by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It is probably not all that surprising that Mother’s Day is commemorated more and more money is spent then than on Father’s Day. Numerator, a market research firm, observed last month that nearly 9 in 10 people planned to formally honor their mothers, while just under 80% planned to do so for their fathers. The company also reported that three-quarters of moms looked forward to spending their special day with family, while just above half of dads indicated this.
As for gifts, it was stated that there was a slight increase in those being proffered to the pater familias than the mater familias, with 57% for fathers and 52% for mothers and it was added that alcohol was twice as likely to be given as an offering for dad, while gift cards were expected to account for a third of all presents to parents.
The National Retail Federation, though, released findings last week that noted that, while spending on fathers was to hit a record $23 billion this year on brunches, dinners, clothing and those ubiquitous gift cards, the outlays paled in comparison to what children paid out for their mothers. In 2023, gifts to moms tallied not far south of $36 billion, so, if more people were looking to get a gift for their fathers, the conclusion appears to be they paid more for presents for their mothers!
Given that some two-thirds of the American economy is comprised of consumer spending, it is small wonder that so much attention is paid to and so much money is paid out to the celebration of these holidays honoring our parents. Looking back historically, though, these special days are relatively new. Art Lizotte, for example, provided a very interesting summary of the formalizing of Mother’s Day in a previous post here, emphasizing the role of Los Angeles resident Lulu Skinner Lee, who, in turn, received help from Maria (pronounced Mar-aye-uh) Boyle Workman, in promoting the holiday in the early 20th century.
A republished article from the Associated Press, first issued in 2017, shares the story of Sonora Smart Dodd, who, while listening to a church sermon in Spokane, Washington, in 1909 about Mother’s Day, wondered why there wasn’t a day to honor fathers. Dodd and her five younger brothers were raised by a single father after their mother died in childbirth about a decade prior, so she worked with churches and the Y.M.C.A. to launch a Father’s Day celebration the following year.
Dodd’s great-granddaughter, Betsy Roddy, a Los Angeles resident, was interviewed for the piece about her ancestor’s push to recognize dads and it was noted that Dodd lived long enough (age 90) to see President Richard M. Nixon declare in 1972 that the third Sunday in June was to be a federal holiday in honor of American fathers. The article also noted that Roddy, who does not have children, is the last direct descendant of Sonora Rodd and is proud to carry on the legacy of the establishment of Father’s Day.
In 1910, when that first celebration was held in Washington state, Laura González and Walter P. Temple welcomed the last of their five children (a daughter died shortly after birth, so there were four who lived to adulthood), Edgar. The 7 May 1910 edition of the Los Angeles Times observed that “in many of the Southern States a Mother’s Day has been proclaimed by the governors” but queried “where does Father’s Day come in?” before answering “perhaps he has every day for his own.”
The next year, the paper joked that payday was Father’s Day, though there was talk of something formal and there was a general mention of a “Pacific Coast woman” (Dodd) who’d organized a holiday for the third Sunday of June—though within a few years she was directly mentioned in the Los Angeles Record, with a photo of her and a young son, for her contribution and a cartoon in the Los Angeles Express humorously referred to the holiday.
It was not long before the commercialization kicked in and advertisements from stores of all types and sizes began promoting the necessity of buying dear old dad a tie, a fountain pen, a wallet, a brush set or, at the very least, a greeting card, to let him know just how much he was loved. Still, Henry James, in his “Comment of Day’s News” column in the 25 June 1925 edition of the Pasadena Post, poured cold water on the idea that fathers needed or wanted a holiday, asserting,
Father’s day went by and father never knew it. No matter. The old man doesn’t care to be puttered over much. He prefers to select his own neckties . . . To be petted for a day and then set back at his regular status wouldn’t more than break the routine for him.
Father is all right, really. He likes to have the family respect his opinion, but doesn’t bank much on the chance . . .
The truth, however, is that father does not want a day dedicated to petting him. He’d much prefer just to be taken for granted as the protector of the household and the beloved friend of everybody in it. Nobody has to hang out a sign of regard to father. And if the sign was stuck up only for a day, and pulled down the next, it could not add much to the joy of living.
Who knows what James’ family life was like? In any case, we can safely assume that his view, declarative as it was, was not definitive for all fathers, though the recent statistics cited above do suggest that Mother’s Day is somewhat more honored than the holiday for dads.
In any case, it also worth pointing out that, in the Homestead’s interpretive era of 1830 to 1930, three generations of Workman and Temple fathers raised, with their wives, children in ways that were different one period to the next. It is also important to add that what we know of the families over that century is, especially when it comes to life at home, very limited and the detritus left to us a century to two centuries later is just a tiny fraction of what was generated during that time.
Beyond the question of what evidence has been left to us after the ravages of history, the expression of affection and appreciation within families evolved over time and, of course, there is the important matter of individual personality, as well as that of family dynamics, much less social conventions and etiquette. William Workman had two children—Antonia Margarita (1830-1892) and José Manuel (1833-1901)—and their upbringings and the expectations for their futures were clearly very different.
José, known commonly as Joseph or Joe, was sent to Baltimore as a child to live with his father’s sister, Agnes Workman Vickers. A major reason may well have been to give him better educational opportunities than could be found in the remote, frontier Mexican village of Los Angeles, but one wonders what the separation did for the youngster, who, it was once found in a Baltimore newspaper advertisement, tried at least once to run away.
After his aunt’s death in 1848, Joseph was sent to Missouri to live with his father’s brother, David and his family, including three cousins, and remained with them until they all migrated overland to California a half-dozen years later. Almost immediately, afterward, however, the 21-year old was sent to the San Joaquin Valley to help manage the cattle herds his father and brother-in-law, F.P.F. Temple, kept during these latter days of the Gold Rush.
Joseph remained in that part of the state for some fifteen years before his marriage to Josephine Belt of Stockton in late 1869, after which he moved to the Rancho La Puente and settled on more than 800 acres deeded to him by his father. Yet, when Joseph sought the actual document to record it with the county, William, according to testimony in a court case nearly a half-century later (this to be featured in a future post), only very grudgingly did so and there were indications of a bitter rift between father and son.
It was quite different with Joseph’s sister, usually known as Margarita or Margaret. She remained with her parents until her marriage at age 15 to Pliny F. (later, F.P.F.) Temple, but she bore her first two children at the Workman House at the Homestead and lived just several miles as the family grew to eleven children, eight of whom lived to be adults, over the course of about a quarter-century.
Again, the surviving documentation is very scanty, but we have a couple of examples of letters, formal as they are by modern standards, of the two eldest Temple children, Thomas and Francis, to their grandfather, while he established a private school at his house for the education of the oldest of the Temple brood. Even with only the barest of surviving evidence, it seems clear that the relationship that William Workman had with his daughter was a very different one than with his son.
As for F.P.F. Temple, we, again, do not have much, in terms of concrete documentation, to go on when it came to his relationship with his eight surviving children. What we do know is that the value of education was quite clear, as was the idea of having his eldest, Thomas, be his successor in business, including in the Temple and Workman bank, though its failure ended the carefully laid plans.
The succeeding sons, Francis, William and John, received varying degrees of formal education in California as well as in F.P.F.’s home state of Massachusetts, where Francis went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.), William finished the prestigious program at Harvard Law School and John, before his education was interrupted by the bank collapse, attended high school and completed a commercial school program.
Distinct from their mother, who never learned to read or write from what we know, the two daughters, Lucinda and Margarita, not only went to a Catholic girls’ school in Los Angeles, but also received some higher education, even if briefly, in Oakland at a Catholic women’s college. In the late 19th century, this was becoming more common for young women of means and reflected dramatic changes in education more broadly.
Unfortunately, there is almost no correspondence between father and children, with one surviving letter from F.P.F. to Francis coming when the latter was 25 years old, so it, naturally, is adult in tone. While there is a great 1869 photo, previously included in a post here, of Margarita surrounded by most of her children as well as others associated with the Temples, there is nothing like it involving her husband.
This may reflect clear gender roles about how parents were involved with their children (the father more formal, the mother being much less so), though, again, we have to remind ourselves of just how little we know and not assume too much about how close F.P.F. was to his many children. This included the two youngest, Walter and Charles, who were just 10 and 7 years old when their father, broken by the bank failure and loss of the family’s substantial fortune, died of the last of a series of strokes in 1880.
Walter and Laura, who were apparently secretive teenage lovers in the 1880s and then married in 1903 when they were well into their thirties, raised their four surviving children in a much different era than his father and grandfather. Affection between parents and children was much more open, but we also just have a world of difference in what has survived as evidence and documentation.
Part of this is technological, in that personal photography meant that there are plenty more formal and informal images of the family, and some of it is comes down to instances like Thomas W. Temple II’s penchant (thankfully!) for both having a passion for photography and diligence in letter-writing, as well as preserving for posterity much of what he and others generated. Following the example of his uncle, John, Thomas carefully squirreled away a good deal of family photos and documents, so we know a great deal more about this third generation than the previous two—as is generally the case for people at the time.
There does seem no doubt that, somewhat predictably, Laura’s relationship with her children was different than that of her husband’s. For example, early surviving letters between Thomas and Laura are filled with references to “bee-bee” and “Mee-ma” and are more informal, while those that he wrote to his father, though often addressed to “Dadup” are very different in tone—though some of this is reflected in his age, most coming after his mother’s untimely death at the end of 1922 when Thomas was seventeen.
The other children, Agnes, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, were not as assiduous in writing letters nor as avid as photographers, but it is obvious from what has been passed down that they were close to their parents, as well, and certainly to each other. We are especially fortunate at the Homestead to have as many snapshots (though less so when it comes to studio portraits, of which there are only a few) of the family, because these are testaments to just how close they were—and this remained so long after the end of our interpretive era in 1930.
It is interesting to note that, while Walter largely preferred to correspond by telegram, a terse form of communication to be sure, there was a demonstrative (literally) change by the late 1920s. As he turned more to writing letters, he became more expressive, though not necessarily highly emotional, and some of this may be due to the fact that his children were in their early adulthood. The financial disaster that struck by the time the Great Depression burst forth was, obviously, a terrible blow to the Temples, but the closeness between father and children remained undimmed, as we can see from surviving letters and photos.
We wish all fathers, including those who are biological, step, foster and guardians, the best of the day!