Like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is fraught with ridiculous generalities and silly sentiments. Instead of being beholden to advertisers’ image of dad, perhaps it’s time to examine the history of fathers and what they have to offer.
You all probably remember that I do not like Mother’s Day, so it should come as no surprise that I don’t care for Father’s Day either. Yes, my dislike of the ‘holiday’ stems from many of the same reasons — the crass commercialization, the stereotypical gender roles — but it is about more than that. Fathers get short shrift in our culture, and nowhere is this more evident than in Father’s Day cards. When I perused several card collections, most of what I saw included power tools, napping in recliners, driving lawn mowers, giving out cash, and drinking beer. Children made an appearance in some of them but, by and large, they were absent.
Men are called fathers when they have sired children, yet most of these cards appear to miss that connection and focus solely on what they believe stereotypical manhood to be. One card even stated that fathers are great because they are great men. Umm…what? The two are not necessarily the same thing! For that matter, what do they consider the definition of a great man and a great father to be? Because, if they’re leaning toward a definition that emphasizes stereotypical guy things, then that usually doesn’t include children or childcare. And if that’s not bad enough, the absence of daughters and sons goes to show that, just like they have with Mother’s Day, people have forgotten their history.
In Colonial America, fathers were heavily involved in their children’s lives. Since mothers were deemed too untrustworthy to be good influences (yes, I’m serious), the responsibility of raising children fell to fathers. They were the ones who nurtured the kids, cared for their physical needs, and provided their offspring’s spiritual, academic and vocational education. At that time in our country’s history, it was fathers who were the primary parent, and this changed only when men’s work moved them out of the home and more toward the marketplace. By the time the Industrial Revolution hit, mothers had taken over the primary parent role, and fathers became increasingly separated from their children.
These days, many fathers want to have more time with their kids, but society doesn’t always make this easy to do. Mothers are still considered the primary parent. Parents Magazine still emphasizes mothering; schools still call mothers first, even if they have been instructed not to do so; parental leave for fathers still isn’t valued (or paid); the number of stay-at-home dads is still low; and fathers’ participation in childcare is still pretty minimal. In addition, as evidenced by Father’s Day advertising, the work of fathering is still considered to be more playful than nurturing. And that really shortchanges dads.
Thus, one of the biggest reasons I hate Father’s Day is that it seems to promote this image of fathers that is all but foreign to me. None of those descriptions describe my father. He has always been someone to whom I can relate. Instead of being this beer drinking, power tool wielding napper who gives out cash, he is someone I can talk to. We share a love of food (both cooking and eating), frequently laugh together, and he is someone with whom I can enjoy genuine love and affection. My dad is one of my biggest supporters, and was an inspiration for how to choose the kind of man I wanted for my partner and father of my own child.
This macho view of fathers doesn’t describe my grandfather either. While he did nap, use power tools and barbeque with the best of them, he also was a kind, loyal and responsible family man to the core. You wouldn’t find him engaging in the kind of nonsense so many of the Father’s Day advertisers portray, like accidentally leaving the baby behind in a parking lot. Instead, my grandfather put his family’s needs ahead of his own, nurtured many unruly teenagers (both those he was related to and those he wasn’t), was the first to offer to either gently hold or get down on the floor to play with his great-grandchildren, and almost effortlessly blended a brusque sense of duty with love and compassion. I once watched him go from frustration, to an acceptance of hard truths, to requesting forgiveness, all in the space of 15 minutes. For me, that’s what true fathering is all about.
So, on this Father’s Day, I will roll my eyes at the blatant attempts to get me to spend money under the guise of love and appreciation. I will sigh heavily at the cartoonish depiction of fathers who bear little resemblance to reality. Instead of buying in to a message I know to be untrue, I will spend quality time with my dad and support my partner in his quest to be the best father he can be. And I also will renew my efforts to make society value everything that fathers have to offer. I owe my father and grandfather nothing less.
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