What Fathers Really Want For Father's Day

We want affordable childcare so that our families are not crushed with that expense and also for our wives, who are often paid less, are not forced to choose between their careers and caring for our children.

You’ve probably seen a number of gift guides for Father’s Day by now. Anything from outdoor grills to stereo equipment; golf clubs to Star Wars memorabilia is the easy path. And while these things might be nice to have, they are not what fathers really want.

For starters, fathers want culture and media to take us seriously as parents. After all, it is 2015. We should be way past the bumbling Mr. Mom stereotype. Fathers are just as capable of diapering, feeding, and raising children as women, and are doing this work more than ever before. Thankfully, after an offensive 2012 Huggies ad was widely criticized for perpetuating the idea that dads are lost when it comes to diapers, we’ve reached a place where the latest Super Bowl was replete with commercials from Dove, Toyota, and Nissan showing dads taking care of their kids in competent, loving, and realistic ways. We saw images of dads brushing hair, cooking, comforting, kissing, and doing the things that real dads do every day.

Of course, the perpetuation of outdated notions of dads ignores that there are many variations in the modern family. It must be especially painful for single dads, stay-at-home dads (whose numbers grow daily), and gay dads to see these images thrust at them. Even for a working dad like myself, I find these things obnoxious and quite frankly clueless to modern reality. In sum, it’s time to move on from these depictions of hopeless sloppy dads.

Speaking of working dads (which is a title that can be bestowed on most fathers) we, like many mothers, are locked in a struggle trying to “have it all.” We juggle work and parenthood just as much, and want to be deeply involved in both places. Yet, it is a difficult balancing act, and one that is not discussed enough.

It’d also be nice to be taken seriously at home too. By that, I mean we need to take a look at what Josh Levs, author of the must-read book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses — And How We can Fix It Together, refers to as “male privilege and female gatekeeping.” Essentially, even though we are part of a post “Free to Be You And Me” generation, we still have been socialized in such a way that women are taught that their role is to take on most of the childcare duties, and men learn that they are more important working outside of the home. As Levs discusses, we need to be aware of these dynamics in our own lives, consider how they impact parents, how we split duties at home, and how we may continue traditional gender roles. In other words, I’m asking my wife not to criticize me when I pick out my daughters’ clothes.

Finally, we want to see business policies and laws that reflect our needs and the needs of our families. This means we want paid family leave for all, and we want it now. We shouldn’t have to sue the companies we work for in order to take care of our newborns, as Levs was forced to do with Time Warner. We also want flexible time so that we can be part of doctors’ appointments and be home for sick days and attend our children’s special events and performances. And we want affordable childcare so that our families are not crushed with that expense — and also so our wives, who are often paid less, are not forced to choose between their careers and caring for our children.

As MenCare, a global fatherhood campaign notes, engaging men as involved fathers “can lead to improved maternal and child health, stronger and more equitable partner relations, a reduction in violence against women and children, and lifelong benefits for daughters and sons.” Further, our involvement as caregivers improves our intimate relationships and enhances our quality of life.

So, when I stood with my wife and daughters last weekend listening to Hillary Clinton speak at her kickoff event on Roosevelt Island, my heart was filled with hope as she rattled off a list of wishes — paid family leave, equal pay, access to childcare, paid sick days, raising the minimum wage, ending discrimination against LGBT families — and stressed that all these things are not “women’s issues” but “family issues.” Indeed.

As excited as I am for a future where I can tell my daughters that they can be anything they want to be, even President of the United States, I also look forward to a day when we can tell our sons that they can be anything, even dads that are fairly portrayed in film and commercials, and supported at work and home with policies that allow them to “have it all.”

Please add that to your Father’s Day gift guides for me. 

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