Social Leverage

Social Leverage

Who’s your daddy?

By Carla Lever

Heads up, folks. Father’s Day is almost here. This is a day where we remember the original man in our lives and give thanks with traditional tokens of affection, including socks, aftershave and the sacred giftage of vacuum-sealed dried meat packs.
I can only imagine what findings future anthropologists will conclude from our buried Father’s Day relics.

Frankly, if my family is anything to go by, they’ll wonder how the human race ever managed to stagger forward at all.
My dad’s a bit special, see. It’s tricky to know what to get for the man who communicates almost entirely through a series of violent coughing fits and single word utterances – a chatty email sharing news and asking how he is will inevitably result in a one word “fine.” Bless him, we can’t all be communicators.

All this emotional communication, of course, leaves me in a bit of a bind when it comes to present purchasing. The options, let us be honest, are somewhat limited.
Whilst I’m hardly a fan of gender stereotyping or spoiled surprises, it’s not going to let the cat out of the bag to say that this year’s treats will be a golf magazine, a beer and, possibly, one of those terribly plain quick wicking tops. Crack out the party poppers and cue the Boney M.
The funny thing, though, is that it doesn’t really seem to matter. Let’s face it: Father’s day is really quite a new concept. When I consulted dear Dr Google on the matter, it confirmed these suspicions – Mother’s Day was easily and unproblematically voted into national prominence following traditions of honouring motherhood dating back to Ancient festivals, whereas Father’s Day was quite the afterthought.

In fact, it even took the Americans – well known for eking out the emotional schmaltz – sixty-four years to get it passed into law. Statistically, Mother’s Day sees more commercial activity and longer phone calls than its gender counterpart, though – amusingly – Father’s Day sees the highest percentage of collect calls.
Why is it that Mother’s Day attracts so much attention while Father’s Day is so often second place? Could it be that women – bless their demanding little souls – are just noisier about their expectations?

Or could it be something more to do with how, when it comes to valuing humans for their nurturing, caring and human-interactive skills, we still struggle to reconcile these with our concept of masculinity?

No prizes for guessing where I stand on this one (though I’d hasten to add that I’m certainly not silent when it comes to any personal celebrations I can legitimately hold a claim to).
The animal kingdom is replete with different parenting tactics.
For every promiscuous male bear who abandons his mate and cubs shortly after birth or the lion who will think nothing of mauling his offspring, there is the male wolf who is responsible for pup playtime or the seahorse who not only carries the fertilised eggs until hatching, but looks after them afterwards.

Nature is nothing if not varied. So why are our notions of “natural” parenting roles so very fixed?
As thinking animals, of course, we are unique – we have the choice as to whether we are driven by our ideological or biological narrative.
So let’s take a moment, then, and reflect on what makes a great dad. I’d like to suggest, as with great mums, that it has absolutely nothing to do with passing on the genetic gift of life. In fact, that’s hardly a qualifier.

Perhaps now we’ve evolved from needing to divide our nuclear units into hunters and gatherers, fighters and birthers, it’s time we stopped qualifying caring in terms of gender and instead started simply celebrating Parents’ Day. What a concept. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to try and sell it to dad in lieu of his annual biltong pack.

Follow Carla Lever on Twitter (@carlalever)
Email your thoughts to carla@48hours.co.za