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A young fan holds up a glove in hopes of catching a baseball as his father holds him on his shoulders during the Los Angeles Dodgers Father's Day game against the Houston Astros on June 19, 2011 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.
A father holding a son on his shoulders during the Los Angeles Dodgers Father's Day game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. Paul Spinelli—MLB Photos via Getty Images

Fatherhood Has Changed. Father's Day Gift Giving Should, Too

Jun 18, 2015

Though fathers have surely always loved their kids, previous generations of dads have been boxed into relatively unemotional, more stoic roles like breadwinner or disciplinarian. Respect, rather than intimacy, was the rule. That partly explains why Father’s Day has only been a national holiday since 1972, while Mother’s Day has been a national holiday since 1914.

Father's Day expenditures are way behind compared to Mother's Day too. Not that spending money is the most important way to celebrate dads, but it is striking that Father’s Day is still the smallest of the gift-giving holidays. In terms of consumer spending, the National Retail Federation reports that Father’s Day is less than 60% the size of Mother’s Day.

More importantly, people seem unsure about how to celebrate fathers and Father's Day. In previous research I’ve conducted for Father’s Day, shoppers complain that they’re stumped with it comes to finding gifts for their fathers. The results can seem forced, awkward, and wasteful.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Fatherhood has been on a trajectory toward greater intimacy, emotional engagement and fun for decades. The problem is that Father’s Day has not caught up. Everything about the day can feel stiff and obligatory for all parties involved.

Family therapist Peggy Wynne has noticed a significant difference in how men parent in the past two generations. “With Boomers it was all about survival, safety and responsibility. Fathers were there to serve and protect -- and it was serious," she told me. "Today fathers are more willing to be playful, to have fun and enjoy their kids. It’s not just about being the provider.”

Indeed, today’s fathers have broader roles. According the Pew Research Center, fathers who live with their children have more responsibility for the daily care and feeding of their kids. They get to have more fun and emotional intimacy too. In the 2012 "Marketing to Dads" study, Mintel noted that today’s fathers aren’t just financial providers, they’re also today’s primary providers of family fun and as such more likely to be the primary spender of both time and money on family entertainment.

You can see a giant shift in the attention of dads, and their clear involvement in parenting, by noting how their brand preferences shift after fatherhood. According to Y&R’s “Who’s Your Daddy” study, Rubbermaid, Lego, Hallmark and Cheerios are among today’s fathers most desired brands. Unsurprisingly, none of these brands appear on similar lists of men without children. Also interesting: A 2014 Dove Men+Care study that found that 86% of men believe the concept of masculinity has changed from their father’s generation.

Given the elevated emotional stature and broader roles of fathers, here are four ideas for appropriately and enthusiastically celebrating Father's Day in 2015:

Man Pampering. Though most of today’s dads aren’t craving a day at the spa any more than previous generations, they are craving special attention and pampering from their kids -- especially when it comes with food. Homemade treats, breakfast in bed, a picnic or other dad-centered, food-related outings or goodies are top-of-the-list from fathers I’ve interviewed in previous years. Just don't mention the unmanly word "pampering" or, even worse, something horrible like "manpering."

Engagement. Wynne points out that today’s dads are less about getting a gift that says “thank you Dad” and instead want a gift that unites them with their kids. “It’s not about honoring dad as it is about including him, so things like video games that can be played together are more valued,” she said.

Activities. Men are doers by nature, and as we now know, they’re also often in charge of family entertainment. Planning an outing around dad’s favorite activities is sure to be a hit. It can be anything from tickets to a ballgame to agreeing to videotape his golf swing at the driving range.

Favorite Things. A few of the brands making it onto the “most desired” list of men both with and without children are: UnderArmour, Nike, Netflix, Levi’s, Kobalt and Apple. Perhaps a treat from one of these brands would do the trick for your father.

Happy Father’s Day!

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