William Jackson Smart didn’t set out to be the iconic father of his day. He grew up on a small farm on the banks of the Mississippi – and it was farming that he loved best.
Even he was a little baffled how his life turned out – ending up in a house in Spokane on the frontier in 1919, with too many children to count, a devoted daughter at his bedside and a holiday declared in his honour. Quite a feat, for a farm boy.
He’d lived through tough times. A hero in the American Civil War, he fought for the Union in a Confederate state. He knew the grief of widowhood, twice. And he also knew the difficulty of being a single parent – with four children from his first marriage, six from his second, and three step children that he picked up along the way. ‘We are,’ he’d joke, ‘a family of steps, halves and wholes.’
He moved west with his young family in 1889, building the house in Spokane for them all. When his wife Ellen died in 1898 his only daughter – Sonora – was sixteen. She was old enough to take some of the responsibility for her five younger brothers.
Sonora always admired her dad in the months and years after her mother’s death. He was grief-stricken, but he never lost sight of his sense of duty to his children, his optimism for their future.
So when Sonora heard about the first Mother’s Day at a sermon in church in 1909, she wanted to honour her father – and father’s everywhere – in the same way. She rallied the crowds of Spokane, and they celebrated Father’s Day in June the next year.
Father’s Day grew in popularity, and Sonora petitioned for it to be recognised across the nation for the next 40 years. In 1972, Nixon made it a national holiday.
Tamdhu was born in 1897, in the same era of optimism that inspired our founders. The age of ambition that would convince Sonora that good things are worth fighting for. A Can-Dhu-Spirit spirit we celebrate today.
Thanks to Sonora’s tireless optimism and her father’s extraordinary resilience, we can all raise a dram of Tamdhu to the first heroes we know: our fathers.
Give the Can-Dhu-Spirit this Father's Day.