A Father's Day Lament

Father’s Day isn’t quite the same as mother’s day. Every year statistics, well-worn but still true, are cited to prove it.

There are more collect calls on Father’s Day than any other day of the year. About 140 million moms receive cards for Mother’s Day, compared to just 90 million dads getting Father’s Day cards. According to a recent market research survey, the average budget for a gift for dad is $20. For mom, it’s $65.

In 2010, over $5.4 billion was spent on dad on Father’s Day. On Mother’s day, $10.8 million was spent on mom.

“According to an online survey by RetailMeNot.com, 81 percent of adults feel that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day should be celebrated equally, however over three-quarters (77%) of both men and women who responded to the survey feel that, in general, mothers tend to receive more attention or celebration on Mother’s Day than dads do on Father’s Day,” CBS reported last year.

Put simply, moms get a lot of attention and fathers tend to get the short end of the stick. And not just in Mother’s Day vs. Father’s Day comparisons either.

There is also a disparity between how we portray fathers and mothers in our media. “If you watch TV, then you’ve most likely witnessed the portrayal of the modern-day husband and father as lazy, incompetent and stupid,” reported Sarah Peterson for Deseret News back in February in an article entitled “Dumbing down Dad.”

“An exploratory content analysis of family-oriented sitcoms shows modern television fathers and working class television fathers are more likely to be portrayed foolishly than fathers of the past or fathers of higher socioeconomic classes,” finds a study published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media.

What this adds up to is a society in which we spend a lot of time honoring women and moms, and not nearly as much time honoring men and fathers.

And yet, the absence of father’s in our society is a very real problem as more than one research finding has indicated. A case in point:

…we find that children who grow up apart from their biological fathers do less well, on average, than children who grow up with both natural parents. They are less likely to finish high school and attend college, less likely to find and keep a steady job, and more likely to become teen mothers. The differences are not huge. Indeed, most children who grow up with a single parent do quite well. Nor are they large enough to support the claim that father absence is the major cause of our country’s most serious social problems. However, the differences between children in one- and two-parent families are not so small as to be inconsequential, and there is fairly good evidence that father absence per se is responsible for at least some of them

We know fathers are important. We know families absent a dad produce children that are, in the aggregate, more prone to social problems than families with dads. And yet, we can’t seem to bring dad up to par with mom when it comes to appreciation. In fact, we can’t seem to help but portray dad as a buffoon and imbecile in our media, someone every bit as in-need of care from the uber-competent media mothers as their children.

We seem to care more about women than men in the world of health too. Consider this: “Men die six years sooner than women. There are more than four widows for every widower.” Yet, despite that, we focus a lot more on the health of women than the health of men:

There are seven federal health agencies specifically for women. Not one for men. 39 of the 50 states have an office of women’s health, only six have one for men. A search of more than 3,000 medical journals listed in Index Medicus found that 23 articles were written on women’s health for each one written on men’s. Although a woman is only 14 percent more likely to die from breast cancer than a man is from prostate cancer, funding for breast cancer research is 660 percent greater than funding for prostate cancer research. Even the post office has gotten into the act: there is only one disease for which you can buy a postage stamp and the profits will go to research to cure the disease: breast cancer, even though heart disease kills millions more men prematurely. Before the age of 65, men die of heart attacks at three times the rate of women.

The bias against men is not limited to government-funded efforts. Even though men die younger and men’s last years are spent in worse health than women’s, most media and private sector attention goes to women’s health: features on menopause on CNN, articles on osteoporosis in the Kaiser Permanente newsletter, and nonstop corporate-sponsored fundraisers for breast cancer: runs for breast cancer, walks for breast cancer, even go to an A’s game for breast cancer. Baseball, a game played by and watched primarily by men, has a Breast Cancer Day, but not a Heart Attack Day, even though millions more people—primarily men—die prematurely of heart disease. Yet when the media pays attention to heart disease, most of it is focused on women, even though women get heart disease long after the average man is dead.

In the world of politics, too, women get preferential treatment. The pay disparity between men and women is part of the “war on women,” according to some, and yet when men suffered 82% of the job losses during the recent recession there was little outcry.

We just don’t seem to care as much about men as we care about women.

Fatherhood is a responsibility no self-respecting man should shirk, but it becomes easier to understand why so many of them shirk it when we see how little our society appreciates dear old dad.

These are things to keep in mind this Father’s Day. Be nice to your dad. Treat him as well as you treat your mom. And the next time you see some caricature of a father in a sit-com, or in a movie, ask yourself if those sort of portrayals are really fair.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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