Father's Day: We Spend $9.8 Billion to Say 'Thank You'
Life + Money

Father's Day: We Spend $9.8 Billion to Say 'Thank You'


Everybody from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof to Bruce Feiler, author of a new book, Council of Dads, has been waxing poetic this week about dads and Father's Day. And why not? According to the latest numbers from the National Retail Federation, we love our dads a lot — a whole lot. Even more than last year, financially speaking.

Consider this: $9.8 billion. That's roughly what Americans will spend on dads this Father's Day. Per person, we’ll spend more on our dads this year than last — about $94 each, up from $91 last year, representing an increase of about 3.8 percent. Not bad, considering today’s economy.

But deflation, inflation, war, peace, boom or bust — we honor fathers no matter what.  Since 1972, when President Nixon signed it into law, Father’s Day has been an annual celebration in this country. President Lyndon Johnson had a piece of it, too. In 1966, he issued a presidential proclamation honoring fathers and making their day of dedication the third Sunday in June.

We have to go much farther back in time, though, to know the real deal. In 1909, Sonora Dodd of Spokane, Wash., wanted a way to honor her father, William Smart, a widowed Civil War veteran who was raising his six children on a farm. She'd listened to a Mother's Day speech and thought, What about Dad? Others agreed. So exactly a century ago this weekend — on June 19, 1910 — the first Father's Day in the U.S. was celebrated, chosen for June because that was the month of William Smart's birthday.

Today, of course, neckties, fishing gear, golf balls, and all sorts of gee-whiz garage tools, electronic gadgets and other "stuff" are symbols of affection for Dad. With nearly 68 million fathers in this country this year, we'll spend about $750 million on mass-produced greeting cards, and shop for that perfect gift at 24,000 sporting goods stores, 14,000 hardware stores, and 9,000 clothing stores.

Worth Considering
Here's a thought: Where are the numbers for all those adoringly hand-crafted, slightly crumpled, sometimes illegible cards churned out by kids across America? Those are the cards my husband tends to save from our sons (and he’s not the kind of guy to save things). How do you account for all the bear hugs, the handshakes, the laughter, the loving looks, words of wisdom, quiet moments, and hours of happy companionship that dads and their offspring share over the course of a lifetime?

Suzanne Saperstein, a mother of three in Westchester County, N.Y., recalls one Father’s Day that stands out. “When I was a teenager, my dad and I went to a Yankees game together,” she says. “My dad and I always shared a love for watching sports on TV over the years, so it was natural for him to share this game with me. It’s a memory I’ll always treasure.”

Similar thoughts flow from Siamak Kordestani, 24, of Washington, D.C. “Togetherness and family cohesion are more important to me than buying my dad a shirt or clothing,” he says. He and his family usually take their dad out to a restaurant for a nice meal together.

My own dad, Joe Mackey, could give two hoots about lavish expenditures. When you get to a certain age and have seen your share of brushes with death — in my dad’s case, a liver transplant and a few heart surgeries — you look at life with different eyes. Phone calls or visits from his kids and grandkids are what matters, and these are the numbers he would cite: He has six children and 18 grandchildren. He walked his two daughters down the wedding aisle and served as best man for all four of his sons at their request.

Five of his grandchildren asked him to be the sponsor at their confirmations, a position of honor in the Catholic Church. And he’s watched more ballgames, practices, recitals, plays, and other special events his kids and grandkids have been involved in than he can even begin to count. 

And that’s just fine by him.

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