By Aminta Kilawan-Narine, Esq.
Ever notice that Mother’s Day is celebrated with a whole lot more fanfare than Father’s Day? Father’s Day also tends to be a less commercial holiday – there are fewer holiday-specific sales and less money is spent overall.
The National Retail Federation estimated that total Mother’s Day spending this year amounted to $23.1 billion. It expects that Father’s Day spending will reach a record $15.3 billion, still significantly lower than spending on Mother’s Day. One common justification for this is that Dads are more difficult to find gifts for – you can’t simply buy them flowers or jewelry. Dads are often more practical, too. According to a poll done a few years ago, “quality time” actually ranks as the #1 gift father’s wish for on Father’s Day, trumping apparel, electronics, and the like.
Why is it that Father’s Day doesn’t rank equally with Mother’s Day? They say that there’s no bond quite like the one between a mother and her child. After all, mothers carry their children in their womb for nine months filled with physical and mental ups and downs, resulting in a precious and irreplaceable gift for both mother and father to share. The role of a father has traditionally been perceived as one spent outside of the home as the primary earner, while the role of a mother has been homemaker and caretaker. Yet, with society moving towards gender equity and more and more women in the workforce, more and more fathers are stepping it up in the home, assuming roles that they probably wouldn’t have a century ago.
Even before gender norms shifted significantly, many fathers, including those in our own community, recognized the importance of being there for their children, not just by financing the food on the table, but by actively taking part in their children’s lives. I can recall my dad making every effort to be there for me and my two sisters – opting to work the night shift at the NYC Transit Authority in order to be available when we needed car rides to and from school, taking me to the local public library every week to borrow 10 books, which he’d occasionally give me pop quizzes on, reviewing my homework until the content became too advanced for his own capabilities, showing up to cheer me on at every math and spelling bee, trekking me to political forums and community events, and the list goes on. I credit much of my academic success to my dad. I’m fortunate that throughout my life, particularly my teenage years, he didn’t check out, but remained steadfast in parenting, complementing my mom’s roles.
Not every father places such an emphasis on being present in his child’s life however. Some fathers leave parenting to their spouses or partners. Others walk out of a child’s life altogether. It should also be said that some fathers simply can’t be as present as they’d like to. Their own childhood trauma can inform their decisions as parents. They may be struggling to make ends meet. They could be disconnected to the mother of their child.
Certain factors can get in the way of effective fathering. Fathers are important to a child’s development however. While many perceive the mother in the home as the nurturer and the father as the disciplinarian, fathers can be just as nurturing. In fact, for a child to be positively raised, the caring kind of love from a father is pivotal.
It’s important to lift up all the reasons why fathers are critical to the lives of their children, both in the immediate future and in the long-term.
Fathers impact the psychological, emotional and educational well being of their children. Studies show that children who have stable relationships with their father are less likely to abuse substances. These children are more likely to attain higher levels of education and are less likely to be incarcerated. Daughters with strong relationships with their father are less likely to experience depression and behavioral issues. They are also less likely to become pregnant at a young age. Sons who have close relationships with their father are more likely to have a stable marriage in the future. Children who live in homes where their father is absent are almost four times more likely to live in poverty.
A father’s love is usually quite different from a mother’s. Fathers are more likely to throw their babies up in the air to make them laugh, while mothers show their affection in a more guarded, less active manner. This follows through to later stages of life, where fathers are generally more amenable to their children taking risks, competing with others, and thinking out of the box.
A father has long-term influence on a child’s relationships. It’s almost common knowledge that the way a father treats a child’s mother impacts that child’s future romantic relationships. If a daughter witnesses her father treating her mother with respect and kindness, she will gravitate towards a partner who also exhibits such traits. If she sees her father abusing her mother, she will be inclined to find a partner who abuses her. A child learns what “acceptable love” is from his or her parents. If a child sees their father parenting with their mother in a team-building collaborative manner, s/he will parent much in the same way.
Gender roles are less rigid today and fathers are assuming myriad roles. As professional women work longer hours, fathers are spending more time at home, assuming the traditional roles of a mother. They nurture, support, and protect. The fact that firm gender-based parameters for parenting no longer exist is actually a good thing for children in the long-term. According to a study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, children who are loved by involved fathers tend to have less behavioral and mental problems.
As we celebrate Father’s Day, let’s remember all the ways in which our fathers influence our every day lives. And if you’re a father, know that your role is just as important as the mother of your child. Stay present and involved in your child’s life, not just as a disciplinarian, but also as a caregiver, and not just when you’re child is an infant, but well into his or her adult life. Your rewards will be manifold.