When I was growing up, Father’s Day was a running joke in our family.
My late grandfather used to say, “Father’s Day is just like Mother’s Day … just not as important.” My dad would always refer to Mother’s Day as “the holiest day of the year.”
I don’t think either actually felt slighted, but their gibes definitely affected my feelings. I began toassociate Mother’s Day with pressure and guilt, and Father’s Day with, well, nothing. This, in part, explains my problem reconciling my own feelings now that I’m a full-time, stay-at-home dad.
My father and grandfather’s remarks contain a kernel of truth. Mother’s Day had a head start in our national consciousness, being officially recognized as a holiday in 1914 while Father’s Day didn’t come into existence until 1972 — two years before I was born. Then there’s the rampant commercialism of Mother’s Day. Time magazine reported last year that consumers were projected to spend $5.9 billion less on Father’s Day than Mother’s Day — $12.7 billion vs. $18.6 billion. Closer to home, my family greatly reduced the scope of our planned Father’s Day get-together because of prior commitments. I can’t imagine the same happening on Mother’s Day in our house.
As an impressionable child, I took my grandfather’s and dad’s comments quite literally. Even today I feel a tremendous responsibility when it comes to Mother’s Day. I have to get the RIGHT card, the RIGHT flowers, the RIGHT clichés. I’m still recovering from a 2010 nervous breakdown and battling depression, so my attempts to separate rationality from absurdity don’t always succeed. Two years ago, I ordered flowers for my mom, aunt and grandmother to be delivered on Mother’s Day, felt ridiculously anxious all day as I paced and watched the windows for a delivery truck, and eventually broke down into hysterics when the flowers never came. My aunt, thankfully, took charge, called the company, and the flowers did finally arrive, but long after nearly everyone had departed. I have NEVER felt such pressure to make an impression or make people happy with gifts on Father’s Day.
Now a dad myself, I still don’t know quite what to think of Father’s Day. I do know that I have this ember of need in the pit of stomach to be recognized for my accomplishments as a stay-at-home dad. As more and more men either choose – out of necessity or desire — to stay home with their children, it’s time Father’s Day achieved equal status with Mother’s Day.
I definitely don’t mean equality on the commercial level. I mean equality that starts with society as a whole. Together – parents, grandparents, caretakers, educators and so on – need to combat the influences of advertising and commercialism by teaching our kids that there is no difference between parents in terms of significance. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day should be simple celebrations of parenthood, no flowers or ties necessary.
A version of this first appeared on Raising Sienna.