Father’s Day: It’s Complicated

Father’s Day: It’s Complicated

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Applying a scholarly eye to the day for dads

What is a Solo Mom supposed to do with Father’s Day?

Well, honestly, you could just ignore it. You have enough to worry about picking up the slack, whether it’s your son at ballet class or takeout Indian food for dinner. Does this have to be your problem, too? Mother’s Day is cool, but why Father’s Day?

On the flip side, however, Father’s Day might be a diamond in the rough—a hidden opportunity. You don’t believe me? Well, OK. I know it’s a stretch, but let’s stretch. What could be gained if we were to ask ourselves, What can Father’s Day do for me (and the kids)?

Naturally, we should turn to academic papers when seeking answers to questions such as this. How about Amitai Etzioni’s “Toward a Theory of Public Ritual” published in Sociology Theory, vol. 18, no. 1 (2000)? Do you want the page numbers, too? See pages 44 through 59. Guess why? He doesn’t talk about Father’s Day, but he talks about holidays, so we’ll take what he says about holidays and apply it to Father’s Day—then we’ll make up the rest.

Holidays of recommitment

This theory is based on the idea that daily life and mundane concerns make us forget traditional values. These holidays are conservative by definition, meant to make us feel nostalgic of a “time that was.” Easter and Christmas are examples of such holidays. For Solo Moms, nostalgia for a nuclear family may not be productive. However, if we want to make Father’s Day operate on this level, we can use it as a day to acknowledge how society values fathers and to create a safe space for our children to talk about their personal feelings without the worry of hurting mom’s feelings.

Holidays as tension management

The assumption behind these kinds of holidays is that people can’t always be committed to the shared ideal and sometimes need to “release tension.” Think Mardi Gras. Although holidays such as this may appear to encourage deviant behavior, they also have conservative motives. The justification is that once the dark side is acknowledged, we’ll happily recommit to the shared ideal.

However, research has shown that tension relief is not the best method for integration; it often results in permanent deviance (from the shared ideal). Since the shared ideal (of a traditional family structure) is not the reality for Solo Moms, this result may be just fine for us. If we were to use Father’s Day as a tension releaser, we could bombard our kids with “Dad jokes” and grill steaks wearing an apron that says, “All I got for Father’s Day was this goofy apron.”

Holidays that raise diversity awareness

To celebrate Father’s Day in this spirit, we would acknowledge that fathers are good for the whole, we’re happy to live in a society where fathers exist, but our family is different and lovely in its own way. For example, on the Fourth of July, often United States flags and flags from other nations are flown side by side. On Father’s Day, we might say, “Fathers are great! Yay! But as for me and my own, we are happy with one grandma, one mom, three people of ambiguous connections, eight kids, and 17 alpacas.” On this day, we honor Father’s Day by fixing the fence together.

Holidays that make you want to blow shit up

Holidays don’t have to be all puppies and rainbows, however. They can be used to subvert the dominant belief system. For example, Native Americans, especially the Wampanoag, have used Thanksgiving as a protest holiday. They fast and mourn on this day. So Father’s Day can be used to bring to light our society’s inherent heteronormativity. We can talk about how everything from taxes to toilet paper pressures us to be part of a monogamous male-female couple, even though this hasn’t ever worked as a reality for most individuals. We can talk about why the patriarchy wants this so much. We can talk about who is paying the cost for this (everyone, but some more than others).

Holidays as agents of change

Etzioni says, “Holidays can be used to work out a new relationship between society and a member group, and in the process, advance and ritualize a change in the beliefs of those involved.” Martin Luther King, Jr., Day is such an example. It met considerable resistance for 15 years before it was finally declared a national holiday in 1986. In this instance, it was not the new viewpoint that was integrated into the traditional viewpoint. It was the dominant viewpoint that changed to accommodate the new. To use Father’s Day in this way might be to insist on a Not Father’s Day—to voice the fact that what is necessary for children are not fathers or even father figures but just an abundance of kind and good people around them.

It’s true, more people loving your children is not a bad thing. This doesn’t mean, however, that children need two parents or need a mother and a father. It doesn’t mean that it’s definitively better to have a father than an army of aunts.

Holidays do not have to strictly serve one or another of these purposes. They may accommodate any number of these needs. They may shift around as the needs change. They can be put down, picked back up, redesigned, or eliminated. So I come back to my opening statement. If Father’s Day doesn’t work for you this year, put on your yoga pants and come over for some wine and artisanal cheese from Aldi.

Mika Yamamoto, ESME's Guide for Public Assistance, has successfully nurtured two children as a Solo Mom and now hopes to achieve the same results as a plant nanny.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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