Do dads deserve a Fathers’ Day?

By Rosie Ifould
Do dads deserve a Fathers’ Day?

Happy belated Fathers’ Day. Did you get your dad a present? Or do you think the whole thing’s a load of commercialist rubbish?

Until recently, I didn’t give much thought to Fathers’ Day. I have no memory of Fathers’ Day even existing when I was growing up. We were actively discouraged from celebrating Mothers’ Day, so Fathers’ Day didn’t stand a chance in our house. Anything gender specific was frowned upon (spot the child of the Seventies liberals). As such, I’ve always been in the ‘commercialist rubbish’ camp, and scoffed even harder when anyone suggested dads had an inalienable right to annual gifts, dodgy shower gels and novelty socks. In the past few years, though, researchers have paid far closer attention to the relationship between fathers and their children — specifically daughters — and, if recent evidence is to be believed, we’ve all got cause to celebrate good dads.

We all know our father’s influence has a massive effect on our future relationships (see Father Effects by Shari R Jonas), but it’s important for all sorts of other reasons too. As toddlers, the extent to which our fathers allow us to explore the world influences our curiosity and self-confidence (read about activation theory here). Girls who enter puberty later generally have fathers who are active in care-giving. Women are three times more likely to follow their fathers’ career path. We interviewed Meg Meeker, author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. You can read her answers here.

To coincide with Fathers’ Day this year, several studies were released that highlight how much our roles are changing. The Boston College Center for Work & Family released a report titled ‘The New Dad’. The authors claim that contemporary fatherhood ideals ‘are in many respects similar to what maternal ideals and expectations were 30 years ago, but with the opposite challenge’. Men need to fight for equality and legitimacy in the home, just as women battle for equality in the workplace.

We examined this growing change in the status quo in our June issue (in a feature about equally shared parenting). Men want to do more but, in many cases, their partners are the greatest barrier. Dr Lynn Prince Cooke calls it ‘the gatekeeper function’. For whatever reason, we struggle to relinquish any domestic responsibility and undermine our partner’s efforts to help. We may not even be aware we’re doing it, but we do.

So perhaps next year, instead of breakfast in bed and an engraved tankard, the best Fathers’ Day present would be a full-on day of childcare and housework. No? Don’t blame me, I’m still getting the hang of this Fathers’ Day lark.

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