It has been about three years since I stopped working in men’s lifestyle media, but during the two weeks leading up to Father’s Day, I still get a lot of emails from PR people pitching “perfect gifts” for my old employer’s Father’s Day Gift Guide. Gifts for every “type” of dad: the sports-fan dad, the grill-obsessed dad (are dads really so obsessed with grills? Is this real?), the “tech-y” dad, it’s all very reductive and boring. It seems that every person has a perfect gift out there waiting to make them perfectly happy, like a soul mate. And like soul mates, there is more than one perfect gift for each person; they come up with new ones every year.
In the five years since I’ve become a parent, I’ve learned something about dads. More specifically, hetero dads under 50. It isn’t necessarily true of all dads in this demographic, but I’d venture that it’s true of a solid “many” dads, in the same way that it’s true of many moms that we’d rather be left alone for a few hours on Mother’s Day than round everyone up and go out to brunch. It’s both funny and sad to find that anything retrograde applies to you, but here we are: what I’ve learned is that many dads would rather get laid than receive a Father’s Day gift—even a really premium one, like a Bluetooth-enabled meat thermometer.
All-out sex is pretty divergent from the precious family time that we typically associate with Father’s Day. And for many mothers of young kids, buying a lame, predictable Father’s Day gift for your baby-daddy (assuming you’re still together) is logistically and mentally easier than making good on a hypothetical promise of hot special-occasion sex. For one thing, sex with little kids around often requires at least some degree of scheduling, which isn’t super conducive to extra-special sex. (Scheduling doesn’t necessarily annihilate your chances of having good sex, but it does add an additional step toward getting your mind right about it.) And having sex on a special occasion can feel like subservience—from one angle, it’s part of being a loving partner, and from another, it’s a rite that one might have expected to outgrow.
Often, gifts that we buy each other are stand-ins for gifts we wish we could give each other, if we could only figure out how. Many gifts are ways of saying that we see each other—that we know what the other person wants, that we know each other the best. I think a lot of dads want to have hot sex so that they can see their relationship, and be seen by their partner, in a way that excites them and makes them happy. “We’ve still got it.” I’m sure many mothers would love to “give” their partners that sensation—if only it felt easier. If there were a shorter distance to travel between putting the kids to bed as mom and entering the bedroom as sexy woman.
It’s worth reminding ourselves (and our partners! Although maybe Father’s Day isn’t the best day to do this) that we are among the first generations in human history to expect the same person you had kids with to satisfy you sexually until you die. It’s a tall order. I don’t know for certain if it’s even possible: I’ve only been married for 11 years. I don’t think it’s a lost cause, but I do think that we should go easy on ourselves. Mom-sex is so often written about in terms of self-improvement, of getting in touch with your sensual side, of rediscovering your “embodied self” (I learned about that one when I was hate-reading Goop!), of being better at being a woman and a partner. There’s an underlying assumption that there’s a problem in there that needs solving, or that can be solved, even. The problem might be deeper and more permanent: it’s hard to give the people we love exactly what they want.
I’m not just talking about sex. Often, we don’t even tell each other the truth about our desires as they relate to any number of things, to save each other the painful realization that these wishes are going unfulfilled. Obligatory gift occasions—again, even if sex isn’t in the picture—are an opportunity to say “I want to make up for having ever fallen short.” The trick is to be honest about this, truly honest, with neither party embarrassed about the implied equation, which is something that escapes many of us even in this age of reciprocal communication between spouses. Communication goes a long way: the most boring, and true, thing I’ve ever written. It goes even farther when you’re raising a family with someone, when you want to make it work long-term. Maybe you’ll have great sex with your baby-daddy this weekend, maybe you won’t. It’s your thing! But if Father’s Day is about celebrating someone for their identity as a dad, it might also be a day where you celebrate why you wanted to have a kid with him in the first place. Give his wish list an honest appraisal, at any rate. You’ll know what you’re working with; he’ll know that you see him, and hopefully like what you see.
Image via Universal