A day to show how dad is loved - and needed

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 June, 2004, 12:00am

The traditional image of the father figure is one which is difficult to reconcile with the idea of having a special day of the year when dads get pampered, praised and generally made to feel special.

Let's face it, Father's Day, celebrated in Hong Kong and around the world today, is not a particularly macho affair.

Men find themselves presented with gifts and greeting cards, encouraged to spend time with their families and told how much they are loved. Some are even given flowers. These are not activities generally associated with the stereotypical male.

Thankfully, however, the role of fathers is changing, and the stereotype with it. Father's Day perhaps has more relevance today than it has ever had.

The day was first celebrated in the United States almost 100 years ago when a Mrs John Dodd proposed the idea, because she wanted to honour her father. The man in question had certainly earned such an honour - he had brought up six children on his own.

It is fitting, then, that modern dads are seeing themselves as having a more participatory role to play in parenthood. It is no longer good enough for fathers to merely play the role of protector, breadwinner and stern disciplinarian.

The model dad must demonstrate a much wider range of skills. He is expected to be present at the birth - a moving, emotional and rather gory experience. His macho credentials will, no doubt, be boosted if he manages to get through it all without fainting.

He must be no stranger to the dirty nappy, know all about child nutrition and be capable of reciting the script of Teletubbies off by heart.

Most of all, modern dads are required to bond with their children. This involves spending time with them, learning their ways and - most of all - showing them that they are loved.

None of this is easy, particularly in busy Hong Kong. Attitudes here are changing, but more slowly than in some other parts of the world.

One survey conducted several years ago suggested fathers in our city believe the most important role of a dad is the ability to mend electrical appliances. Well, this comes in handy. But there is rather more to being a good father. It is difficult to believe that such a view is held by the majority of fathers in Hong Kong.

More, however, could certainly take a broader view of their responsibilities and make more time for their children.

Father's Day, then, should have a dual purpose. Dads, macho and otherwise, must certainly be made aware that they are loved and appreciated. Some understanding might be shown for the pressures that they face.

But the day is also a chance for fathers to be reminded just how much their children need them - even if it means swallowing a little male pride.