National Geographic Daily News
A father and son in the redwood forest.
Father and son among redwoods in Mendocino, California (file picture).

Photograph by Michael Nichols, National Geographic

John Roach

for National Geographic News

Updated June 16, 2011

Father's Day traditionally takes a backseat to Mother's Day, and, for the most part, dads are cool with that, experts say.

Nevertheless, as traditional roles around the house gradually change, fathers are gaining more attention on their special day, at least as measured in the monetary value of Father's Day gifts estimated to be given on June 19, 2011, when the holiday will be celebrated in dozens of countries.

(Father's Day Pictures: "Best" Animal Dads.)

First celebrated 101 years ago, Father's Day was, in a way, born of Mother's Day.

After a Mother's Day sermon in 1909, Spokane, Washington, resident Sonora Smart-Dodd—one of six children being raised by a single dad—wanted to honor her father too.

Smart-Dodd encouraged local churches to institute the first Father's Day observance the following year, and the idea caught on. (Learn more about the beginnings of Father's Day.)

It wasn't till 1972, though, that Father's Day was officially made a U.S. holiday, when President Richard Nixon helped set aside the third Sunday in June for dads.

"Bar Is Lower" for Father's Day

Thirty-one years later, dads are more likely to be satisfied with their holiday than mothers are with theirs, according to psychology lecturer Nicole Gilbert Cote at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who researches Father's Day phenomena.

(See pictures of the five "worst" animal moms.)

Part of the reason seems to be that moms expect to be relieved of stereotypical chores such as cooking and cleaning on Mother's Day, but that doesn't always happen.

"The bar is lower, and Dad is OK with that," Gilbert Cote said.

The old stereotypes don't ring as true as they once did, according to a new survey of 350 dads that aimed to gauge men's attitudes toward Father's Day.

The men said they're taking on more childcare, cleaning, and cooking duties at home, while holding on to responsibilities for automotive, household, and yard maintenance, the survey says.

"As women's roles outside the household are expanding, men's roles in the household are expanding," Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher said in a news release accompanying the survey, which was conducted by ManoftheHouse.com, an "online resource for dads."

Even so, 80 percent of the respondents said Mother's Day gets more attention than Father's Day.

Father's Day Gifts Get Richer

One measure of growing respect for U.S. fathers is seen at the cash register.

Family members will shell out an average of U.S. $106.49 per dad this year for golf outings, meals, electronics, neckties, and other goodies, according to an annual survey conducted for the National Retail Federation, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group.

That's is the most money spent on dad in the eight-year history of the survey, and a jump up from the $94.32 forecast for 2010. Compared to moms, however, dads are routinely shortchanged. This year the federation forecast that Mother's Day spending would average $140.73 per mom, for example.

"Dad is a little more laid-back and easier to shop for," federation spokesperson Kathy Grannis told National Geographic News in 2010.

"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, by contrast, tend to be more luxurious than Father's Day presents—jewels, flowers, a trip to the spa, or dinner at a restaurant, for example, Grannis said.

(Related: "Father's Day Special: All-Star Animal Dads.")

Father's Day 2011 Is in the Cards

The most popular gift for Dad—and often the only one he'll get—is a Father's Day card. All told, roughly 90 million cards are exchanged on Father's Day, according to the Hallmark card company.

This makes Father's Day the fourth largest card-sending holiday in the U.S., behind Mother's Day (141 million), Valentine's Day (152 million), and Christmas (1.8 billion). In total, according to the retail federation, people will ring up about $749 million in cards for this year's Father's Day.

Fifty percent of Father's Day cards are purchased for dads and another 15 percent for husbands. The remaining fall into a broad "other" category, which includes grandfathers, sons, brothers, uncles, and other loved ones, according to Deidre Mize, a Hallmark spokesperson.

"It might be someone who served in a father role," she told National Geographic News in 2010. "Or it could be a stepdad." (Read about a society without Father's Day—or fathers.)

Despite all the cards given on Father's Day, Hallmark didn't have anything to do with the origins of the holiday, Mize added. Hallmark, she said, didn't start printing Father's Day cards until the 1920s.

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