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Happy Father’s Day, Dad

David Zilberman, professor, agriculture and resource economics | June 15, 2013

I enjoy getting calls from my children on Father’s day. I actually get upset if I don’t hear from them on my birthday (or least a post on my Facebook wall). We didn’t have Father’s day when I was growing up and I don’t remember celebrating my own Father’s birthday. No doubt that he was born, but I do not recall the day. I think he was a Taurus, but he may have been another sign. I spoke with some of my friends and they have similar stories as mine. It may be that it reflects on growing up in Israel, but even some of those born in America or Europe, don’t remember their Father’s birthday to be a big deal.

Actually, I had a very good relationship with my father, he took me places, he treated me like an adult, respected my wishes and opinions and was extremely dedicated to me, my sisters and my mom. But the relationship was almost a ‘professional’ one, guided by ‘honor thy father’ and ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ (in this case, the rod was metaphorical). We had an implicit arrangement, he was supposed to provide for us, and I was supposed to get good grades and be respectful. We weren’t supposed to know that he had feelings, he was more of commander-in-chief of the house (or CEO). My mom and him probably celebrated their own birthdays, and we were merely informed about them but not involved. Forget about giving them gifts. In those days, kids received, and did not give. Yet the adults in our life celebrated our own birthdays, made a big deal about them, including cakes, friends and photographs, maybe even a trip to a movie or a show.

Only when we got older after my father died, we started celebrating my mom’s birthday. But we were adults and it was a different day. Times have changed. Today we celebrate Father’s, Mother’s, Grandparents’ Day and birthdays are big family events. There is still division of responsibilities but relations between parents and children are much more open and parents are allowed to be more needy emotionally and to expect love from their children, rather than ‘honor’. I think that it is part of larger change, we are moving to an era where life is less prescribed and less based on norms but rather a more ‘choose your own path’. Actually, in the modern era, the basic tenets of economics and psychology won. Namely, individuals are supposed to maximize their enjoyment, subject to constraints (those constraints are significant, resources, obligations to others, etc.) but as long as you satisfy your obligations and you can afford it, do your thing. You learn that life is all about you. We expect our children to maximize their potential: ‘be all you can be’.

My parents lived in an era when norms mattered more. Actions were prescribed by religion, tradition and necessity. As a son, or a father, you had your duties that you have to fulfill and the responsibility towards your family and community that you have to behold. But self-fulfillment and having fun were less of a priority. Of course, people still strived to enjoy life but fun was not celebrated.

Obviously my perspective reflects the changes that happened in my life. But there are probably more people in the world that follow the more traditional paradigm. Still, I believe that this shift is global. How else can you explain the global decline in birth rates? People want to enjoy life first, then choose children. It is less of a duty now.

I find this generation change in attitude refreshing. Parents are people too. They have feelings, expectations and rights that should be both respected and celebrated. Some say Father’s Day is an outcome of American greed, a ‘Hallmark holiday’ aimed to sell more cards, flowers and ties. But that is OK with me. The world is a better place because of Father’s Day.

Wherever you are Dad, Happy Father’s Day.

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