Just Saying

What dads really want for Father's Day

They have been telling us for years what they want: Nothing - which can be just watching TV together

This Father's Day, on behalf of children everywhere, I'd like to take this opportunity to say to all fathers: We're sorry.

I know many of you fathers out there are probably disappointed with how your children are commemorating the day.

Fathers will likely remember the big fuss everyone made over Mother's Day just last month - what with the fancy lunches and giant bouquets of flowers.

And though many of them stressed that they wanted "nothing" on Father's Day, they probably weren't expecting to get just one measly WhatsApp message.

Of course, some lucky fathers would have been taken out to a nice lunch by their children, and some really, really lucky ones wouldn't have had to pick up the bill themselves.

Other fathers may even have received gifts: a coffee mug, perhaps, or maybe even some sort of novelty necktie. Basically the sort of gifts that would make children cry if they ever received something similar.

But even for the lucky ones, chances are that there is a feeling that Father's Day isn't on a par with Mother's Day.

It's like an afterthought to the main event, some kind of pity holiday created so fathers don't feel left out.

This sentiment is also borne out by retail numbers.

The US National Retail Foundation tracks spending on these sorts of occasions and it has found quite consistently that people spend some 30 per cent to 40 per cent more on Mother's Day than they do on Father's Day.

I'm not sure what the specific situation is in Singapore but my guess is that the same trend would pan out.

I was in a supermarket last week and noticed a small Father's Day gift section set up on a table near the entrance. It had some chocolates, miniature bottles of champagne and some balloons. I was there near closing time, and either they were very busy restocking that table or nobody had bought anything from it for a while.

I mean, I certainly cannot imagine buying anything on that table for my father. He has a well-stocked liquor cabinet and would wonder why I couldn't even get him a full-sized bottle of champagne. I could buy him the chocolates but my mother would never let him eat them. As far as I could tell, the balloons were not for sale.

The question, then, is why Father's Day has become like this.

Those asked to explain the difference between the days dedicated to the parents tend to settle on the notion that - like it or not - mothers are still seen as the primary contributors to home life. Fathers, meanwhile, are stereotyped as more aloof, distant figures.

As comedian Stephen Colbert once joked: "A father has to be a provider, a teacher, a role model, but most importantly, a distant authority figure who can never be pleased. Otherwise, how will children ever understand the concept of God?"

I don't entirely disagree with that explanation but I don't think it sufficiently explains all that is going on. After thinking about it, I've concluded that the fundamental approach to Father's Day has been all wrong and we have been measuring it with the wrong metrics.

To my mind, what is wrong with Father's Day is that it doesn't seem to have been created with fathers in mind.

It's almost less of a Father's Day than a Mother's Day for fathers.

What I mean is the way we typically celebrate Father's Day is by taking what we do for Mother's Day and then retrofitting it for fathers.

Fathers are very different from mothers and want quite different things. They don't want the trinkets and cutesy gifts or cards with heartfelt messages we get for mothers.

Stuff that fathers want, they buy themselves. If they want it and haven't bought it, you probably can't afford it.

And it's not that they don't want to be made a fuss of, they just want a kind of low-wattage fuss - fuss that doesn't require 100 per cent active participation on their part.

In fact, now that I think about it, fathers have actually been telling us for years exactly what they want for Father's Day: Nothing.

By "nothing", they don't mean literally nothing.

It's "nothing" in the way that you might use the word when your mother asks you what you are doing. You are doing something, but it's not a significant enough thing to be talked about so you say "nothing".

And that's the sort of "nothing" your father probably wants.

He wants quality time, but not in the way your mother defines it. Quality time with your mother probably means sitting down with her and both of you having a heart-to-heart chat.

Quality time with your father just means he wants you to be in his vicinity, preferably in the same room but he will settle for being in the same apartment.

Your choosing to stay home with him and do "nothing" is better than planning a day full of celebratory activities he doesn't really want to participate in.

He would like nothing more than for you to watch TV with him as he lazes in his favourite chair, and would be perfectly happy if the conversation never went any deeper than one of you saying "good putt".

A perfect day for many fathers is a day where he gets to do what he does when he is alone (nothing), but with his family.

I know for a restless young person, this can be harder than just buying him a present, but if you are stumped as to what to get your father today, give it a go. Try giving your father some of the "nothing" he has been asking for.

Happy Father's Day!

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 18, 2017, with the headline 'JustSaying What dads really want for Father's Day'. Print Edition | Subscribe