This male weedy sea dragon does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to fatherhood. (©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder)
This male weedy sea dragon, seen here with some of his babies, is the parent who does most of the heavy lifting. (©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder)

It’s hard to beat the male seahorse and his relatives when it comes to paternal duty and devotion.

For example, the male weedy sea dragon, seen in the above photograph, fertilizes and incubates eggs that females deposit into his brood patch during mating. Four to six weeks later, he releases tiny sea dragon babies into the water.

This creature was somehow overlooked in the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual take on Father’s Day. Despite this omission, there’s a lot to be learned from the statisticians in Washington, D.C.

A woman in Spokane by the name of Sonora Dodd came up with the idea for Father’s Day in 1909, according to the bureau. She was listening to a Mother’s Day sermon and figured her father should get equal time in the form of a special day.

Her father, William Smart, was a veteran of the Civil War who’d lost his wife and had to raise his six children by himself on a farm. The mayor of Spokane picked a day in June 1910 for the first Father’s Day because June 17 was Smart’s birthday.

This might be news to most of us, but it hasn’t escaped notice in Spokane. Four years ago, Father’s Day weekend was action-packed in that city to honor Dodd and mark the centennial of the holiday. Events even included a tour of her bungalow.

It wasn’t until 1966 — more than a half-century after Dodd got things started — that President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed that the third Sunday in June would be Father’s Day. Six years later, President Richard Nixon signed a law making it a permanent observation.

The Father’s Day data produced by the Census Bureau are part of its “Profile America: Facts for Features” series. In each category, it draws on numbers from the most recent year for which information is available. Many figures are fairly fresh; others go back six years.

In 2008, there were more than 70 million fathers in the United States. Last year, almost 25 million dads belonged to married-couple families — remember, this is Census-ese — with children under 18.

Also in 2013, there were 2 million single fathers, and 17 percent of single parents in the United States were men. Nine percent of dads on their own were raising three or more children under 18.

Forty-four percent of single fathers were divorced, 33 percent were never married, 19 percent were separated and 4.2 percent were widowers.

And 39 percent of single fathers had an annual family income of $50,000 or more.

The Census Bureau’s demographic snapshot also focused on stay-at-home dads — an estimated 214,000 of them in 2013. Those who were married, with kids younger than 15, stayed out of the workforce for at least a year while their wives worked outside the home. And they took care of about 434,000 children.

In spring 2011, 18 percent of preschoolers were taken care of by their fathers during the hours their mothers worked.

Perhaps trying to mitigate an endless parade of numbers, the Census Bureau took a look at some less obvious stuff, too.

As a result, we now know that there were 79 million Americans who participated in a barbecue in 2010. Demographers reasoned that “it’s probably safe to assume many of these barbecues took place on Father’s Day.”

In that vein, the bureau reported that there were 7,422 men’s clothing stores and 15,336 hardware stores in the country in 2011, along with 6,705 home-improvement centers — all good places to find Father’s Day gifts.

Child support was another area the Census Bureau took into account. Three years ago, “custodial fathers” got $2 billion worth of child support, although they were due $3.7 billion. And only 41.4 percent got all the child support that was coming to them, which is not much different from the percentage of their female counterparts, at 43.6 percent.

All these facts and figures add up to an impressive amount of research. Still, the numbers pale compared with what paternal life entails for members of the seahorse family. But since they don’t know how to fill out census forms, the bureau does not pay any attention to them. There are probably other reasons, too.

Given how they’ve managed to take fatherhood to an extreme, though, it seems like they deserve to be quantified as well.

So here is one final Father’s Day fact: As of 2009, the largest brood reported for the longsnout sea horse was 1,572 offspring.

Father’s Day by the Numbers — From Barbecues to Child Support to Single Dads 15 June,2014Patricia Yollin



Patricia Yollin

Pat Yollin has written about all kinds of stuff, including wayward penguins at the San Francisco Zoo, organ transplants, the comeback of the cream puff, New York on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, a Slow Food gathering in Italy and the microcredit movement in Northern California. Among her favorite stories: an interview with George Lucas at Skywalker Ranch, a profile of Italy's consul general in SF, and a pirate Trader Joe's operation in Vancouver that prompted the grocery chain to sue -- and lose.

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