Here is a list of food items and experiences I’ve been pitched in relation to Father’s Day: “grill essentials,” various whiskeys and rums, a meat thermometer, Omaha steaks, coffee pods you’re supposed to take camping, craft beer, cast iron products, ethically made BBQ sauce, a kit to make a cocktail called “The Vasectomy,” and a night at a Japanese restaurant with a “beef menu.” There’s a lot of beef, especially in large portions — restaurants serving bone-in prime rib and 36 oz. Côte de Boeuf. If we had not thoroughly shamed whiskey stones over the past few years, trust they would be here too.
Perhaps this is all stuff your dad would want, but it’s just as likely he doesn’t. As J.J. Goode writes for the New York Times, fathers are changing — slowly. They are doing a little more housework, becoming more comfortable in the kitchen and not just at the grill, and cooking with the kids. “I found hopeful signs about the future of fatherly cooking,” he writes of his conversations with dads around the country. Dads, he discovered, are just as likely to roast vegetables and bake dessert as they are to grill burgers.
So why, then, do the food experiences sold around Father’s Day adhere to a narrow stereotype of masculinity? No matter how dads change, anyone with something to sell seems intent on enforcing old-fashioned conventions of how dads are. In these press releases, even the most culinarily creative dads are stoic, beer-drinking taskmasters whose only desires are to eat steak and build fire.
Some stereotypes exist for a reason. Many men do enjoy grilling, steak, and beer. But America also loves to uphold a specific notion of white, heterosexual masculinity; anti-LGBTQ laws are proliferating around the country, pushed by people intent on enforcing rigid gender norms. To them, it doesn’t matter what dads are if this is what a dad must be, especially when it comes to the still-feminized labor of home cooking. And unless you’re actively pushing back, it’s easy to passively accept these stereotypes and move on with your day.
Also, it’s easier to sell things when you are working with just one idea of a dad. Advertising requires a hook, and spice companies pushing their grilling rubs on Father’s Day is easier than figuring out which individual customers may be in the market for rubs, regardless of their parental identity. Because when you think about it, it feels ridiculous to recommend gifts based on fatherhood alone. Your dad might be vegetarian, or not care about grilling, or has no desire to go camping. I don’t know your dad or dads!
My inbox does have some pitches that stray from the traditional “dad” image. There are calls to buy him candy, or wine from the Napa valley, or fancy root beer. I’m pretty sure my dad would love nothing more than an endless supply of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food. I think of the dads in my life and the variety of their culinary interests — one is never happier than when he is eating soup dumplings, another is happiest when he’s building a cheese plate. Your dad is not trapped in a masculine prison. Or maybe he is, but if that’s the case whiskey stones won’t solve anything.