Father’s Day developed as a holiday to honor the nation’s family man in the early decades of the 20th cen-tury. By the 1940s, it had taken on an even greater meaning, and in no year was it more a time of poignant re-joicing than 1946.
This was the year when tens of thousands of fathers returned home after World War II. Like my own father who spent the war years in the South Pacific, many were the parent of children they had never seen or only briefly glimpsed before shipping out to a dangerous and unknown fate. You can see how hectic life was by the numbers of soldiers being seen by local Veterans Administration offices set up in almost every county of the state, which saw or had contact with 51,527 vets in May alone. The Atlanta office on Pryor Street was the busi-est with 23,661 contacts in that month as returning veterans struggled to re-start their lives.
For the fathers among those returning veterans, Atlanta was full of ways to celebrate. After all, it had long been known as the entertainment center of the Southeast U.S. For sports enthusiasts, there was the Shriner’s Charity Horse Show to benefit their “crippled children” hospitals. Something entirely new was the was the Speed Boat Races at Lakewood Park featuring eight events and 20 stars of the National Power Boat Association. You could also treat dad to a Crackers baseball game at Ponce De Leon Park against the Chattanooga Lookouts.
Air-conditioned movie theaters were still a huge feature of any holiday in 1946 and drew big crowds. There were the grand movie palaces like the Fox, Paramount and Loews downtown, but almost every community had a local house as well, including Brookhaven, Buckhead, Decatur, Little Five Points and even Avondale Estates. Big stars of the period such as Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell, Judy Garland, Abbott and Costello and Jane Russell were featured. For the more exotic, there were the “naughty and risqué” shows at the Atlanta Art Theater at Peachtree and 13th Street, where Danielle Darrieux played the “Virgin Bride” in a film as “spicy as only the French would dare.” A night on the town for dad might be a movie and dancing at the Jennings Rose Room on Boulevard with beer, wine and champagne until 1 a.m. on the “largest dance floor in the Southeast.”
Most families probably spent that Father’s Day Sunday quietly at home with an especially nice dinner after church. That is when kids and spouses could give fathers all those gifts so avidly advertised for weeks in advance by local newspapers. Most people had lots of money to spend in the postwar years. Jobs had been plentiful during the war, and there was mandatory saving. Popular items for presents were often lux-ury gifts that were unheard of during the dark, economic days of the pre-war years. Watches, fine pen and pencil sets, shaving and cologne sets, fine leather goods and even jewelry such as fraternal and birthstone rings were available at modest prices.
Father’s Day in 1946 was a time that was probably unique for the century. In no other year was there such a reason to celebrate a day when so many fathers returned home after years of privation and danger. Let’s hope all those families and children did a good job of celebrating.
– Dick Funderburke