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Why Father’s Day needs to die

Chatelaine logo Chatelaine 2017-06-15
Vintage photo of dad and son playing catch © Used with permission of / © Rogers Media Inc. 2017. Vintage photo of dad and son playing catch

Remember when Dad came home, smoked and read the paper while Mom made supper and watched the kids?

Actually, I don’t remember those days — and not just because my brain is aging. As the only child of a divorced mother, my experience didn’t include responsibilities split by gender. My mom had one role, and it was called parenting.

Things were different for a lot of my friends, with their working dads and homemaker moms. My childhood home felt like an outlier, but that’s less and less the case today. Women stay in the workforce, both by choice and because the homemaker role is increasingly difficult to justify economically. Domestic parity is catching up too slowly, but we aspire to it. As a whole, our society is moving beyond separately defined roles for mothers and fathers. So why haven’t we haven’t moved beyond Father’s Day, the celebration of a traditionally separate, lesser parental role for men?

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On Mother’s Day, we salute the maternal ideal: Mother loves us! She nurtures us! She feeds us! Her card comes with flowers. Then, the next month, we mark a less inspiring paternal equivalent: Father, um, goes to work? He mows the lawn? He takes us camping? His card shows a man in a tie.

These are all productive uses of dad’s time, but as a set of ideals, they perpetuate a distinct, less-ambitious goal for male parenting. It’s well-intentioned and loving, but the way we celebrate Father’s Day reflects a view of fatherhood we’re trying to move past: the working man who provides for his children but actually nurtures them only under exceptional circumstances.

It’s not that fatherhood now looks exactly like motherhood in every detail. Some households work great with dad making dinner and choosing their children’s clothes, and some don’t. (I still haven’t learned to braid my six-year-old daughter’s hair, shamefully.) What’s new is the expectation that men share equal responsibility in raising their children, rather than being relegated by default to the career/yard maintenance/outdoorsman role.

There are hints of that old model in my own home, which I’m fortunate to share with an outstanding mother. But while a few of our duties fall along traditional lines, these splits haven’t come from boxes marked MOM and DAD. They’ve come from preference and negotiation, which is increasingly how modern parents share parenting responsibilities. I’ll freelance from home because you’re on the management track. You’ll vacuum because you hate yard work. And split gender roles aren’t even possible for an increasing number of parents in non-traditional situations, like the one my mom faced. They’re divorced, single by choice or in same-sex relationships.

Of course dads deserve our love and appreciation for doing what they do. But just as we’re learning to update our language and expectations around women and work, we need to do the same with men and family. Modern fatherhood no longer defaults to a separate, secondary standard — so a separate, secondary Father’s Day is sending the wrong message.

Instead, why don’t we lose it altogether, and rebrand Mother’s Day to acknowledge that raising children is the work of men and women alike? We could call it “Parents’ Day.” Flowers all around — or at least no more ties.

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