Father’s Day often is an afterthought — a companion to Mother’s Day. That is especially true now, with 2020 already being a uniquely turbulent year.
And yet we pause today and find a little respite from the chaos by celebrating those men who are raising future generations. The role of fathers in American society has changed over the years, but the importance of men who impart worldly wisdom and provide guidance for a child remains profound.
That role can take various forms. While the traditional — and overly idealized — portrayal from previous generations is that of a stoic and often distant father, studies show that men are increasingly involved in the lives of their children. According to the Pew Research Center, for example, fathers accounted for 17 percent of stay-at-home parents in 2016 — an increase from 10 percent in 1989.
Part of the reason for that is that men increasingly view parenting as a major part of their lives. As Pew reports: “Dads are just as likely as moms to say that parenting is extremely important to their identity. Some 57 percent of fathers said this in a 2015 survey by the Center, compared with 58 percent of mothers. Like moms, many dads also seem to appreciate the benefits of parenthood … 46 percent of fathers said they find parenting enjoyable all the time.”
All the time? That might be an exaggeration. Parenting is hard work, and Pew reports: “In 2016, fathers reported spending an average of eight hours a week on child care — about triple the time they provided in 1965. And fathers put in about 10 hours a week on household chores in 2016, up from four hours in 1965.”
We could question how fathers were spending their time back in the ’60s, but who are we to judge? Instead, we will simply appreciate the role played by modern dads and acknowledge their importance.
As the American Psychological Association reports: “Research on the role of fathers suggests that the influence of fatherly love on children’s development is as great as the influence of a mother’s love. Fatherly love helps children develop a sense of their place in the world, which helps their social, emotional and cognitive development and functioning. Moreover, children who receive more love from their fathers are less likely to struggle with behavioral or substance abuse problems.”
Those risks are in play far too often. According to the Census Bureau, about 20 million American children are growing up in homes without a father. As then-candidate Barack Obama said during a Father’s Day speech in 2008: “Too many fathers are missing — missing from too many lives and too many homes. The foundations of our families are weaker because of it.”
That’s not to say that grandfathers and uncles and mentors are unable to play an important role in a child’s life, but there is a unique place for biological, adoptive and foster fathers.
Celebrating that place is the meaning behind Father’s Day, in which the Northwest played a significant role. In 1909, Sonora Smart Dodd heard a Mother’s Day sermon in Spokane and decided that a day should be set aside for fathers, as well. The first Father’s Day was declared the following year by the mayor of Spokane and the idea spread, finally being recognized in 1972 with an official national observance.
Of course, fathers don’t need an official day to honor their role in a child’s life, nor should that recognition be limited to one day a year. Their love is timeless.
Happy Father’s Day.