Remember when Father’s Day was kind of a throwaway day in June, when dads were lumped in with grads at the far end of the greeting card aisle? Thankfully, that’s not a thing anymore—especially in Ann Arbor where U of M’s commencement happens while parents are still fishing Easter jelly beans out of the sofa.
Nope. Father’s Day is, as David S. Pumpkins might say, “it’s own thanng.” And in my line of work that’s a cause for celebration. Have I mentioned what that line of work is? I’m the co-founder and director of programming of the Dad 2.0 Summit, a social media conference about modern fatherhood that is held every February in various cities that are warmer and sunnier than Michigan in winter.
You’d think Father’s Day was a huge deal for me and the Dad 2.0 team but we don’t think about it all that much. An official day celebrating dads is great, but Father’s Day existed before our conference got started. Rather than sit around admiring the architecture, we get more excited when we can build something new.
Early on, we focused primarily on repealing the image of the helpless, bumbling dad on TV and in advertising. When people asked us about our core goals we’d say something like, “The image of Dad has swung from faultless to clueless, and we just want to bring the perception back to the middle where it belongs.” Over the years, we’ve been happy to see the “dumb dad” trope fade into oblivion.
It’s a big step when you can change perceptions but even bigger when things get legislative. I know I’m one of the luckiest divorced dads you’ll find. My ex and I dissolved our marriage mostly amicably, and we made sure our boys saw plenty of both of us. But a lot of dads aren’t nearly as fortunate, especially if their cases are subject to antiquated family laws that, by default, associate moms with better parenting.
I have nothing against moms. Some of my favorite people are moms. But, when a couple de-couples we need a default position that treats both parents more equitably. And that’s what just happened in Kentucky where temporary child custody orders, which begin most divorce negotiations, now create “a presumption of joint custody and equal parenting time” between both parents.
This is huge! The new law emphasizes equal rather than shared (which, as North Dakota is finding out, is not the same thing).
Michigan’s laws are rather vague beyond the individual interpretation of “the best interests of the child,” and progress toward including dads in those interests has been slow. Equal parenting can’t exist unless the financial considerations add up on both sides, and family lawyers often have a financial incentive to maintain the status quo.
But acknowledging dads as important caregivers is the type of (hopefully) lasting change we dads can really appreciate on Father’s Day. Beats a tie, hands down.