"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years."
-- words attributed to Mark Twain
TODAY is the day we honor the approximately 72.2 million fathers in the United States, as well as those who have passed.
The occasion was conceived in 1909 by a woman in Spokane, Wash., Sonora Dodd, who after hearing a Mother's Day sermon wanted to recognize her father, a widowed Civil War veteran who was left to raise his six children.
However, it wasn't until President Lyndon Johnson designated the third Sunday in June as Father's Day in 1966 and President Richard Nixon followed six years later by signing the public law that it became a permanent holiday.
We honor fathers with cards and cookouts. Or maybe we buy him power tools, sporting goods, electronic gadgets or the inevitable tie. The underlying theme, as Dodd envisioned, is that dads matter.
Still, fatherhood in America is changing.
Fathers were once viewed as the foundation of families, the person looked upon as the breadwinner, to provide a stabilizing influence and to dish out discipline when needed.
Today, fathers who live with their children are taking a more active role in caring for them and helping out around the house.
Most see parenting as central to their identity. And the ranks of stay-at-home and single fathers have grown significantly in recent decades.
According to the Pew Research Center, many working fathers feel the struggle of balancing work and parenting, with 52 percent of fathers saying it's a challenge to juggle the responsibilities of work and family. In 1977, only 35 percent of fathers reported having problems balancing work and family.
Fathers play many vital roles -- provider, protector, teacher, friend. Like mothers, they are irreplaceable and play essential roles in the growth and emotional development of their children.
Sadly, more and more children are growing up without a father in the home. The Census Bureau estimates there are about 24 million children, or one out of every three, living in homes without a father.
Pew researchers have noted that fathers who live away from their children are not always absent from their kids' lives. More than 20 percent of such dads said they saw their children several times a week, and even more -- 41 percent -- kept in touch regularly through phone calls or email.
Still, 27 percent of fathers who live away from their children reported that they didn't see them at all in the past year, and almost one-third communicated by phone or email less than once a month.
Those absences have consequences. Studies have shown that children raised by single parents with no father are twice as likely to end up incarcerated as adults.
So we should not view Father's Day as merely another holiday. Rather, we should celebrate the role fathers play in the lives of families, and work tirelessly to restore and strengthen a bond that remains vital to the future of our society.
And children should take time today to say "thank you" in some way to the man who helped make them what they are today.