Make Dads Feel Valued on Father's Day (article featured in The Tennessean)

With Father’s Day approaching, wives, mothers, and children are planning for that special day that honors Dad. Each year, we buy power tools and fancy electronics to celebrate the men in our lives, but as we approach Father’s Day this year, I’d like to propose that we think a little more deeply about how we love and appreciate Dad.

In the 1960s, a revolution took place, and women began to feel more powerful and less unequal. Relationships were on the move to becoming more egalitarian, women were landing jobs that were previously viewed as traditionally “masculine,” and this liberating decade was a springboard to numerous advances in women’s rights. This, without a doubt, was a phenomenal accomplishment in the Land of the Free, and men and women alike prided themselves on being a part of this progressive movement toward equality.

But, a part of this revolution was the quandary in which many men found themselves when it came to functioning within a relationship and family unit. Men had traditionally been expected to be the breadwinners, the head of the household, while women were very often seen as homemakers and caretakers. As women became stronger and more vocal, men were somewhat confused about where they stood as husbands and as fathers. Were they to continue to open her car door as an act of chivalry? Or, was that, in some way, a communication to his counterpart that she was incapable of doing that herself? Was the husband supposed to continue to be more machismo and less emotional, or was he supposed to embrace this new, more emotional and gender-neutral role within his marriage.

Decades later, we have made huge strides in gender role expectations. But, as with any social movement, there continues to be remnants of the conflicts that stem from these social changes. Albeit less radical, there are still expectations of men that can be quite confusing. We often encourage them to go the therapy, read self-help books, spend more time with the children, share their emotions, and be vulnerable. And, we also send the message that they should also be strong, capable, driven, accomplished and in charge. Of course, not all families encourage these exact gender roles, but more often than not, there is some disparity between the emotional characteristics that we ask of them and the masculine characteristics that we expect.

It must be pointed out that these traditional roles and shifts do not apply to every family unit in the 21st Century. There are families of various structures that are headed by single mothers, single fathers, and same sex partners. There are stay-at-home moms, CEO moms, and women with multiple jobs that are contributing to the household income and duties. And, many families seem to have perfected the “egalitarian” roles within the family structure. But, most families, no matter their structure or role definitions, can continue to work to define the expectations within the unit.

There is no “right” way to come together as a family unit, and the challenge is to openly communicate so that your family can define what works for each of you. So, as we approach Father’s Day this year, perhaps we can pause before we purchase a Dremel or a chainsaw, and rather ask them what they’d like for their special day. Some may ask for a new nine iron and others may, in fact, go for the power tools, but we can ask them to expound on that. What might they need from us, their family, in order to feel more secure and appreciated? And, don’t expect a monologue peppered with flowery, emotion-laden requests. Men, by virtue of their genetics, often think more concretely than their female counterparts. But by allowing them to express their needs if they so wish, and by simply communicating that they are valued and respected for who they are, not just what they accomplish, we may make their Father’s Day a bit more mean

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