By STANLEY M. ARONSON
Cynics may disparage Father's Day as the contrivance of a consortium of greeting-card, cigar and necktie makers. But the roots of this holiday, embedded firmly in June, stretch back about a century, to the determined efforts of Sonora Dodd to honor her father, who had single-handedly raised his six children after the death of his wife.
Individual states then observed Father's Day, but it was not until Lyndon Johnson signed a presidential proclamation in 1966, that the third Sunday in June became a day of official national note.
It would be difficult to remember and honor all of America's fathers. But if not all the fathers, then perhaps we can honor those fatherly symbols our presidents, who have assumed the patriarchal burdens of leading this nation. We have had 42 presidents, 37 of whom have had children. (There have been, of course, 43 presidencies but only 42 presidents, since Cleveland's two tenures are counted as two presidencies.)
The five childless presidents are Washington, Madison, Jackson, Polk and Buchanan (Buchanan was the only bachelor president). Since the presidency of Lincoln, every president has had at least one child. The duration of presidential marriages has varied from three to 54 years, averaging 28.4 years from Washington through McKinley; and averaging 30.9 years from Theodore Roosevelt to the present, excluding living past and present presidents. Age at marriage has varied from 20 to 49 years, averaging 28.4 among the presidents up to McKinley, and 27.8 thereafter. Five presidents were married twice: Tyler, Fillmore, Benjamin Harrison, Wilson and Reagan.
Presidential marriages have yielded 151 children, 66.1 percent of whom have been male. Presidents up to McKinley had, on average, 4.5 children; presidents after McKinley, on average, 3.1 children. Harrison, the ninth president, had 10 children; Tyler, the 10th president, had 15; and Hayes, the 19th president, had eight. Only 67 percent of the presidential children born in the 18th and 19th centuries survived to 21 years of age, but 92.3 percent of presidential children born after 1900 have survived to adulthood.
The presidents' age at death, counting assassinated presidents, has averaged 72.1 years. Republican presidents have tended to marry at younger ages, have more children and survive to an older age.
X Stanley M. Aronson, M.D., is dean of medicine emeritus at Brown University. This column is adapted from one in the current issue of Medicine & amp; Health/Rhode Island, the monthly publication of the Rhode Island Medical Society. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.