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Fabulous Fathers' Day!

17/06/2015 10:27 BST | Updated 16/06/2016 10:59 BST

This Sunday it's Father's Day and with it comes the annual dilemma - should I buy into this event or not? I never seem to be able to decide where I stand on this issue.

Is it all just over-commercialised claptrap - an excuse for retailers to flog 'tool sets' made of chocolate and poor quality underpants that cost five times what they normally would, simply because they are emblazoned with the words 'best Dad in the world'?

Or is Father's day a genuine and valid celebration of fathering and an opportunity to show the fathers in our lives how much we love them and are grateful for all that they do?

Last week at a barbecue I sat watching as a number of fathers I know chucked kids around on a bouncy castle, took babies away to change nappies and shepherded flocks of knee-height offspring off to get plates of food. And as I watched I decided that Dads today are amazing and I want to celebrate them.

As a child myself, I was so terrified by the fathers of my friends I could hardly look at them, let alone speak to them. They were tall, distant, autocratic characters - or so they seemed to me. My children on the other hand have been on first name terms with the fathers of their friends since they could first form words.

I cringe slightly when they scream the name of my neighbour's husband down the garden the moment the poor man happens to step out of his front door, and as they run up to the fence brandishing some random object to show him. But I'd rather this confidence and informality than the complete alienation from grown men that I felt as a child.

Even a generation ago fathers were relatively absent from the home. Women of my mother's generation look at me wistfully when my husband sits down at the table and invents a game to encourage our three year old to finish her fish fingers, or tells me he's taking our five year old swimming.

They murmur softly to me across that table, so their own husbands don't hear, about how lucky women are today and how things have changed. They tell me how much more involved Dads are these days.

I don't doubt it. Today's Dads are much more hands on. This doesn't make them weak or effeminate or 'under the thumb'. It just makes them human, and confident in themselves to invest in possibly the most important relationships they will ever have - that of with their own children.

I suspect this phenomenon of more involved fathers also applies to grandfathers. Maybe it's because they're wanting to make up for the time they never had with their own children. Perhaps they're even envious of the time they see their sons and sons-in-law having with their children, and want a bit of the action for themselves.

But being an active and involved father isn't a modern western phenomenon. Steve Biddulph, the Australian author and psychologist has written about the fathering culture in tribal peoples in the Pacific and other hunter-gatherer societies.

Based on his own experiences of living with these groups, he describes fathers in these communities as 'affectionate, very skillful with children and expressive, even exuberant, with their emotions'. This sounds a lot like what I see in many of the fathers I know today and it warms my heart to see it.

And even in Western cultures, amongst social historians is a theory that it was the industrial revolution that put the nail in the coffin for fathering. Before this time, fathering traditions had been evolving and developing for millennia.

But as we moved from a primarily agricultural economy to one where most of the men in the community spent hours a day down coal mines or in steel mills, in one generation fathers became distant and intimidating figures.

According to Steve Biddulph 'The industrial era reduced fathering time to mere minutes a day. In both the poorest and the richest sectors of society, many sons barely knew their fathers.'

But despite this, somehow the tide has turned. Being a father is increasingly recognised as an important job again. Essential even. Children - boys and girls alike - need good men in their lives teaching them how to be, and what to seek out in, a man.

And yes, as those women of my mother's generation point out, we mums today are lucky that we have someone with whom to share the load of parenting. But the real winners? Well, that's our children.

So thank you Dads for all that you do - you are utterly irreplaceable. And we love you!