Father’s Day - No Ties Please

Father’s Day - No Ties Please

13 Jun 2019

It’s a day so many of us forget to remember. Year-after-year we praise the adverts that sound the Father’s Day alarm, reminding us to remind the old man that his efforts don’t go unnoticed.

In 2019 Britain, thanking papa bear on his special day means shelling out for Hallmark cards, novelty mugs, redundant gadgets, gimmicky beer and comedic ties. 

But it might be time to give Father’s Day a fresh coat of paint.

The British iteration of Father’s Day is a fairly new invention. It arrived here circa 1970 when we basically nicked the idea from the States. In the US, the Day struggled for legitimacy for half a century before 'Tricky' Dick Nixon of all people declared the third Sunday in June a national holiday. Prior to that, Father's Day was seen as a contemptible, shallow cash-in.

While Father's Day struggled to be taken seriously, Mother's Day was declared a US national holiday 60 years earlier*. Here in the UK, Mother's Day has been entrenched for hundreds of years. 

As a sidebar, the lady who originally established Mother's Day was one Anna Jarvis. But after successfully campaigning to have the day written into US culture, she watched in horror as it morphed into a sleazy retail cash-cow. She spent her later years trying to have her own creation expunged from the national calendar.

Nonetheless, from the get-go Mother's Day was obvious and Father's Day a laughing stock. It tells you something about the perception of traditional gender roles.

Britain has long typecast men as workers and wage-earners; recognising their “parenting” really only in evenings and weekends. Back in the day, UK dads who didn’t work were condemned as sick or lazy. Regardless of their parenting skills, they weren’t worthy of celebration: they weren’t holding up their end of the man-deal.

Dad's typical role as earner, and little more, might explain why the most popular Father’s Day gift remains the humble tie; the very symbol of the working man.

The idea for Father's Day was initially dreamt up – way back in 1908 – after a Virginia mining disaster. There, some 361 men died leaving over 1,000 children dad-less and someone thought we should recognise the sacrifice dads make. The miners probably weren't wearing ties but the gimmick stuck nonetheless.

The original whens and whys of it aside, we can all agree that dad’s role has evolved. By the 1970s, when the UK formally adopted Father’s Day, society would start to challenge the tightly defined gender roles of yesteryear. 

Sure, dads still worked way more than mums but with modernity creeping in, progress was afoot.

The role of dad continues to change and today it has truly been turned on its head. With new-gen families particularly, the parental dynamic is fluid and families often don’t conform to old standards. Data shows that up to 40% of millennial fathers now stay at home to look after the kids while mum goes to work.

Today, millions more men than ever before enjoy – which mightn't be the right word 100% of the time – oodles of face-time with their children. A decade or two ago, this arrangement simply wasn’t on the cards. Working dads now get paternity leave so they can spend proper time with their new bundles of joy. 

In days gone by they’d have been back to work pronto. 

By default, the handful of weeks given to new dads isn’t quite as substantial as the dozens of weeks for new mums. Although in some countries, and in some private companies, parents can divvy up their parental leave as they see fit. 

New dads also get about £150 a week statutory paternity pay too, which again is less than new mums but a step up from the big fat £0 prior to 2003. It’s at least some acknowledgement of dad. His role is important. 

Psychologists say as much: apparently kids who spend more time with dad are more socially aware and confident when speaking with new people. For young boys, seeing more of dad is said to drive up ambition. Apparently for young girls - or at least some young girls - extra dad-time helps to shape what kind of partner they’ll fancy one day.

Things are progressing steadily for the dads of today. They’ll likely be rosier still for the dads of tomorrow as social and political change continues; as employers test more generous paternity arrangements, and as economic norms and workplaces evolve to make it culturally OK for dads to sign off.

And as the gender pay-gap continues to narrow – albeit not quickly enough – we may see the traditional roles of ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ broken down more, as families continue to redraw parental lines to fit the needs of their 21st century family. 

So ask yourself, is dad really a tie guy? 


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