for National Geographic News
On Father's Day 2009, which falls on Sunday, June 21, millions of dads across the U.S. will open boxes, peel back tissue paper, and break into a smile as they admire their new neckties—still among the most popular Father's Day gifts.
That smile is almost certainly genuine, according to psychology lecturer Nicole Gilbert Cote at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Her research shows that even though dads get less attention on Father's Day than moms do on Mother's Day, dads are more likely to be satisfied on their special date.
Part of the reason seems to be that moms expect to be relieved of stereotypical chores such as cooking and cleaning up on Mother's Day, but that doesn't always happen. Dads traditionally don't have that role in the family.
"The bar is lower, and Dad is OK with that," Gilbert Cote said, adding that the way families—even those that espouse egalitarian ideals—celebrate the two holidays reinforces such stereotypes.
Fathers' lower expectations mean that shoppers spend less money on them than they do on moms, according to the National Retail Federation, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group.
The stumbling global economy, however, does mean shoppers are cutting back. In 2008, Father's Day cost individual consumers $94.54, and Mother's Day cost $138.36.
But this year, the retail group expects gift givers to spend an average of U.S. $90.89 on Father's Day. For moms, shoppers shelled out an average of $123.89.
"Dad is a little more laid-back and easier to shop for," said federation spokesperson Kathy Grannis.
"His gifts usually range from a simple tie for work to a new spatula for the grill, all of which can make dad very happy."
Mother's Day gifts tend to be more luxurious—jewels, flowers, a trip to the spa, and dinner at a restaurant, for example.
In the Cards
The most popular gift for Dads—and often the only one he'll get—is a greeting card. All told, an estimated 110 million cards are sent on Father's Day, according to the greeting card company Hallmark.
This makes Father's Day the fourth largest card-sending holiday in the U.S., behind Mother's Day (162 million), Valentine's Day (192 million), and Christmas (2.1 billion).
Fifty percent of Father's Day cards are purchased for dads and another 20 percent for husbands. The remaining 30 percent fall into a broad "other" category, according to Deidre Mize, a Hallmark spokesperson.
"It might be someone who served as a father role. Or it could be a stepdad. " she said.
The Father's Day card business, according to the retail federation, will ring up about $780 million this year.
Despite all the cards given on Father's Day, Hallmark didn't invent the holiday, Mize said.
Rather, Father's Day traces its origins to Spokane, Washington, where Sonora Smart-Dodd was one of six children being raised by a single dad.
Inspired by a Mother's Day sermon she heard at church, she wanted to honor her father. So, she encouraged local churches to institute the first Father's Day observance in 1909.
The idea caught on, and Hallmark started printing Father's Day cards in the 1920s, Mize said.
In 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon formally declared Father's Day as the third Sunday in June.
Gilbert Cote, the University of Massachusetts psychologist, noted that U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1994 launched a gender neutral "Parent's Day" on the last Sunday in July.
"Ultimately, Parent's Day did not take off as people had probably hoped and expected," she said. "And that makes perfect sense to me, because Mother's Day and Father's Day have such commercial appeal."
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