America has long been plagued by unfairly contrived stereotypes, but few have been as widely and consistently accepted as the “classic dad.” The ball-tossing, polo-wearing, golf-loving father is an ideal figure in our society, as made evident by the recent popularity of dad-joke reminiscent memes and the revival of Nike Air Monarchs. However, the ever-increasing usage of the “dad” label has fostered an exclusive dad culture that rejects a variety of fathers and devitalizes movements toward gender equality in the domestic sphere.
Most dads do not match their label within the popular dad culture. My dad rarely tossed a ball when I was a kid and most certainly would not have been caught dead in a pair of platform white sneakers. Given the fact that he worked a full-time job, I almost never saw him during the day unless it was a weekend, and on those occasions, he was often doing maintenance around the house. Our relationship was not one of personal connection, but one of structure. He was the father and I was the daughter. He made the rules and I listened. He worked and I went to school, and I would assume that many other children experienced similar relationships with their fathers.
One could argue that the celebration of stereotypical dad culture is not a response to actual dad behavior, but rather, an attempt to fill an emotional gap that exists in a hierarchical family system. Throughout history, the west has consistently seen the emergence of the heterosexual household that places the mother in the domestic sphere and the father in the work sphere. Because of this rampant gender inequality, many children tend to spend more time with their mothers, and this causes them to associate moms with love and comfort and dads with responsibility and authority. Is it possible that our dad stereotypes are merely an attempt to compensate for our dad realities? I think yes. Perhaps this kitschy and lighthearted trend is just role allocation in disguise.
This Father’s Day, I urge you to think about whether or not your dad truly fits into the classic dad culture. If he doesn’t (whether it be due to his style, status, race, ethnicity, sexuality or even just personality), ask yourself whether or not you think that dad culture really serves a necessary function in our society. Stereotypes tend to harm the people they are assigned to, so love your dad for who he is, and, perhaps more importantly, take the time to get to know him for who he is. By celebrating the individuality, rather than conformity, of their fathers, young people can effectively encourage increased variation among families, and in turn empower the nondads who might feel held down in patriarchal households. Classic dad culture not only encourages dads to sustain the patriarchy but to do it while listening to dad rock and grilling hamburgers. Let’s diversify dads, love dads and move toward more acceptance of different dad values.