Flags, Fathers, and the Father of Our Country

Jackie Gingrich Cushman
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Posted: Jun 15, 2008 12:01 AM
Flags, Fathers, and the Father of Our Country

This year, the days set aside for honoring fathers and flags fell on the same weekend.  Flag Day is celebrated on June 14 of every year. Father’s Day the third Sunday of June, fell on June 15 this year, as close as is possible to Flag Day.

This close alignment of seemingly different days provides us with the opportunity to ponder the significance of remembering and honoring fathers and flags, and to contemplate the intersection of the symbol of our nation (the flag) with the person who, without which, we would not be here today (our father). 

While the 13-star design became the official flag of the United States on June 14, 1777, Flag Day was not celebrated or designated until much later. In 1885, B. J. Cigrand, a school teacher in Wisconsin, arranged for his students to celebrate the flag’s birthday in honor of the symbol of freedom and justice.  As Cigrand continued to champion the cause of celebrating our flag’s birthday, Flag Day celebrations became more popular in the late 1800’s. 

President Woodrow Wilson officially established Flag Day via proclamation on May 30, 1916. President Harry Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 of each year as National Flag Day on August 3rd, 1949.  Since that time, Flag Day has been recognized as the birthday of our Nation’s symbol, the Flag. 

Father’s Day, a modern invention, was first celebrated in 1908 in Fairmont, West Virginia and Spokane, Washington.  The West Virginia church service at Williams Memorial Methodist Church Episcopal Church South is believed to have been spurred on by a mine explosion that had killed 361 men, many of them fathers, the prior December.  In addition, just two months prior in the nearby community of Grafton, West Virginia mothers had been celebrated.  

The Spokane, Washington event, held at the YMCA, was championed by Sonora Smart Dodd, whose father, Civil War Veteran William Jackson Smart, raised his six children as a single parent after his wife died in childbirth.  Smart, inspired by the recent Mother’s Day celebration, wanted to honor fathers as well. 

In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge recommended Father’s Day be proclaimed a national holiday.  More than four decades later, in 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson did just that. And in 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a law designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. 

This year’s back-to-back celebrations of our flag and our fathers call to mind the father of our country. George Washington, who never had children of his own, instead helped birth a nation.  Think of all U.S. citizens as his descendents.  It would be hard to imagine our nation being formed without him.

In honoring and remembering our father’s and flags, it is useful to review the qualities and aspects of the father of our country, and the only president to serve under the original 13-colony flag.

Washington was 11 when his own father died. Afterward, his older, half-brother Lawrence stepped into the role of father figure. When Lawrence died in 1752, his estate, Mt. Vernon, and his place in Virginia’s militia went to George Washington.

Washington led the Continental Army through the American Revolutionary War. Conditions and events that might have crushed other men instead increased his resolve and belief in the “ Invisible Hand” or “Providence” as he emphasized in his first inaugural address

No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. . . .

A man who believes in God.

On December 23, 1783, at the end of the Revolutionary War, Washington – who had the chance to become king or emperor – instead presented himself before Congress in Annapolis, Maryland, and resigned his commission. After giving up power, he retired and went home to Mount Vernon. 

A man not driven by personal power. 

But his retirement didn’t last long. In 1787, appalled by the excesses of state legislatures and the ineffectiveness of the Continental - Confederation Congress, Washington ended his self-imposed retirement and began working for a new Constitution, completed in 1787 and ratified in 1789.

A man willing to work for his nation.

Once the Constitution was approved, Washington received a vote from every elector to become the first president of the United States. 

According to his Mount Vernon biography by Jack D. Warren, Jr., Washington “administered the government with fairness and integrity, assuring Americans that the President could exercise extensive executive authority without corruption. Further, he executed the laws with restraint, establishing precedents for broad-ranging presidential authority. His integrity was most pure, Thomas Jefferson wrote, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motive of interest or consanguinity, friendship, or hatred, being able to bias his decision. Washington set a standard for presidential integrity rarely met by his successors, although he established an ideal by which they all are judged.”

A man determined to act with integrity and fairness.

Growing partisanship within the government concerned Washington.  He reluctantly agreed to serve a second term only after his cabinet persuaded him that he commanded the respect of “both burgeoning political parties.”

A man more in love with his country than a party or politics.

So this week, celebrate fathers and flags, and remember too the father of our country, George Washington.  Take inspiration from him, follow in his footprints, to have faith in divine providence, to act with fairness and integrity, to overcome partisanship to create a better country and to work to make things right.  These actions will create a better future for us all.