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Dear Jenny: Can Father's Day *Not* Be A Consumerist, Gendered Throwback?

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Our resident advice-giver-outer Jenny True provides shouty, full-hearted answers to your niggling questions about pregnancy and parenthood in her column Dear Jenny. Warning: This is not a baby-and-me singalong, this is about yelling into the cosmos and actually hearing something back, sometimes in the form of an all-caps swear. Jenny isn't an ~expert~, but she has a lot of experience being outraged on your behalf. To submit your questions to Jenny, email advice@romper.com.

Dear Jenny,

I hate Father's Day. I'm not really comfortable being celebrated, but honestly? It's the gendered gift thing. All I see when we go to department stores are stand-ups labeled "gifts for dads." It's all cheap garbage in the first place, and not my thing at all. (Whose thing is terrible ties or flasks or useless grilling tools or awful cologne, anyway?) I don't want our son, who's 4, to get swept up in either the Hallmark crap OR the dated, cheesy gendered crap. But he's going to get a face-full of it next year when he's in kindergarten, and I want to head it off without making him feel like he can't participate. How do I deal with this holiday when I wish it didn't exist? Can I subvert it somehow and turn it back on the patriarchy mwahahaha?

Signed,

Every Day Is Father's Day

Dear EDIFD,

As I'm sure has been happening to you if you have a connected device and access to the internet, I have been inundated by ads and newsletters about Father's Day. I clicked into a newsletter to unsubscribe when the image of a mushroom log caught my eye. A MUSHROOM LOG. Paired with the headline "25 Perfect Father's Day Gifts for New Dads."

Surely, I thought, this is an automatically generated image/headline combo designed to get me to click. WHICH I DID.

And after clicking through a slide show that included I S%*T YOU NOT a package of cocktails, prime rib, a digital tape measure, and a "beer jelly set" — as if these editors signed off 50 years ago and were now dialing it in from the Focus on the Family headquarters — there was, in fact, a SHIITAKE MUSHROOM LOG KIT. This is the deck that accompanied it:

"So he can easily grow meaty shiitake for his stir-fries and salads. This organic mushroom-growing log can last up to three years."

HERE IS THE PROBLEM WITH THAT:

1. Any new dad, from cisgender to trans and beyond, who brings a F*CKING LOG into the kitchen and attempts to set it on the counter next to the piles of dirty dishes, half-eaten Tupperware containers of food, baby bottles, bottle nipples, and other baby-related items to grow a FUNGUS at his LEISURE vastly underrates the priorities of being a NEW DAD, which start with NOT BRINGING LOGS AND FUNGUS INTO THE HOUSE.

2. "This organic mushroom-growing log can last up to three years" OH HELL NO BRING ME BUBBLY WATER ON A TRAY.

I feel your pain, EDIFD. Mother's Day does the same thing to moms, suggesting the same aromatherapy candles, makeup and hair products, and flower/chocolate/teddy bear bundles every year. I don't hate these things OK I HATE THEM EXCEPT THE AROMATHERAPY CANDLE HOW I WOULD LOVE FOR SOMEONE TO PAY $35 FOR A GLASSED-IN AROMATHERAPY CANDLE FOR ME BECAUSE I'M NOT PAYING THAT BY THE WAY GARDENIA OR WATERFALL BUT IF YOU BRING CEDAR OR CINNAMON INTO MY HOUSE YOU'RE BANNED, but I'm not a particularly feminine or traditional mom so they're not at the top of my list. And the idea of going to brunch, with children, on one of the busiest days of the year is as compelling an idea as dry-shaving my armpits with someone else's razor (a stypic pencil, like the one that used to live in my mother's makeup drawer, is a more useful gift for me on Mother's Day).

But Father's Day.

As always, I fully support subverting the tyranny of tradition to mold your children into your ideal image, rather than letting "society" make those choices for you. But the tricky thing about Father's Day, as you mention, is that school, and society, are about to get in the way.

Two things are happening here: 1) The lessons about Father's Day are a complex function of the axes of gender and consumerism. 2) WE LIVE IN THE WORLD AND IT RUINS OUR CHILDREN.

To the first part, although they are capable of abstract thought, kids your son's age are still pretty concrete thinkers. (Complex, abstract thought comes later in the game.) This is important to understanding how you might start a conversation about potentially abstract concepts, such as gender and consumerism.

Point to the ways that you (and your partner, if you have one) don't fit into typical gender roles: I love pink! Your other dad loves Moana!

But this is the perfect time to talk, and it's all about development. First, gender stereotypes: Your kid is SO TEN STEPS AHEAD OF YOU in noticing difference, because he's trying to figure out who he is and where he fits in. For parents of kids who identify as transgender or gender expansive, this can be a particularly insightful time.

Kids age 5 and 6 are at a "peak in the rigidity of stereotypes" (through fifth grade, "girls are seen as nice, wearing dresses, and liking dolls, and boys are seen as having short hair, playing active games, and being rough," explained researchers Carol Lynn Martin and Diane N. Ruble of that whole, troublesome formative phase). And as early as preschool, they feel more positively about their own sex — meaning they're the good guys, and those other folks drool.

You might start off by figuring out where your kid is. You can ask, "What do you think when you think about 'dads'? How about 'moms'? Now, what do you think when you think about me?" If you have a partner, you can ask what kinds of associations your kid has about them versus their perceived role. Overall, it's a great idea to talk about all kinds of stereotypes, because the earlier kids talk about categories of difference — race, gender, sexuality, ability, body size — the earlier they have the tools to call out and combat prejudice.

Then you can state your feelings about Father's Day: that some people like it, but you don't, because it reinforces patriarchal notions of a gender paradigm that excludes difference and shaves us down to shells that together form a harmful and limiting (if sometimes beautiful!) societal structure.

Consumerism is the second concept at play here, and it can be harmful in a few ways: the association of affection with gifts, the association of status with material goods... You know.

Seriously, though, you don't like Father's Day because it's associated with how boys and men are "supposed to be" (kids this age don't quite get the concepts of "masculine" and "feminine"), and you'd rather be appreciated for who you really are. Point to the ways that you (and your partner, if you have one) don't fit into typical gender roles: I love pink! Your other dad loves Moana! Your mom plays football and she's not just the place kicker!

Consumerism is the second concept at play here, and it can be harmful in a few ways: the association of affection with gifts, the association of status with material goods, the stratifying of economic classes, the idea that material goods lead to happiness. You know.

As with gender, you can boil this down for your preschool-age son. Tell him that although it can be nice to get gifts (and it feels good to give them!), sometimes the gifts that people are supposed to give on Father's Day aren't things you really want. So let your son know he doesn't have to give you anything at all, but if he wants to (or if his teacher makes him), these are the things that would make you happy: a card, a hug, a promise to hang out together, a dance routine, a handstand contest, a tutu. It's your day, after all.

FATHER'S DAY LIKE ALL HOLIDAYS IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT. USE IT HOW IT BEST SUITS YOU AND YOUR FAMILY'S VALUES. SPEAKING OF VALUES HERE'S A GREAT VIDEO ABOUT HOW TO AVOID REINFORCING GENDER STEREOTYPES. YOU GOT THIS.

<3 Jenny

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