A mug for a dad
What this iconic Father’s Day gift has to teach us about reaching dads’ hearts.
4 minute read
Australians are tipped to spend $735 million this Father’s Day1. Amid rising inflation and cost-of-living challenges, this figure is down 7.7% from 2021. And these days, it seems we’re swapping pipes and PJs for green gifts – with 55% of those polled planning on purchasing an item or experience that’s good for the planet2. So, let’s explore why this year’s Father’s Day will be characterised by careful gift-giving.
My simple ceramic coffee mug has seen far better days. The lip is chipped, the glaze is cracked. Tannin stains have reduced the interior to a mud-brown colour. And the hand-painted exterior (a scratchy portrait of me, no less) has ghosted away to almost nothing. By every empirical metric, it would be classified as bin-ready. Except this is the mug I reach for most mornings to fill with ‘God’s Love’, aka coffee.
No one else in our household is allowed to touch it, let alone drink from it. Not even my two eldest. Which seems cruel given they were ones to gift it to me one Father’s Day, back when they were fresh-faced primary school grommets.
It’s a marketer’s nirvana: a possession that’s become a proxy for emotion. And as my colleagues have so brilliantly unpacked in previous posts – What a mum wants and Dadvertising for modern dads – when emotion aligns with consumption, it can be halcyon days for makers, marketers and influencers.
There are many that bemoan this union, wanting high-days and holidays to be unsullied by the tawdry, vulgar chase for profit. But economics has always shaped the popularity of Father’s Day (or any other ‘Day’ designated to a person or purpose). Even its progenitor, Sonora Smart Dodd3, recognised commercialism would ensure its popularity.
Seeking a way to honour her father – a Civil War veteran, farmer and widower, left to raise six children after his wife passed in childbirth – Sonora’s idea of a dedicated day for dads was initially taken up by her church in 1910. As the Great Depression unfolded, it became the perfect vehicle to stimulate a faltering economy, supercharging sales of shirts, socks, neckties and tobacco. At the outset of WWII, it became a patriotic way to support troops on the frontline.
Here in Australia, the month of September is also thought to have been chosen for commercial benefit. Nestled perfectly between Mother’s Day and Christmas, the timing was intended to give shoppers ‘ample time to save for all’4.
“When emotion aligns with consumption, it can be halcyon days for makers, marketers and influencers.”
But we know now that consumers are making an effort to move away from meaningless materialism and towards useful and planet-friendly presents. Between consumer activism5 and conscious buying6, gifting is becoming more thoughtful than ever. The ultimate gift in the face of these concerns is one like my mug; personal, sustainable, and eminently usable.
So, what do I want from this Father’s Day? Well, it’s a three-part list (I know, greedy).
Give me time
As any parent knows, children are one big sucking time sink. Anything that can help me save on labour, or involve the child(ren) in that labour without making it feel a chore, pays handsome dividends in time, a resource I can re-invest in them and/or me.
Give me moments
We’ll soon be off on our first family holiday in what feels like forever. We’ve carefully curated our accommodation and experiences in a bid to squeeze every drop of pleasure we can from it. (I’m sure we’ll still pack in our fair share of squabbles and petty resentments.) Moments are the reason I love the school run with my Middle Kid. It’s precious time just the two of us share to talk, laugh and goof off. I try to replicate this with all three children in their own way.
What I want is equal pay. Equal opportunity. Equal representation. Equal acknowledgement. An equal division of the household labour, physical and mental. Advocating for and demonstrating equality at home for my partner, and in full view of the children, feels like a powerful and purposeful demonstration of fatherhood (and parenting more generally). That said, a lie-in on Father’s Day would also be awesome.
What I want is to reconnect. It’s been more than 4 years since I last saw and held my dad. He’ll be with us this Christmas and when he is, I’ll be taking my cue from Scott Pape and his wonderful suggestion for a Father’s Day gift. All it requires is a mobile phone, a list of considered questions and one quiet hour. It’s a gift for all of us – him, me and my children.
I know one day my mug will be gone. I am shielding my heart already. Until then, you’ll find me slurping down a coffee, thinking on what it means to be a dad.