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They Love You, Dad, But Are Spending Less on You

Families gather in the D.C. area to celebrate Father's Day, a holiday which dates to 1909.

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By Catherine Cheney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 21, 2009

For Mother's Day, Jasmine Harris was treated to a spa day, a movie and her favorite foods. To celebrate Father's Day, she and one of her friends planned to cook dinner for their husbands last night.

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"My husband would much prefer something from the heart. . . . He doesn't want a tie," Harris, 32, said as she pushed a stroller holding her 6-month-old baby in Clarendon on Friday.

Research and market surveys show that moms tend to be showered with gifts and attention on Mother's Day. Dads, not so much. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spend an average of $130 on Mother's Day. This year, they will spend an average of $90.89 for Dad today.

Why the disparity?

"My theory of why you would spend more money on Mother's Day goes back to the whole cliche of women being more demanding," Harris said with a laugh.

Lars Perner, an assistant professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California, said the difference in time and money invested on Mother's Day vs. Father's Day can be attributed to the closeness of the relationships.

"Most individuals probably feel they have a somewhat closer tie to their mothers than they do with their fathers, because they spend considerably more time with their mothers," he said. "Spending and the amount of time you spend on finding something is driven by motivation, so over time you probably build up a lot more of either a feeling of obligation or a sense of attachment, so I think that may be one of the issues."

Amy Parente, 37, of Arlington County is taking her husband to brunch today and surprising him with a steppingstone featuring their children's handprints. She acknowledges that more effort probably went into her Mother's Day. "Being a mom at home with two kids, you do so much during the day. . . . I think the fathers want to show appreciation for it. And everyone loves their mom!" (Her husband, Alan, wants the new iPhone.)

But experts say the disparity doesn't mean we love our fathers any less.

Barbara Miller, a spokeswoman for the Greeting Card Association, said the sentiment we feel for mothers and fathers is similar. It's the delivery that's different. "For a man, oftentimes to get a sentimental card, it might make them feel uncomfortable," Miller said. "We often tend to shy away from engaging in sentimentality in cards for Dad."

Funny cards fly off the shelves in the weeks leading up to Father's Day, she said. "Lots of these humorous cards focus on, you know, the barbecue and sports and all of those dad subjects where we can give him gentle ribbing but still show him we have affection for him."

And the poor economy might work in Dad's favor this year. Despite tighter budgets, many families think Dad deserves more thanks than ever before, industry experts said. Hallmark Cards, which has been producing Father's Day cards since the early 1920s, introduced a line this year acknowledging the hard work of fathers and husbands during the tough economic times, with categories including "Dad Having a Difficult Year" and "Husband Having a Difficult Year."

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