Martorella: Amazing dads

What do you have planned for Father’s Day? I’m guessing it’s a barbeque or other family event. Fathers are often celebrated with more family time on Father’s Day while mothers tend to ask for family time off on Mother’s Day. Guessing that harkens back to a time when “children should be seen and not heard” and fathers were the “king of the castle”, kept separate from all the family chaos. Well, that was a long, long time ago, huh?
Actually, Father’s Day was first celebrated in Washington State in 1910, rewarding the efforts of Sonora Smart Dodd, one of seven siblings, who was inspired by her widowed single father to establish an equivalent to Mother’s Day. It was not declared a federal holiday until 1972, but it still grew in importance over the years, becoming an impetus to encourage purchases and grow the economy during the Depression, and to celebrate and honor our soldiers during World War II.
It is expected that Father’s Day spending will be around $16 billion this year (not quite the $25 billion spent on Mother’s Day, but still impressive). Cards, special outings, and clothing top the list of most popular gifts. Interestingly, Father’s Day spending has increased 70% over the past decade. I wonder if this is a reflection of the increased importance of fathers in their children’s lives?
There are over 70 million fathers in the United States, but it has only been in recent decades that fathers have been socially expected to be actively involved in their children’s daily lives, and only in recent years that research on fatherhood has been conducted. Though 1 in 4 American children still live in a fatherless home, involved fathers are more engaged in their children’s lives than ever before.
According to a 2015 study by Pew Research Center, dads are just as likely as moms to say that parenting is extremely important to their identity (close to 60% for both), and their average weekly time in childcare duties has tripled over the last five decades. Despite this shift, there is still a social bias that favors mothers as the “ideal” primary caretakers. The Pew study indicated that 53% of Americans said mothers are better at caring for a new baby (breast-feeding aside), and only 1% said fathers did the better job. Of those who believed it was ideal to have one parent stay at home with the children, 39% said it’s better for that parent to be the mother, and only 5% said it would be better if the stay-at-home parent was the father.
Maybe it’s not surprising then that dads feel less confident in their parenting abilities than moms. Only 39% of fathers themselves reported they do a “very good job” raising their children, compared with 51% of mothers.
Fathers are often assumed to be the “fun” parent, breaking the rules and fumbling through the parenting role, less capable than their more “maternally-wired” partners. As a result, it often seems that every positive interaction between father and child is celebrated, his time “babysitting” earning praise, his “mistakes” expected and laughed off, while mothers are hardly acknowledged for their interactions, or worse, criticized for their caretaking imperfections. Often mothers express frustration and outrage at this glorification of every father/child moment, but fathers are also annoyed to be treated like they are a hero simply for interacting well with their children.
Research consistently indicates that a father’s presence has a very positive impact on children, including lower risk of poverty, criminality, substance abuse, child abuse, and teen pregnancy; fewer behavioral issues; and lower high school dropout rates. And fathers are equally important to both sons and daughters, modeling respectable male behavior for those who will directly follow in their footsteps and for those who will have male friends and partners. They offer different perspectives and tend to be less protective of their children than mothers, teaching safe risk-taking and building resilience. In short, a father’s role is nothing to laugh at.
Last week, an adorable video made the rounds of a father and his toddler, clearly having a chat despite the lack of actual words. The video is prime example how fathers can influence their children even before they can walk and talk as the two mirror each other in tone and expression. The video can be found on and YouTube, and is a must see for all parents, but especially for new or inexperienced fathers who worry babies can only connect with their mothers.
So when you are gathered around the table this weekend with the Dads in your life, be sure to raise a glass to all the fathers out there, along with the expectations for their parenting successes.
Rebecca Martorella, LMFT welcomes ideas and comments and can be reached at