News you can use: Father’s Day was invented at the YMCA in Spokane, Wash. No, the Village People had nothing to do with it. It was much earlier, 1910, and it was all Sonora’s idea.

Sonora so loved her daddy, a Civil War veteran who raised six children all by himself, that she came up with the notion. Nobody remembers what Sonora Smart Dodd was doing at the YMCA in Spokane in 1910 or any other time. She was from Arkansas.

And guess what? There’s a Maine connection, and wouldn’t you just know that that old trouble maker, Margaret Chase Smith, would have something to do with it? In 1957, Maggie wrote to Congress, and chastised them for focusing on women and ignoring fathers.

Soon it became a gold mine for menswear retailers, because we all know Mother’s Day is all about candy and flowers. It’s a florist’s second Christmas. But nobody sends flowers or candy to pop, so the menswear guys started promoting it big time. I know. It worked for me long before I got my first Father’s Day card.

In the early 50s as a student at the Cleveland Playhouse School of Theater, I worked my days off selling underwear in the men’s department at the old May Company. To succeed in that field you really had to be gifted.

In those days, underwear was mostly Jockey and all white. It would be years before fun underwear came into being with shorts festooned with dogs, horses, shamrocks and smiley faces.


I shared the department with Olive and Harold, two middle-aged clerks who had worked every department in the store. The job was so boring, I had to throw myself into it. After that summer, I had what the general manager proudly said was “the best book on the floor.” In all white underwear mind you. In retail, that’s like getting the Navy Cross.

Apparently, that went over like fallen arches with Harold, so soon, I found myself in kitchenware, where I didn’t fare as well. But the skills I honed at May Company, served me well for the rest of my life.

In New York, at Christmas, I got my first sales job at Bloomingdale’s, after Macy’s, the biggest department store in New York. Christmas was gold. I sold everything from toys to boxer shorts, which now came in silk, rayon, striped, polka dotted and with smiley faces. After the holidays hundreds were laid off. But because the head of human resources was a girl from my class, I stayed on through the dog days of January, then Valentine’s Day with the heart covered ties, March with shamrock-festooned boxers and everything green, Easter and Mother’s Day when all the business went upstairs to the women’s department.

Just as I was planning to find another job where I wouldn’t fall asleep on my feet, my hiring friend said, “Hang on, Father’s Day is coming.” She was right.

That’s when I learned the power of Father’s Day. On that day, all the money in America comes flooding back into menswear. No bon bons and tulips for dad.  I sold more wallets, key chains, gloves and scarves, ties and shirts and socks and colognes than anyone else on the floor.

After a little research, I discovered that here in Maine, Father’s Day gifts range from the usual ties to power mowers, ATVs and big grills with all the attachments.

Now that I’m a father, and the years and the daughters’ incomes grew, I moved up from handmade cards, soap on a rope, magazine subscriptions, to the big time of a new laptop and smartphone.

But as this Father’s Day dawns, it appears that the good times are over. The youngest is saving for a vacation, and the oldest and her fiance are saving for a big wedding on the Maine coast next autumn. I think I can count on a new gift card to Starbucks, and maybe some new underwear. I’m hoping for boxers covered in fire crackers in time for the Fourth. Happy Father’s Day.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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