As we slowly transition out of quarantine, everything feels a little different — and in this summer of flux, that includes Father’s Day.
This year, Father’s Day is unique in a few key ways. For one thing, many fathers have spent unprecedented amounts of time with their kids during the lockdown. A survey of over 1000 parents from the University of Utah found that men were doing significantly more childcare and housework during the pandemic — and, according to a joint study between the Universities of Birmingham and Kent, also more “routine care” like cleaning and laundry (rather than the more fun stuff like reading bedtime stories and hanging out in the park.)
In many cases, all this togetherness has altered the way guys think of fatherhood. A 2020 Harvard study found that 68 percent of dads reported feeling much closer to their children since the pandemic — that they’re having more meaningful conversations, appreciating them more, and discovering new, shared interests with their kids.
If it seems like the dad in your life needs some space, why not give him a card and a hug, and send him on his way?
At the same time, while the pandemic has been tough on everyone, research shows men tend to be much more “care avoidant” when it comes to their mental health. “Men are less likely to seek professional help, and even to engage in self-care,” says Bryce Doehne, Phys.D, a psychotherapist in Portland, Oregon. “And self-care could mean so many things these days – just going out and getting a massage, or working out.” Making matter worse is that the pandemic has torpedoed having any sort of inner life; many report a loss of individual identity.
So here’s a radical proposal: how about showing appreciation for Dad by encouraging him to spend Father’s Day doing whatever he loves best — even if it’s not with the family? If it seems like the dad in your life needs some space, why not give him a card and a hug, and send him on his way?
Maybe he wants to immerse himself in nature with a good forest bath, which research shows lower blood pressure, particularly in men. Nature is healing and restorative — yet a study sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency found that the average American spent 93% of their time indoors (and that was before the pandemic!)
Getting outdoors is a good first step if you have what’s known as “cave syndrome,” a term coined during the pandemic to describe people who are anxious about returning to their former lives, even after being vaccinated.
Or perhaps Dad may just crave a little solitude — which can have mental health benefits, says Kelly Sullivan, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Madison, New Jersey. “Giving a dad alone time can help him find space to practice mindfulness,” she says. “Having this time to slow down and focus on one particular task, like going on a hike, feels very different than juggling the many needs of others.”
On the other hand, maybe Dad’s perfect day involves spending time with some friends that he hasn’t seen since lockdown (in Germany, men typically don’t spend Father’s Day with family, but with friends and often lots of alcohol.)
But whatever Dad does on Father’s Day, it should be an activity that’s meaningful to him. In her research on pandemic behavior, Dr. Lauren Saling of RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, found that during the lockdown, many people tried to fill their time with ‘busyness,’ or mindless tasks. While they were distracted by it, they reported that they were also frustrated. “Merely increasing one’s busyness, in general, is ultimately unsatisfying,” says Dr. Saling. By contrast, when you do personally meaningful activities, she says, “you’re likely to achieve emotional balance.”
It also allows him to reconnect with himself, adds Dr. Sullivan. “Free time can be restorative for a dad to put him back in touch with a part of himself that he may not have been able to access during the pandemic,” says Dr. Sullivan. “Plugging back into this part of our identity strengthens our sense of self and allows us to give more in our relationships with our children and partners.” And giving the father in your life a day, or weekend, to do just as he likes provides a delicious sense of freedom — something that has been in short supply lately.
“For some guys, it might be the first time in a long time that they took a break and focused on themselves,” says Doehne. Some fathers, he says, might need an extra push to let go of that sense of obligation. “I’d suggest following up on it, so it’s not just him saying, ‘yeah, yeah, sure, I’ll go out and do something,’ and then he doesn’t.”
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My dad is in his 70s and hasn’t seen me much during the lockdown, so on Father’s Day, I’ll spend a long day with him — and take our kid with me, leaving my husband, Tom, at home. Tom has been craving solo time and seeing his friends, so he gleefully plans to sleep in, take an epic bike ride, have dinner with a few friends that he hasn’t seen in over a year, and cap the day with a long session of Fortnite. My daughter and I are deliberately not part of the plan this year. And on this unconventional Father’s Day, that’s okay.