Let’s face it, Father’s Day always feels like something of a lesser holiday, compared to Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is hyped weeks in advance, with everyone from Hallmark to FDS to Home Depot hawking gifts and making you feel guilty, and god forbid you don’t do brunch or high tea or mimosas or all of the above. Father’s Day, on the other hand, seems to involve some gentle reminders to consider acquiring and gifting to Dad some socks or a coffee mug or a novelty tie.
Which is to be expected in a culture that characterizes motherhood as an almost sainted burden, one that involves sacrifice and untold selflessness in service of the raising of children and the tending of family. How could we not bestow flowers and Eggs Benedict upon the noble souls who do such thankless work? How could we not set aside just one day to express our gratitude through commerce and brunch? Whereas with fathers, what’s the point? Fathers are not self-sacrificing. Fathers are not selfless. Fathers do not bear the untold burdens of childbirth and childcare. Sure, they deserve some token thanks – a tie, a card, some hugs and a beer – but we don’t need to go overboard with it. Their thanks is in not having to do the hard stuff.
This is bullshit, of course. Not least because it’s insulting to women and to mothers (another topic for another day), but also because it elides the full scope of fatherhood. And not just contemporary fatherhood: fatherhood has always been more complicated and more varied than the dominant cultural discourse would have us believe. Loving, involved fathers are (and, arguably, have long been) more than just bystanders to the feminine work of caregiving. Loving, involved fathers – like my own, and like my husband – have always shared in the joys and the burdens of the family. A good parent – a parent who loves and provides – has always been just that: a good parent, regardless of gender.
None of which is to deny that the primary work of the family and the household – the work of the private sphere – has historically fallen to women. It absolutely has. And that work has, historically, been valued less than the work of the public sphere, which has until relatively recently fallen disproportionately to men. But parenthood – motherhood and fatherhood alike – is so much more than just that work. And although we need to acknowledge that work – and its disproportions – I think that we also need to celebrate the broader spectrum of love and care that parents embrace and share, with their partners in family or more broadly or even on their own. The stuff that doesn’t always break down neatly by gender. The stuff that shouldn’t.
We’re not, of course, ready to junk Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and go all in with Parents’ Day (I’m not, and in any case you can take my Mother’s Day waffles and peonies out of my cold dead hands), but we can be mindful about how we celebrate Father’s Day. We can celebrate more of what dads do, and more of how dads love, and more about all the parts of parenting that aren’t the exclusive domain of mothers, which is pretty much all of the parts. We can celebrate the whole scope of parental love and care and remind the world – and ourselves – that the domain of children and the family is all of ours, and that the work and care of that domain is ennobling and praiseworthy no matter who does it.
My extremely modest contribution to that effort: this book. It’s a celebration of dad as parent across the full scope of what parenting means. Caring, loving, helping, healing, teaching, making, singing; all of it. You could just as easily swap in ‘mom’ for ‘dad’ – and you can actually, literally, do that, since the book is fully editable. The main text is just a suggestion – I wrote it based on the kind of dad that Kyle is (a stay at home dad who plays hard and cares harder) , but maybe the dad (or dad-like figure) in your life is different. Which is the whole point. One can script a narrative about fatherhood that is both broadly universal – every beloved dad is the greatest dad because he loves and is loved so well – and uniquely adaptive – every beloved dad is loved for unique reasons and loves in unique ways, because fatherhood and parenthood are fully universal and wildly particular all at the same time. And all those universal and particular ways and means and reasons and whys and wherefores add up to this: a celebration of fatherhood that goes beyond socks and ties. A celebration of fatherhood that is a celebration of parenthood, and not just of something that is secondary or even just adjacent to motherhood. A celebration that better serves our children, and all of us, fathers and mothers and carers alike.
Yours is probably also great, I guess. But does he have his own BOOK?
(If he doesn’t – make one.)