TWH – Every year on the third Sunday in June, many people around the world set aside time to honor and celebrate the fathers and father figures in their lives. Father’s Day has become a day to recognize the unique and important contributions that men make to the rearing of the next generation.
The history of the American secular holiday does not have the same radical roots as its counterpart, Mother’s Day. In 1908, a Washington state woman named Sonora Smart Dodd, who had been raised by a widower, wanted male parents to be honored in a similar way as mothers. Dodd’s own mother had died giving birth to a sixth child and, consequently, her father was forced to raise all six children himself.
In 1910, Dodd was able to convince Washington state officials to establish an official Father’s Day. She had hoped it would be on June 5, the day of her father’s death. However, the state made it the third Sunday in June.
The idea spread very slowly, meeting much resistance. Some local communities, such as one in Fairmont, West Virginia, picked up on the idea through its church community. After a catastrophic mine tragedy in which many men lost their lives, the community began celebrating Father’s Day on July 5.
In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge recommend adding the holiday to the calendar. According to Library of Congress’ wise guide, Coolidge believed that it would “establish more intimate relations between fathers and their children” and “impress upon fathers the full measure of their obligations.”
But the idea was quickly rejected. Many Americans felt that the holiday was silly, and still others protested against the establishment of yet another commercially-focused celebration. By this point in time, Mother’s Day, which was declared a national holiday in 1914, had already become quite commercialized, upsetting founder Anna Jarvis and drawing some controversy.
Despite these objections, the idea to establish a national Father’s Day got a significant boost by World War II and Cold War nationalism. An unofficial version of the holiday began to spread throughout the country and, by 1970, it was widely embraced. Then, in 1972, President Richard Nixon signed the proclamation that made it an official U.S. holiday. Today, many countries around the world honor fathers on this same day.
While Father’s Day is certainly secular, the celebrations do not need to be. The original idea reportedly came to Dodd during a church service. Moreover, becoming a father itself, similar to becoming a mother, can be deeply transformative.
“[Fatherhood] deepened my stewardship and guardianship instincts overall, and solidified my sense that humanity is – and is supposed to be – a part of nature capable of enacting sacred partnerships with each other, plants, animals, and spirit/diety,” said Canu, a Witch, Wiccan and Faery Seer in Florida.
Canu has raised two “amazing humans,” who are now 19 and 21. “It has been humbling to help foster growth for my children’s own health and goals.”
EarthSpirit co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen also found his journey to fatherhood transformative. “I was in my late thirties when I became a father. By then, I’d been in many deep and complex relationships, and I was pretty confident that I knew myself emotionally, that I knew what love was all about.”
“It turned out that I was totally unprepared for the outpouring of feelings I experienced with both of my children: the depth, the intensity, the absolute sense of unconditional love, the knowledge that I would give my life for them without a moment’s hesitation,” he said. Corban-Arthen has a daughter age 26 and a son about to turn 30.
“[Having children] probably changed me more than any other experience in my life.”
Canadian Heathen Robert Rudachyk agreed, saying that his life has been changed since becoming a father. “I looked out for myself primarily. I focused on what was best for me. Since my kids were born, I have focused on what is best for them and put myself in second place.” Rudachyk has an 8 year old daughter and 10 year old son.
Wiccan Priest Matthaios Theadoros is at the very beginning of his own journey as a father; his son will be two in August. Theadoros said, “Before my son was born, I was heavily involved in my coven. I was not prepared for how much I would be giving up when we had a baby. [Becoming a father] has taught me a lot about time management.”
More practically speaking, he added, “It’s taken me out of a lot of online interactions, so I’ve been much happier. Less unimportant drama.”
ADF Druid Sean Harbaugh has four children ranging in age from 10-22. He said that becoming a father had not altered his spiritual journey, but added that his religious beliefs definitely influence the way he raises his children.
“As an ADF Druid, we have a really complete cosmology and set of virtues.There’s nine of them, and then all other values and virtues fit within those. I’ve reinforced those virtues with them as they have grown, and hopefully it has stuck with them into adulthood. I think they are really good humans with big loving hearts.”
The other men interviewed agreed with Harbaugh, stating clearly that their personal beliefs and religious practices have informed the way they view fatherhood and have chosen to raise their children.
“We are a religion that honors life’s changes and cycles,” explained Wiccan Priest Theadoros. “Here’s a front row seat life’s changes and cycles. It’s a beautiful chaos that has shaped my spiritual path which, in turn, shapes my approach to being a dad.”
Like Harbaugh, Rudachyk described how he calls on his religious background to directly guide and teach. He said “I often use different stories from the Eddas to help teach the kids about proper behaviour and have quoted the Havamal many times for simple life points.”
Anecdotally, Rudachyk added: “Just last week when my kids and I were fishing and we hooked a five foot long river sturgeon. My son was holding the rod when the fish launched itself completely out of the water. It freaked him out more than a little bit, and afterwards I was telling the story of how when Thor went fishing he caught the Midgard Serpent. That really resonated a chord with both of them and became a great teaching and bonding moment with my kids.”
When asked how his beliefs informed his parenting, Corban-Arthen focused on the importance of community. He said, “Community is one of the three foundations of the spiritual practices I follow. Because of this, I think of myself more as a parent than I do as a father. My wife Deirdre and I have always parented as a team, and have traded roles and responsibilities back and forth over the years, so that our children would not see either of us as one-dimensional, but experience the fullness of who their parents are.”
Corban-Arthen and his wife made a “very deliberate choice” to raise their children within a rural and spiritual environment. He explained, “These were, for us, distinctly spiritual choices. Both of our children were born within a ritual setting, with several other members of our family in attendance. From day one, they’ve had a sense of being part of a tribal family which includes many aunts and uncles in addition to their parents, and they’ve had a very direct experience of the natural world, of wilderness, of living in harmony with the land.”
In discussing this subject, Canu said, “My main dieties in practice are Herne, the Green Man, and Oshun. The strong stewardship and guardianship roles of Herne and the Green Man guided me in raising my children with awareness of the sacredness and value of the human, plant, animal, and spirit lives all around us, as well as our responsibility to understand how we affect our environment.”
He added, “Oshun has really helped guide my sense of how to instill respect for our own and other’s expressions of beauty, relationship possibilities, and sexuality. That’s a challenge to convey as a parent, but she has helped!”
Like motherhood, fatherhood has its profound moments of joy, fear, pride, and frustration. When asked to share a special moment, Harbaugh said, “Witnessing the birth of my son Zane was by far the most profound moment I’ve ever witnessed. Words cannot describe the feeling of amazement as I witnessed him joining us here. Birth is just an amazing thing to witness.”
Fatherhood also brings moments of unforgettable comedy and deep laughter, as only a child could inspire. Theodorus recalled his son’s recent Wiccaning. “It was magical, in all senses of the word, watching my fellow Third degrees offer their blessings. My son insisted that I hold him during the ceremony. Pretty early in the ritual, his diaper leaked and he peed all over me. We had a good laugh over that.”
Whether it is a birth, a Wiccaning, a first day of school, or simply a quiet moment in the house, fathers and grandfathers, as it were, play an important role in the raising of the next generation. This is exemplified in an NPR article titled “Why we need Grandpas and Grandmas,” which uses elephant society as an example. The guidance and lessons that fathers bring to community are integral to children’s well-being and their future in community, whatever that may turn out to be.
Not all these vital teaching moments are planned; sometimes guidance is needed at odd times, and a father must be ready. Canu recalled an unexpected, but very touching moment between himself and his oldest child. “I had the privilege and responsibility of having the first talk with my older child about coming out while he was in junior high,” he explained.
“It wasn’t planned or voluntary (an inadvertent interruption of computer use while getting ready to leave in the morning), but our first talk unfolded as a basic expression of support and trust, love, and support for his own growth and desires, not mine or mine by proxy.”
Fathers don’t only play a pivotal role in guiding of sons, but they also provide valuable assistance in guiding their daughters. Corban-Arthen’s own daughter reminded him of an important message the he gave to her as a child.
“Every so often when she was little, and it was just the two of us together, I would tell her to always remember that she was the equal of any boy or man; that she could do whatever she wanted to do, and be whatever she wanted to be. That if her brother got to do certain things that she wasn’t allowed to do, it was only because she was younger, not because she was a girl. And that, in time, she too would be able to do those things, and probably do them at an earlier age than her brother.”
Corban-Arthen explained that his daughter was growing up with two older boys in the house, and he felt that this message was very important for her to hear. “It would have been easy for her to internalize the wrong message, the message of inequality that our culture tries to imprint in young girls from the moment they’re born. I’m glad it meant something to her, meant enough that she remembers it.”
Fatherhood is not at all a uniform experience; there is no playbook or manual. And the job is not always an easy one. Canu said, “My father-in-law said to me once that each of your children will take something you hold dear, twist it into something unrecognizable and confront you with it. Fathers will be called to face that moment, their children, and their Gods.”
All five men of the men interviewed have participated in the transformative journey of fatherhood in their own way, guided by their beliefs, spirituality, and their children. We asked what advice that would be willing to offer to future fathers, Pagan, Heathen or otherwise.
Corban-Arthen said, “Give your children the very best you’ve got at every moment, even if it isn’t perfect. But that doesn’t mean just saying ‘I gave them my best,’ and leaving it at that. It means actively engaging in an ongoing quest to always reach for what truly is best in you, even if it takes an effort, even if it means a struggle.”
“It will make you a better father – and a better person – in the end.”
Echoing that statement, Theadoros said, “Be present, be supportive of baby and mama, and enjoy the ride.”
Harbaugh stressed that there are no rules to parenting. He said, “Try the best you can. Seek advice from your parents or friends with children. Always approach your children with love, even when they do something wrong. Through them you are immortal, so think about that when you look into their eyes.”
Rudachyk said, “Remember son, it is no longer about you.”
Rudachyk went on to say, “Your role is first and foremost to protect your kids until they can stand on their own, then it is your role to guide and advise them so that they can find the path which they will succeed at. It is not your role to hide them away in a bubble of fear and mistrust that stops them from venturing out into the wider world, but rather it is your role to teach them about the wider world in such a manner that they can bravely go forth to find their own success.”
Like Harbaugh, Rudachyk also had a broader message – one that illustrates a parent’s obligation to community and a better tomorrow.” Do not teach them hate or fear of those different from us, but rather teach them to find understanding of those who are different from us so that we can build friendships, alliances, and trust in such a way that we all prosper. Your kids are your future and if you must lay down your life for any cause, let it be in the protection of those who will carry on your legacy.”
When asked his advice, Canu echoed the other men’s words, saying, “Foster and nurture the unfolding of life and beauty that your children embody. Our role as fathers isn’t to show our children their paths, but to be open to stewarding their own paths, no matter how different from our own.”
Canu then added, “May all fathers have the strength and wisdom of their many ancestors, their father’s fathers, and their Gods when they face the crucible of living in partnership with their children, when they confront the transition of guiding a child’s development to participating in their child’s own path rather than their own
“There is sacred wisdom and strength in a fatherhood that can uphold the diverse and beautiful unfolding of the life of our children that blesses the men that can embrace it.”
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A very Happy Father’s Day to the men who were interviewed and to all those celebrating!