Present or presents?

12th June 2019
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Image: The amount of time fathers spend with their children has increased by 15-20 minutes per day every decade since the 1970s.

It’s a commercial beast these days. If you google Father’s Day, or Mother’s Day for that matter, the first squillion results thrown at you are all about presents, personalised cards and other commercial rigmarole.

But what is Father's Day really about? How much does the day celebrated today, diverge from the initial ethos of the celebration?

The first ever Father’s Day it turns out, was actually a terribly sad affair. A woman called Grace Golden Clayton, who was resident in Fairmont, West Virginia, was the first person to champion a Fathers’ Day in 1908. Her efforts were in response to a mine explosion in a neighbouring town a year prior, which had taken the lives of more than 360 men, and left 1000 children bereft of their fathers.

Grace Clayton’s efforts were followed up in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd, in Spokane, Washington. Her mother had died in childbirth, leaving her father to raise her and her five siblings alone. With Mother’s Day having got off the ground a year before, she was inspired to champion a day that celebrated dads too.

But unlike Mother’s Day, which was made a national holiday in the US in 1914, it took Father’s Day another 58 years to receive the same recognition.

Both cases serve a poignant reminder; one of the impact the loss of a father has on children; the other of the amazing work that some dads do.

The delay in recognising the days on an equal footing, in many ways is just a reflection of the social norms that are still prevalent, and which we are still struggling to shift.

A research paper by the Fatherhood Institute in the UK in 2018 concluded that mothers are ‘almost universally depicted as ‘chief’ parents and ‘natural experts’’- although I doubt many women would voluntarily claim either of those titles a week or so after giving birth, if ever!

But the tide is changing. The amount of time fathers spend with their children has increased by 15-20 minutes per day every decade since the 1970s. Also, the divorce figures are going down, some suggest because men are ‘behaving better’, by taking a more active role in the home and with the children which in turn is creating happier relationships.

The point from a family law perspective is that families, no matter how actively involved the father is, no matter how perfect or imperfect, children’s best interest is almost always best served by having both parents, even if not together, present in their lives.

And that’s really what it’s about- being present (no, not presents!). Because without them our lives quite simply wouldn’t be the same.

Happy Father’s Day!

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Iselin Jones

Paralegal