The ugly tie. The useless gadget. The misshapen clay ashtray for the man who doesn’t smoke.
Father’s Day can be a wonderful time to acknowledge the men who raise us, and inspires lovely celebrations around the globe each year. However, there’s no question that as a holiday, it’s been the butt of jokes over the years, and is often a pale imitation of the Mother’s Day behemoth. In Costa Rica, this imbalance is particularly clear: One parent gets an official national holiday in her honor, and the other does not. Mother’s Day clogs the streets with traffic, sells out the stores and restaurants, inspires seasonal hiring – in sort, shuts down the country like a boss.
I mentioned this in conversation recently with a Costa Rican dad.
“Well, that’s because mothers are more important,” he said. He sounded slightly resigned, but also matter-of-fact.
This is a problem.
Before any death threats ensue, I’m not taking issue with Mother’s Day. The tremendous attention given to Mother’s Day in Costa Rica is a testament to the country’s overall love of family, something I deeply admire. Plus, I’m a mother. Mothers are amazing. Mothers, particularly those who confront the extraordinary challenges of single moms, foster moms, grandmas working overtime and so on, deserve as much pomp and celebration as possible. Breakfast in bed? Hand-made cards? A massage and flourless chocolate cake? Sorry, I’m drooling. Bring it on.
But you know what else moms deserve? A proper Father’s Day. Because while mothers will always have a special role in society – biologically, culturally, inevitably, wonderfully – a world in which dads are dismissed, or dismiss themselves, as less important, is not the best world for dads or moms. When we put a mother on a pedestal, she’s all alone up there.
“Fifty/fifty parenting” is a buzzword now in some circles. I don’t care for that term myself, just because it suggests splitting tasks straight down the middle, which is generally impractical. In parenting, as on an assembly line, specialization is key, and worry about total fairness can be more trouble than it’s worth. A New York Times article recently explored the uniquely heavy burden of organization, planning and worry that moms tend to shoulder; I feel it makes more sense to accept that fact and compensate for that imbalance in other aspects of the relationship. Maybe the one who doesn’t remember where the blue socks are and track all the vaccines takes out more trash and does more dishes. (That’s a charming Father’s Day card right there.)
Maybe the idea should be “all-in parenting,” meaning that each parent is willing and able to do just about anything, even if duties are a moving target. As women have increasing access to education and professional opportunities, and as flexible work arrangements become more common, the tasks of parenthood will more often be shared and divided in shifting ways over the course of a child’s life – not always evenly, but in the way that makes most sense for the family at the time, and gives parents the best options.
I’m not saying this is better than a setup in which he works, she stays home. That clearer division of labor can work beautifully. It’s just not realistic for many families today, and a more flexible approach, while challenging and confusing, has its own rewards.
In a dance like that, a dad is a full partner. He is not “helping” or, even worse, “babysitting.” He deserves a seat on the bus when he gets on with his baby in a carrier, not funny looks, something I have complained about before. He, and all good dads, are much more than the remote-control shaped cookies on the cover of a Father’s Day ad supplement we received at our house recently (we love you, dad; you’re great at watching TV). Making him a second-class citizen makes no sense in 2015.
An all-in equal partnership like the one described here might be a reality for only a tiny fraction of families today, but shouldn’t our holidays be a bit like the old saying, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”? Shouldn’t they reflect our aspirations as well as our realities? If we fully believe in the power of fatherhood, shouldn’t our Father’s Day reflect that?
We are more than our holidays, of course. Sure, these are marketing ploys, designed to get us to buy flowers and chocolates and, apparently, remote-control-shaped cookies. Families are free to ignore them altogether, or to celebrate them in any way they choose, creating their own equality.
But the national narrative about mothers and fathers does matter, especially to young couples just starting out and kids watching from the wings. The more companies and markets and opinion-makers can shift that narrative, as some have done in Costa Rica this year, the better off all parents will be. I would even suggest that Costa Rica consider giving Mother’s and Father’s Day equal legal status.
Because what two-parent families really need is a pedestal built for two.
(From up here you can really see how much Play Doh is ground into the carpet.
Eww, you’re right. It’s all crusty, too. We’re gonna have to scrape it out with a spatula.
I’ll flip you for it.
Heads or tails?)