It's Father's Day. Across the land fathers are being celebrated on their special day.

I was blessed to have the dad I did. He's been gone 20 years, but I miss him every day. Although he was not my biological father, he gave me so much more than just the gift of life.

He rescued me from a life of poverty and despair, brought me to the greatest nation in the world, and showered me with love, attention and guidance. We didn't have many material things, but I could not have asked for more.

My dad was never big on Father's Day; he viewed it as an over-commercialized, manufactured holiday. He far preferred that we celebrate each other EVERY day.

Contrary to my dad's belief, Father's Day has deep historic roots, dating back to Catholic Europe of the Middle Ages. Then it was celebrated on March 19, St. Joseph's Day. The tradition was brought to the western world by Portuguese and Spanish settlers.

The tradition of celebrating fatherhood on St. Joseph's Day was largely confined to religious observations from the 14th century until the 20th. It was then promoted as a compliment to Mother's Day, which had taken hold in the U.S.

Interestingly, both Mother's Day, promoted by Anna Jarvis, and Father's Day have their American roots in small West Virginia churches in the early days of the 20th century.

Following the first observance of "father's day," there were several attempts to have city-wide celebrations and recognitions, although none materialized. The Lions Club International recognizes one of their members, Harry Meek, as the "originator" of Father's Day, which he claimed he did on his birthday in 1911.

It took more than six decades for Father's Day to become a national holiday. Richard Nixon made it official in 1972, although Lyndon Johnson had issued a presidential proclamation declaring the third Sunday in June as Father's Day and several other presidents had made statements recognizing the day.

In observing Father's Day, it's important to focus on the vital role that fathers play -- and too often don't play -- in 21st century America.

The Pew Research Center recently published seven facts about American dads. Among their findings was some good news.

Today, fathers who live with their children are taking an expanded and increasing role in caring for them. Conversely, the not-so-good news is that there are dramatically more single dads now, meaning that more kids don't live with a father in their home.

As fathers take a more active role in caring for their children (the number of hours they report spending on child care each week is three times what it was 50 years ago), so have the challenges of balancing work and family necessities.

As with mothers, this is a significant difficulty. More than half the fathers surveyed reported that it was a "somewhat or very difficult" balancing act, just slightly less than the number of working mothers who reported the same.

One of the key findings of the Pew study is that fathers are just as likely as mothers to view parenting as essential to their identity. The percentages reported by each are essentially a dead heat.

The societal benefits flowing from the reality of those self-assessments can't be understated. For years, the problem of absentee fathers, both physical and emotional, have been widely discussed.

Tony Dungy, the pro Football Hall of Famer, has often spoken of the "vacuum we've left in this country with the ever-growing problem of absentee fathers." His solution was simple: "Be there for your children."

Dungy certainly knew better than most the demands of work and family. Yet he consistently made sacrifices to maximize the time he could spend with his family. He believed that "quality time" simply meant spending MORE time with his kids.

Time is one of the best gifts a father can give to his children.

It's the best way to get to my dad's vision of celebrating Father's Day every day.

PennLive Opinion contributor Charlie Gerow is the CEO of Quantum Communications in Harrisburg. His "Donkeys & Elephants" column appears weekly opposite progressive commentator Kirstin Snow.

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