We Answer the 5 Most Asked Questions About Father's Day Etiquette
After several years of celebrating Father's Day with socially-distanced Zoom meetings and small-group dinners, coming up with a plan that honors all the dads in your life can feel a little complicated. Never fear, we're here to help you create a memorable day for all the father figures in your circle. Ahead, Thomas P. Farley, Mister Manners etiquette expert, tackles the most common questions people have about planning Dad's special day.
Who's in charge of planning a Father's Day celebration?
Groups of adult siblings coordinating Father's Day plans can choose one brother or sister to head up the details, but this role doesn't default to anyone just because they're the oldest, live the closest to dad, or are the only daughter. "All children should participate in the planning to the extent possible," says Farley. "But if there is a sibling who traditionally enjoys being the family planner and won't be alienating anyone by taking the reins, by all means that child can step into the planning pole-position."
If the dad in question is parenting young children, then another parent or adult may need to help finalize the details, but teens and adults who are celebrating their father should leave one person out of the planning: Mom. "Unless the children are too young to plan the occasion (under 12), they should not expect their mother to handle the planning, cooking, cleaning, or gift-buying," says Farley. "Dad's special day should not become mom's workday, and she may well have her own father, grandfather, or other father figure to recognize."
Whether or not you include Dad in the planning can vary by situation; some ideas—a weekend trip to Fenway Park or a race car driving experience—can be hard to schedule without his input, but others—a round at his favorite golf course or a casual dinner—may work well as a surprise. "Though he can surely be consulted on the plans, especially if he is the type to have definite ideas about what he likes, surprise plans can be wonderful for a father who is open-minded," says Farley.
Does the whole family have to celebrate at the same event, on Father's Day?
Coordinating the schedules of multiple families to allow fathers to celebrate their own dads while also being celebrated by their children can get complicated (and that's even before you start including in-laws). Ideally, everyone in the family can be flexible enough to fete Dad at once, but that's not always realistic; as long as he doesn't get forgotten entirely, says Farley, it's appropriate to schedule multiple celebratory activities—like dinner with one daughter and her family on Sunday, and lunch with another daughter later that week. "I'd dread the thought that a dad spends Father's Day alone and unremarked, regardless of the reason," says Farley. "But if the commemorations become stretched over a few days or weeks as each sibling's schedule permits special time with Dad, the bonus is that their patriarch will be receiving rightful recognition over an extended period. Just don't wait too long: If it's already Fourth of July, the Father's Day moment will likely have passed."
Do you have to see both your own father and your father-in-law?
If both sides of your immediate family live nearby and get along, celebrating with everyone together might make the planning easier. But if your dad would prefer a quiet morning at the bookstore and your father-in-law wants concert tickets, it's appropriate to split your time. "Cheers to the sons- and daughters-in-law who love their father-in-law nearly as much as their own," says Farley. "However, first priority should be given to each respective partner's own father, and if that means a couple must divide their time on the day—ensuring, of course, that a husband with children is still getting proper due from his own children—this is one day out of the year when that would be highly defensible."
Which fathers should you invite to your celebration?
While your top priorities should remain honoring your own dad and, if applicable, your children's father, remember that father figures aren't one-size-fits-all: they can be grandfathers, uncles, older brothers, stepfathers, fathers who have lost a child, or men hoping to be fathers. "There is no cast-in-stone picture of what a celebration must look like, who should be in attendance, and what the plans should entail," says Farely. "Let us not forget those who are not officially fathers, but who play any sort of father-figure role, such as a friend who is a mentor to the children of a friend who runs a single-parent, fatherless household. In general, time spent together, ideally with fun reminiscence and a meal, creates the foundation for a successful and meaningful celebration."
Do you need to buy your dad a gift?
For most dads, spending time together is a better gift than any material object. "Dad probably doesn't need an over-the-top celebration or an expensive wristwatch to make him happy," he says. "In all likelihood, he merely wants to spend time with his children and to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the love he has bestowed on them through the years has not gone unnoticed."
But if you do want to offer a token, choose something that fits your dad's personality and interests—not something generic. "There are as many different types of dads as there are fish in the ocean, and though some dads may appreciate a gift, others will far more cherish a heartfelt, handwritten card or letter, along with quality catch-up or bonding time," says Farley. "A one-on-one lunch at his favorite restaurant, a ball-game or theater outing, a movie night, or an outdoor activity, such as a hike or day at the beach, are among the many possible ways to spend time with Dad. And though it is the stereotypical Father's Day gift, I will go out on a limb to say most dads do not need—and probably do not want—another tie."