person.  Fathers were a close second.   Why are parents viewed as so heroic?  Developmental psychologists tell us that the relationship we have with our parents is the first significant relationship of our lives.  It is a relationship that indelibly shapes our values, our aspirations, and our future behavior.  Thus when we experience successes in our careers and in our personal lives, it is not surprising that we attribute those triumphs, at least in part, to our parents.

The origin of Father’s Day is not entirely clear, but there are several fascinating possibilities.  Babylonian scholars have discovered a message carved in clay by a young man named Elmesu roughly 4,000 years ago.  In the message, Elmesu wishes his father good health and a long life.  Some believe this ancient message represents evidence of an established tradition of honoring fathers, but there is little evidence to support a specially designated Father’s Day until modern times.

There is some debate about the origin of the Father’s Day that we celebrate today.  Some claim that a West Virginian named Grace Golden Clayton deserves the credit.  fathersIn 1907, Clayton was grieving the loss of her own father when a tragic mine explosion in Monongah killed 361 men, 250 of whom were fathers.  Clayton requested that her church establish a day to honor these lost fathers and to help the children of the affected families heal emotionally.  The date she suggested was July 8th, the anniversary of her own father’s death.

Still others believe that the first Father’s Day was held on June 19, 1910 through the efforts of Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington.  Inspired by the newly recognized Mother’s Day, Dodd felt strongly that fatherhood needed recognition as well.Her own father, William Smart, was a Civil War veteran who was left to raise his family alone when his wife died giving birth to their sixth child.  Dodd was the only daughter, and she helped her father raise her younger brothers, including her new infant brother Marshall.

Whereas Mother’s Day was met with instant enthusiasm, Father’s Day was initially met with scorn and derision.  Few people believed that fathers wanted, or needed, any acknowledgement.  It wasn’t until 1972 that President Richard Nixon made Father’s Day an official holiday.  Today the holiday is widely celebrated in the month of June by more than 52 countries.

Why are fathers heroes?  fathersThe respondents in our survey listed two main reasons.  First, fathers are given credit for being great teachers and mentors.  They teach us how to fix a flat tire, shoot a basketball, and write a resume.  Fathers are less emotional than mothers, but they lead by example and devote time demonstrating life skills to us.  Former governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, once said, “I talk and talk and talk, and I haven’t taught people in 50 years what my father taught by example in one week.”

Second, fathers are great providers and protectors.  Our respondents told us that their fathers were heroes in their commitment to provide for their families, often at great sacrifice.  Many fathers work at two or more jobs outside the home to ensure that their families have adequate food and shelter.  Fathers also provide us with a sense of safety and protection.  Sigmund Freud once wrote, “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”

On this Father’s Day, we wish all fathers, and all men who serve as father figures, all the kudos they so richly deserve.  Happy Father’s Day!

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Do you have a hero that you would like us to profile?  Please send your suggestions to Scott T. Allison (sallison@richmond.edu) or to George R. Goethals (ggoethal@richmond.edu).

15 thoughts on “Why Our Fathers are Our Heroes

  1. Surely, the father is a hero.
    The image of fathers is that they must act like that.
    Since our childhoods this image is put in our head.
    They must protect us from everything bad in the world.

    But, above all, they are human that teach us with good examples.

    Congratulations for the post. It’s great! Like always.


  2. I got a kick out of the fact that Father’s Day was initially greeted with scorn and derision. Apparently it’s not manly to be recognized for doing one’s fatherly duty. 🙂

    Your essay is right on the money, though, as usual. Fathers can be, and usually are, the biggest influence in a person’s life. It’s a huge responsibility with implications far beyond one individual, and one should think it over very carefully before making a decision that cannot be undone.

  3. I could not resist commenting on this blog the moment I read it. My dad has been such a huge influence in my life that I cannot even begin to thank him for everything he has done for me. He is the father of four girls, that in itself should make a person want to cringe, but as I tell all of my friends, he loves it and he would not change it for the world. This blog was extremely inspirational to read and although I could sit here for hours and list everything that amazes me about my dad, I don’t want to bore everyone else reading these comments 🙂

  4. Your father is most defiantly one of the most influential people in a persons life. When he is there, he teaches raises you into the person you are to become, and even in his absence, causes a person to grow and find their own path, and grow to become a stronger person

  5. i think that a father is always needed in someones life. a mother can only teach there children about certain parts of life, and its the fathers job to show them how to survive. growing up without a father from a boys apperience like myself can be a little fustrating.i had to develop man like skills that my mother couldnt teach me. like the blog says “fathers were heroes in their commitment to provide for their families, often at great sacrifice.” this is why a father is needed in a young boys life to set that kind of example

  6. This is definitely Super information gaining writing and thanks to google get me on here. I loved reading your article and put into the bookmarks. The views you used to place up was clearly understandable. My hubby also appreciated after reading this post. I’ll go through for more earlier, its very inspired me

  7. Father’s have a strong influence on their children’s lives. For boys the are the first example they have of someone to look up to. Our fathers are one of the first people we view as heros. It is unfortunate that not all fathers are there to show how a “hero” should act.

  8. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for my dad. He has taught me everything about character and hardwork. This relates to why I am at the University of Richmond playing football today. I do not know where I would be and what I would be doing if my father was not in my life. I hope to one day be the father and person that he has been to me to my kids.

  9. I love my dad and he deserves just as much credit as my mother as being my hero. they both are great influences in my life and have taught me so much. My dad has taught me through example how to be a good person and treat people with respect. I love making him proud and when I have moments that don’t he’s always there to help me along.

  10. Fathers greatly influence their children and how they will grow up. My dad is one of my favorite people in the world, he has taught me what is like to work hard for something you want, and if you want it bad enough it is attainable. Although he is goofy his life lessons have influenced me greatly, making him a hero in my eyes.

  11. I absolutely love this blog! My dad is one of those most important peope in my life, and with that he is also one of my biggest heroes. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for my dad, and I know of no better way to thank him for all he’s done than to consider him my hero.

  12. I am so glad to see fathers being recognized as heroes in this blog. I have always had so much respect for everything my dad does to provide for my family. I used to look forward to “bring your kids to work day” at his office where my brothers and I would spend the entire day with him. He has always been the goofy, light-hearted, relatable parent and I always hope that some of his high-spirited personality has rubbed off on me. I can’t imagine my life without him.

  13. I sometimes find it hard to express to my dad just how much I admire everything he does and stands for. He is one of the most generous, kind, selfless people I know. He’s taught me so much, and I strive to be like him. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to thank him enough for everything he’s done, so for now, he’ll just remain my hero.

  14. my father is not my hero. he cheated on my mother and abandoned me and my younger brother. he now sees us every other weekend unless he has something else planned. he has created a lot of distress for me. my brother is too young to understand and so sees him as a father. but not a hero. he does not follow my father’s examples and knows deep down inside himself that what my father did was wrong. i will never forgive him for not taking any interest in my life. i recently lost a close friend and he doesn’t care about how it is affecting me. he doesn’t care about my school work. i’m doing a-levels and he doesn’t even remember which ones I’ve chosen. he doesn’t care that i passed my IGCSE in English literature. he has never shown any concern for me or my brother. i will not be taking him on as a role model when i have a career or a family.

  15. I understand how you feel. My father was not heroic or a good role model either. When I was young, my father figures came from history and fiction.

    Those who have fathers who they can look up to should consider themselves fortunate.

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