TIME Family

A Brief History of Father’s Day (and Why I’m Against It)

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Girl Giving Dad Father's Day Card Fuse—Getty Images/Fuse

I’m just going to come out and say that Father’s Day makes me a little uncomfortable. Ambivalent. Always did as a kid: “Sweet! A new opportunity to disappoint as a son!” And it still sits uneasy now that I’m a dad. What’s the big deal? I had kids. So too, statistically speaking, do most grownups at some point.

I never know what I’m supposed to do. Spend more time with my girls? I’d love to, thanks. After all, time is in short supply as we grind unswervingly back into the eternal dust from which we came. Hey, thanks for the tie.

Or, as with some dudes I know, should I use it as an opportunity to spend the day away from my kids? As if to commemorate the day by doing the exact opposite of what it’s all about. Like singing “God Save the Queen” on the Fourth of July.

Certainly the concept of fatherhood is a powerful — albeit loaded — one. The very word conjures every mythological titan from George Washington to Heathcliff Huxtable; from Darth Vader to God. We all, in one form or another, have daddy issues.

Given the conflicting range of emotions Daddy Dearest can sometimes evoke, it’s little wonder that spending on Father’s Day gifts is significantly lower than on Mom’s Day swag. The National Retail Foundation reports that just 64% of consumers plan to spring for a card for Dad. Compare that to 81% who said that they’d gotten one for Mom.

That’s not to say that brands aren’t actively trying to get you to part with your cash this Father’s Day (something that the Collective Dad, in His fiduciary wisdom, would no doubt frown upon). This week Dove launched a feel-good campaign celebrating all the things real dads do. This is ostensibly to remind us that dads are more than just the two-dimensional buffoons we see on TV and in the movies. It tugged at the heart strings, just a bit.

It is also part of a Unilever mission to sell soap products. Unilever, which owns Dove, also owns Axe body spray, which has taken a different marketing route with hypersexualized and arguably misogynistic marketing. Are we to believe Axe Bros grow up into Dove Daddies? What’s the deodorant for the midlife crisis set?

Fact is, Father’s Day was derided as a Hallmark holiday from almost before there was a Hallmark. One of the earlier groups to lobby actively for its creation was the National Council for the Promotion of Father’s Day — which was organized in 1938 by the Associated Men’s Wear Retailers in New York City. The holiday was finally signed into law in 1972 by Richard Nixon, who it turns out was a pretty good dad.

Bah, humbug, I know. Look. I love being a dad. It is the best thing I’ve done in my life to date and it will probably be the best thing I ever do. But most of us are simply genetically hard wired for this stuff. So how about some more progressive paternity leave laws, instead?

I decided to ask my favorite interview subjects what they thought: my daughters. I asked my 9-year-old what the difference is between moms and dads.

“A mother is sweet, soft and gentle,” she said. “A father is rough, funny and kind. And brave.” (For the record, she’s wrong: I am not brave. I am, however, soft.)

She also wanted to know why kids don’t have their own day. I told her that they do. It’s called summer.

I asked her younger sister, who just so happens to be turning six on Father’s Day this year, what the holiday means to her.

“It’s a special day,” she said, “because it’s my birthday.”

That, as much as anything, is what might turn me into a believer.

TIME Education

My Daughter Isn’t Going to Help School Testing Companies Refine Their Product

It’s free labor for the testing contractors

Last week I got an email from a parent at my daughter’s school that warned of an upcoming “field test” my kid and her classmates would be asked to take.

“Our third graders are scheduled for field testing in June,” she wrote. “Field testing is when Pearson ‘tries out’ new test questions by having a large group of students take a practice test.“

This was the first I had heard of field testing—as it was, judging from the replies, for many of the other parents on the group email. We were told that these were experimental tests that Pearson—a global, state-contracted test-maker—was administering to try out questions for future use. Since this came from a concerned fellow parent, we were also told we could opt out of the tests with no repercussions to our kids.

Testing is, obviously, a hot button issue. Earlier this month Louis C.K., the hottest comedian-dad in the country, repeatedly slammed standardized testing—specifically the Common Core—in a viral Twitter rant and subsequent appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman.

But field testing, it turns out, isn’t even officially part of the Common Core. These are extra tests. Tests that don’t count, tests that our kids are being asked to take in order to fine tune future tests. It’s free labor for the testing contractors, as several parents I talked to characterized it.

“This is time away from teaching and learning,” Janine Sopp told me. Sopp is part of a vocal group of parents called Change the Stakes, helping to spread information about the test and opt-out procedures. “It’s not a good use of her time. It’s not an accurate reflection of her knowledge. It’s certainly not a way to rate her teacher. It’s a huge waste of money and resources.”

I floated the idea of field testing to my daughter, who was incredibly stressed during her testing earlier this year. “Seriously? Another test?” she said. “I’d be really frustrated. Really mad.”

What’s astonishing here, though, is the lack of transparency. I emailed a spokesperson for Pearson, a massive education corporation, for clarification. “These field tests are actually New York State Education Department (NYSED) field tests, not Pearson field tests,” she replied via email. “All of the assessment questions (called items) being field tested are the sole property of New York State and are used by NYSED in New York. Pearson does not own the questions.”

And yet, a memo from the NYSED from March of this year said “The stand-alone New York State 2014 Grades 3–8 ELA and Mathematics Field Tests will be delivered to schools by Pearson the week before field testing.”

All of this is to say that parents are not being given a clear picture of what our kids are being used for. It’s incredibly frustrating. I approached a teacher at my daughter’s school. On the condition of anonymity, the teacher told me, succinctly: “It’s so dumb. It’s for Pearson to make money. Opt out.”

Opting out is a real option here, albeit not an option I had been told is available to us by any administrator at my daughter’s school. “There is no mandate for kids to take them, so the state, in its own surreptitious way by not telling parents, does not give them the notice they should,” Fred Smith, a retired administrative analyst with New York State’s board of education, tells me. Many of Smith’s 33 years in education were spent in test research and development. Field testing, he says, does not yield useful data.

“When you’re testing kids in June on tests that they know have no consequences to them, they’re obviously not motivated to perform well,” he told me. “Let’s face it, they’ve been battered up all year with tests and the data this approach generates are not going to be useful when they create future tests.”

Even my five-year-old has picked up on her older sister’s test stress. “Luckily I won’t have to do it for a long time,” she said.

So I called the school to opt her out of the test. Here’s the rub: She’s not even being given the darn test in question. It’s only being given to fifth-graders at her school. She’s in third. There’s so little information available—so much fear and loathing around testing—that, in the case of my kid’s class, we all got worked up over something we don’t even have to worry about for two more years.

At the very least we know we have the option to opt out when the time comes. Which we will.

TIME Parenting

Stop Worrying About Your Kids’ Screen Time

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USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Father and son (8-9) sitting at table Jamie Grill—Getty Images/Tetra images RF

A father interviews his daughters about his own media habits

If there’s one thing enlightened modern parents are good at worrying about, it’s how much time our kids spend in front of screens: television, sure, but laptops too, and tablets and phones. As a former senior editor at Parenting magazine and Newsweek, I’ve done my share of hand-wringing over whether to forswear all screens until my daughters turned 2, as the American Academy of Pediatrics advises. Ha, as if.

Anyway, my girls are about to turn 6 and 9 now. And what I never worried enough about, it turns out, was how much my own media habits were affecting them. I’ve certainly had my concerns about how dependent I’ve become on my beloved iPhone, but surely the only person my compulsive thumb tapping was hurting was me, right?

Not so fast. In March Dr. Jenny Radesky, a fellow in developmental-behavioral pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, published a study in the journal Pediatrics with the high-calorie title “Patterns of Mobile Device Use by Caregivers and Children During Meals in Fast Food Restaurants.” Her takeaway: parents spend a lot of damn time in the company of their kids while on some level ignoring them.

Radesky and her team of researchers conducted an unscientific study in which they observed 55 family groups dining at fast food restaurants. Forty of the 55 included a parent who became engrossed in a mobile device during the meal. One of her researchers even saw a mother kick her child’s foot under the table when she tried to break mom’s attention away from her phone. Another little boy was swatted away for trying to lift his mom’s face away from the screen.

Those were extreme examples, but the overall vibe is worrisome. Our mobile devices, she points out in her study’s conclusion, can “distract parents from face-to-face interactions with their children, which are crucial for cognitive, language, and emotional development.”

But we’re all workaholics, right? We need to check that email and reply to this text ASAP, don’t we? “It’s a challenge,” Radesky tells me when I get her on the phone. “I’m a full-time working mom, trying to be an academic. It’s a tension so many parents describe to me.”

Radesky has instituted a ritual phone-free chunk of time in her own home. She leaves work early, at around 5, to spend time with her kids, ages 8 months and 4, before they go to bed. “I put the devices away and I don’t even look at them unless it’s something urgent,” she says. “My bosses understand we have an unplugged zone. Then between 7 and 8, I pick everything back up to check email — and ignore my husband.”

Our kids are no dummies. They see us engrossed in our toys and it can make them feel sad or annoyed and neglected. It can make them act out. Psychologist Catherin Steiner-Adair knows this all too well. For her book “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age,” she interviewed 1,000 children between the ages of 4 and 18 about their parents’ use of these devices.

“What was really striking to me was the frequency with which kids said it’s so annoying. ‘Daddy says he’s going to play with me and he’s always on his computer’,” she tells me. “Children describe more poignantly at a younger age about parents’ absorption with cell phones when they’re, quote, ‘just checking’.”

And of course, children model their behavior on their parents. So we can hardly be surprised that the first thing our little digital natives reach for when they’re bored comes equipped with a screen.

With this in mind I decided to interview my own kids about my textual proclivities. Using a template modeled loosely on Steiner-Adair’s, I recorded our conversation on my phone — an irony that was not lost on them. Excerpts:

When we were growing up, we didn’t have cell phones.

We had phones attached to the wall. There were no phones in cars, no phones in restaurants, no screens at tables. What’s it like being a kid growing up with phones everywhere?

C, age 5: It feels boring. I think it’s kind of sad that you’re checking your phone all the time. And we really don’t get to play with you that much on weekends.

What about when I say, “oh I’m just checking?”

C: You check for a long time.

What does it make you feel when you’re trying to talk to me and I check my phone?

F, age 8: It makes me feel annoyed

C: It makes me feel bad because when you say, ‘go on, I’m listening,’ I think you’re not listening.

Do you feel like I check my phone too much?

Both: Yes

I’m glad you told me that though it makes me sad.

So what can I do differently?

F: Check your emails and texts when we’re asleep.

What do you think of the rule about no phones at the dinner table or at restaurants for you guys?

F: It feels unfair. I know you don’t really want us to have phones at dinner table.

Why do you think that is?

F: Because it’s rude and you want to have a conversation with us. But it ends up with you checking your phone. I get really mad.

Will you remind me when I’m checking my phone too much and tell me if it makes you sad or mad?

C: Yeah. Can we hear the recording now?

The recording that I’m making on my phone right now?

F: As we speak!

Brian Braiker, a former editor at Parenting, is the executive editor of Digiday. He lives in Brooklyn with his two daughters and his banjo.

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