Conventional wisdom used to be that babies usually uttered “da-da” first. This was a clear-cut victory for fathers.
Bad news is, an October 2015 University of Missouri-Columbia study found that while “da-da” was ubiquitous, it was actually because the babbling tots were interested more in their own repetitive, random sounds than asking for a specific person — which is to say, dad.
"The research tells us that infants are motivated by hearing the sounds they produce, so these sounds are functional in some way," the study said.
We bring up this bit of trivia because Sunday is Father’s Day, a whole day dedicated to the paternal bond.
The holiday dates to 1910, when Sonora Smart Dodd, of Spokane, Washington, one of six kids raised by a single dad, sought a way to honor her hard-working father.
By the time it became a permanent national holiday on the third Sunday in June in 1972, Father’s Day had become a major date on the craft-making, gift-buying calendar.
The National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics estimates Father’s Day spending will hit $15.3 billion this year, compared to $23.1 billion for Mother’s Day.
That’s a lot of ties, grilling paraphernalia and socks. Of course, this holiday is about more than those, starting with what it means to be a dad.
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The word “father” gets wrapped up in all sorts of imagery — “father of our country,” “Father Time,” for starters — and our view of that role is unquestionably shaped by iconic dads of television.
There’s Ward Cleaver providing a life lesson to Beaver. The dad on the show “The Goldbergs,” played by comedian Jeff Garlin, plays up the “grumpy” cliché.
Papa Q. Bear, the patriarch of Berenstain Bears fame, takes on the clumsy stereotype (which is alarming given that he’s a carpenter). Carl Winslow on “Family Matters” is exasperated. Homer Simpson is bombastic. Ray Barone is long-suffering.
Dads in real life span a similar spectrum. Good dads. Bad dads. Silly dads. Serious dads. And every shade in between, with different roles and different interactions depending on the circumstances. There are paternal ones, adoptive ones, divorced ones, grandpas, step-dads and fill-in fathers of all varieties.
The best make us better. While fatherhood is a gift, it also has no instruction book. Those choices made by father figures are carried with us forever. The impact is deep.
So thank you to whatever you’re called — “dad,” “papa,” “pops,” or any other nickname foisted on you.
Just maybe think twice on that “da-da.”
Happy Father’s Day.