"Wait 'til Your Father Comes Home!"
"Earthquakes, lightning, fire, fathers" goes the list of common fears in Japan. Fathers can be ranked up there with natural disasters in terms of discipline, but so can mothers (both before and after the 1960s feminist movement). Why, then, until recently, do fathers have the ultimate authority in punishing the transgressions of their children?
Across cultures, men are usually the heads of their households. In modern times, mothers and fathers have about equal say, especially when it comes to their children's behavior. However, even in the days when men went to work and women stayed home, one would think that discipline would fall under the home-makers' domain. In the days when men had the final say, this was not so; even now when parents share responsibility, the parent at home can still wield authority without having to wait for the other to come home to provide support or have the final word. The response soon became "Do as your mother says," as fathers were far too busy and concerned with work to be interrupted by home squabbles that the mother should by rights be able to handle herself without her authority being questioned.
Sometimes, however, children will listen to one parent over the other for one reason or another. When it comes to boys and young men, there is no substitute for male parental authority. Boys are more likely to obey their fathers, as they see them as role models. In the case of "mama's boys" and "daddy's girls," the opposite may be true; fathers do tend to be tougher on their sons and mothers on their daughters for whatever psychological reasoning you may follow. Despite any tendencies toward favoritism on either side, children must be taught to honor both of their parents equally.
You don't hear the phrase "Wait 'til your father gets home" much outside of 1950s media since women can "wear the pants" now too. In our current reality, authority often depends on who has the more dominant personality in a relationship. Not all women are passive and not all men are aggressive; in fact, both sides may be averaging out to assertiveness. Authority is also tied to financial security, so if men are still paid more than women, then this is still a reason why men are more often in charge. This may not always be the case in every relationship, but it seems to be true of most.
In conclusion, fathers may still be a force to be reckoned with, but so are mothers. Despite different approaches to parenting and family dynamics across cultures, most if not all fathers want to be loved and appreciated instead of feared. Setting a positive example for their children regardless of gender should be the ultimate goal of any parent.