The Ceremony of the Father
History of Father’s Day in America
Father’s day had a bit of a rough start. It’s inception began in 1910 when Sonora Dodd, a Washington native, started a local celebration for fathers in honor of her own. Her father was a civil war veteran who raised six children alone. His birthday fell on June 5th. His daughter petitioned the local pastors to participate, but June 5th didn’t give them enough time to organize, thus, the celebration was relocated to the third Sunday of June.
Later in her life, Sonora decided to convince the nation to adopt the holiday, and she was smart enough to enlist the interest of groups producing men’s wares: ties, tobacco, clothes, shaving supplies, top hats, and other manly man things purchased in the early 1900s.
The idea was solidly backed by those with commercial interests, but not so much by mainstream society. There would be several failed attempts to make an official Father’s Day. In 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson finally established the third Sunday of June to be a holding place for the celebration. It wasn’t until 1972, however, that Richard Nixon would sign it into law as a nationally recognized event.
As most of us know, Father’s Day isn’t particularly exciting. Most of us spend time with family, get a gift for dad, maybe take him out to a game, and other types of bonding. As I was researching the internet for Father-related religious and/or spiritual material, I was surprisingly disappointed. There was very little out there! There was even less among Pagan resources! Surprising, because we pride ourselves on recognizing the spiritual importance of duality, especially male and female.
Why Turn Father’s Day into a Tradition?
By “tradition,” I mean a ceremony performed with solemnity each year that is eventually passed to your children. The fact Father’s Day started out as a commercial interest (and, well, still remains one) is irrelevant. A father has tremendous spiritual importance in a family. Regardless of one’s religion or lack thereof, I think we can all agree to that! While we should show our dads a bit of thankful recognition every day, Father’s Day becomes a convenient time to reflect on this vital, personal, and growing relationship. And it’s not just the family who shows their respect this holiday. A father has time to reflect on his obligations to his family and share his thoughts.
So, why not add a little more meaning to this year’s Father’s Day? Have dinner, go to the game, give a present, and do everything you normally do. But at the end of the day, gather up mom, dad, and the kids, and share a private moment.
Father’s Day Ceremony
As a disclaimer, this ritual is for a traditional nuclear family: Mom, Dad, kids. That’s because it’s my family’s current arrangement. This is also for families whose father is still living. While I’ve thought about a ceremony for fathers who have passed, I haven’t gotten there yet. I want to say I acknowledge many kinds of families, and I support family diversity in all forms.
This is a simple ceremony families of any creed can do together (yes, even atheists). This ritual honors a Father’s role, a time to charge him with the sacred duties of fatherhood and for him to impart his personal blessing on the family, not simply as a dad, but as the half-soul of his children and spouse. The following ritual was written by myself and my husband, so it is deeply personal to us. Your family will no doubt have very different blessings, but if you’re having difficulty, feel free to use ours as a launching pad for inspiration. As far as I know (and I’m probably wrong), this is the only Father’s Day specific ritual on the internet.
If you are agnostic or atheist, this ritual can easily be tailored to a simple humanistic tone. There’s no reason an atheistic family cannot have moments of ritualized meaning together. Ceremony may have the feel of something religious, but that has nothing to do with a specific god or faith, only emotion.
Likewise, if you do belong to a particular faith, it will be easy to adjust this ceremony to your specific God.
Living the Mythology, Performing the Symbols
In Paganism, fatherhood is a divine duty and Father’s Day falls on a auspicious time of year–near the height of summer. In countless myths throughout time, the sun is the male power, the warm energy which seeds and enriches the earth, allowing her to bring forth life. The third Sunday of June approaches the Summer Solstice, called Litha in modern-day Paganism, when the sun is at its apex. It is the longest day of the year. Even today we follow ancient patterns, living their truth in ways that cannot be described, but somehow experienced and, thus, understood. We honor the Father when the Sun reaches his solar climax, coinciding with the kill of the hunt, the union of consort, and the triumph of male divinities across time.
A Father’s ceremony, however, is not complete without the Mother. While this is his day to stand unique, the goal of the ritual is to experience the union of the two: for the children to sense the meaning of creation and the special relationship shared by their parents. This is a symbolic truth anyone may experience, regardless of creed. It is a truth for secularists. It is a truth for the religious. You have only to adjust the words to reflect your own creed, and share meaningful time with your children.
The ceremony begins with the entire family sitting together. The setting, lighting, music, and incense/candles are all personal preference. We did ours sitting on the floor in front of the family alter, but it would be lovely outside as well. To begin, one of the family members draws a circle around the family, creating a sacred space (the choice of who makes the circle depends on the representation preferred by the individual family). The circle can be drawn with a finger, stick, or, in our case, a quartz rod we bought for our son to make prayer circles.
What is the meaning of the circle? Unity of course. Inside, the family is the center of all, unbroken, an entity together. Here we fill the circle with kind meditations and positive energy, just as any other prayer in any other faith. Take a moment to enjoy being together, with these wonderful creations who share half of your own essence and body.
When you’re ready to begin, the mother pours a drink into a chalice. In this case we used grape juice since the kids would be drinking it, but wine would work just as well for older children. The chalice has always been a symbol of the mother, of life, of the womb.
Next, each child is handed a (non-spillable!) spice. Recommended spices are cloves, cinnamon sticks, or star anise seeds. Each is traditionally male centered in mythology, particularly the star anise and cinnamon. These are the father’s symbols carried by the children, representing the seed which created them.
Our family used the star anise which was perfect. They don’t make a mess and have a lovely scent and texture.
To perform this ceremony, the father writes a blessing for each member of his family. Likewise, the family writes a “charge” for the father. This involves some personal creativity. Being Pagans, we wrote a Pagan ritual, but as I’ve said before, a personal blessing is just that…personal. It can include anything one wishes.
A “charge” is a kind of ceremonial command, in which one brands another with a sacred duty. I wrote up all the things I thought a husband and father should be and do, and turned it into prose. It’s a little like writing wedding vows, so you’ll want to give it some time and thought. This isn’t something to be rushed.
In regards to the father’s blessing, this is also something deeply personal, that only a father can write. He writes a prosodic blessing for each child and his wife. These writings, along with the charge, compose the core of the ritual.
When the charge and the blessings are complete, the ritual can be truly beautiful. They are shared in the following sequence:
The mother starts the blessing by placing one of the seeds into the chalice. She then reminds her husband of his sacred and traditional duties.
“A Father is the other half of the mother.
We ask you to remember husband and wife are whole when together.
We ask you to remember you embody the God of the Green; Lord of the Hunt. It is man’s lifeblood which spills to allow life, given to the earth in perfect unity.”
The child places a seed in the chalice. The following is read by the mother or the child, if old enough.
“A Father is a warrior.
We ask you to protect what is yours, to keep us safe as your most valuable possessions.
We ask you to lead with strength and passion, to teach us how to steel our wills when life makes demands that seem too great to endure.”
The child or his/her sibling places a seed in the chalice.
“A Father is a sage.
We ask you continue to grow in knowledge and wisdom.
We ask you to be a storyteller, a visionary, and a man of myth and art so we grow into complete contributions to humanity.”
The child or mother places the last seed in the chalice.
“A Father is the best of his children.
We ask that you see yourself when you look at us, to care for us as you care for yourself.
We ask you to keep your honor. Teach integrity. Guide us in moral instruction.
You are Odin;
You are Zeus;
You are Osiris.
You are the honored Lord of our family.”
The Mother takes a drink while the Father gives his blessing.
“You have made me more.
Without you, I would not be a father;
You have made me less.
Without you, I would no longer be whole;
You have made me many.
With you, I have made a family;
You have made me one.
With you, I have seen our future;
You have made this possible,
The son takes a drink as he receives his Father’s blessing.
You are kind.
It is my duty to teach you compassion, to protect that gift.
You are overflowing with life.
It is my duty to give you the tools to harness that power.”
The daughter takes a drink as she receives her Father’s blessing.
You are strong.
It is my duty to show you how to protect others.
You are smart.
It is my duty to guide you onward to discovery and truth.”
The Father takes a drink as he concludes the family blessing.
You are our future.
It is my duty to teach you, to give to you, to show you, to guide you.
You are my life.
It is my duty to be what you look for in yourself and in others.
From you to me, to my father, and to his father, and to his father…to the First Father.
We are all connected.
We are all one world.
We are all one family.”
If there are any Father’s Day gifts, they can be given here, or the circle may be broken after a moment of meditation. Breaking the circle releases the good energy into the world, your family’s hopes and dreams for the future.
I hope you can see there is a ton of playroom in designing this ritual for your own family. This was a truly meaningful ceremony in our family, one that didn’t take much time, but left a huge impression. Many blessings in generating your own Father’s Day celebration.