Now that Mother’s Day has come and gone, the slow trickle of dad-stuff is about to begin, as advertisers and marketers and the media in all its forms start looking for ways to move the focus onto dads. (At least for a couple of weeks.)
Sadly, this usually means a whole lot of (perhaps) well-meaning discussion about dads that still present one of the many falsehoods, fabrications, and outright lies about fathers that just won’t seem to die. Some of these things are annoyances. Others are actually incredibly harmful to families, to kids, and to the dads themselves.
Since we’re still early in the Father’s Day pre-season, I thought I’d nip these in the bud right away.
No. Oh sure, there are definitely plenty of bumbling idiots out there, but the majority of them are either fictional — existing firmly in the worlds of outdated advertising and lowest-common-denominator sitcoms — or aren’t determined by gender. Dads have, as a group, never really been the bumbling idiots they have been portrayed to be when it comes to their abilities to care for their children (never mind themselves) — even if some men have decided that playing the buffoon was a good way to get out of what they saw as less-than-pleasant responsibilities. But the rest of us got the message a long time ago that we can do better than that, and we ARE better than that.
(Note: Dad being a goofball sometimes? Not the same as being a bumbling idiot. We can laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously, without being presented as some sort of drooling man-child.)
Wrong. While there is no doubt that women go into parenting with the benefit of an influx of hormones that may make them more naturally nurturing or bond with the baby quicker, most of what makes moms seemingly better at the whole parenting thing early on is years and years of conditioning. Your average new mom comes into her role after having been encouraged as a young girl to play with dolls, to learn how to care for babies and children, and to pursue babysitting jobs, in expectation that someday she’ll have kids of her own. She has probably had friends give birth, and spent time with their newborns. Then when pregnancy hit she was flooded with advice and books and classes and baby showers and people from every corner of her life telling her “You can do this! You are going to be so great!” and fielding any and every question she could ever have. By the time the baby is born, she is as ready as possible and confident (even if terrified) that she was made for this.
Dad, on the other hand, has likely spent most of his life not being expected to have anything to do with babies, and chances are his own newborn is going to be the first brand new baby he has ever seen and held, never mind been responsible for keeping fed and cleaned and alive. But as it turns out, even with all of the advance training and preparation that new moms enter into parenting with, most moms will admit that the majority of what she needs to know she is going to figure out as she goes. Parenting is something you learn on the job. No one is ever really prepared. So yes, there is a learning curve for dads, that may initially be steeper than that of new moms. But if the dad is engaged and allowed to learn, he will quickly make up that ground.
Bulls#!t. Dads, and men in general, are absolutely as safe as caregivers for both their own kids and other people’s kids. The suggestion that leaving a child in the care of a dad puts them at risk is completely false, and extremely damaging to that child’s perceptions about men. If you chose not to leave your child in the care of a man, let it be because he has given you a reason other than because he is not a mom.
Look, it’s never actually been the case that monetary provision is the most important thing a father contributes, and even less so now. Certainly there was a time when, because of how we had structured out society, the only people allowed to make a living wage to support a family were men. It made sense that being the breadwinner was a role a husband and father had to take on, and it was a vital one. But times have changed, women are equally as capable finding success in the workplace and making an income that supports a family. Besides, there are far, far more important things that a dad “provides” for his family than money. Dads are not wage slaves just because they have XY chromosomes. Their worth is not counted by the dollars they make. What they provide in time, engagement, love, care, instruction, example, and encouragement are all exceedingly more important than their income.
For all that I do, I am not a Super Dad, even if I am often mistaken for one. Neither is the guy you see shopping at Costco with those adorable twins. And neither is that dad you saw at the table next to you at the restaurant who volunteered to take his toddler to the potty, or to go change the baby’s diaper. Those are just dads, doing what dads are supposed to do: be active and involved parents.
As a society we’re slowly learning that the bar for Super Mom is ridiculously, impossibly, stupidly high, and we’re getting quite good at letting moms give themselves a break for not being just like that impossible ideal. And yet we seem to be keeping that bar for Super Dad ridiculously, stupidly low. Let’s raise the bar a little, shall we?
Ridiculous. Every couple is different, and is free to arrange and plan for the delivery of their child in the way they see fit — and if that means dad waits outside, it’s their choice. But let’s not continue this charade that the only thing dads will ever be is “in the way.” I was my wife’s birth coach, and more importantly her advocate, every step of the way during the birth of both of our sons. I got to hold her hand, and her leg, and on witnessing the arrival of our boys it was my reassurance that they were amazing and perfect that put her mind at ease. Seeing what my wife did made me more proud of her than I have ever been of another human. Most of the dads I know played similar roles. If it’s possible, let dad be there, and be involved. It will change his life and heart forever.
I do only have sons, and don’t have even a smidgen of regret about that, but I can promise you that I would have absolutely adored raising a daughter or two. The days of men requiring sons in order to pass on their name, or their title, or their Valyrian sword, are either long gone, a tradition rather than a societal necessity, or were fictional to being with. Dads who love Star Wars or comic books or building projects in the workshop are not limited in their ability to share those joys with daughters. I will gladly point you to dozens of dads who live every day enraptured with the joy of being dad to a little girl, and wouldn’t change it for the world.
It does seem sometimes like dads are still considered the last “safe target” when it comes to negative portrayals. Insulting stereotypes — some of which are discussed throughout the rest of this article — about dads and men in general have continued long past the time when similarly insulting stereotypes about other groups were laid to rest. Are there still sexist, racist, and homophobic stereotypes in popular culture? You bet. But those who call them out are more likely to be seen as advocates or much-needed watchdogs, whereas dads who call out negative stereotypes are still likely to be seen as whiners (at best) who can’t take a joke.
Often the worst culprits in this regard have been advertisers, who have traditionally excused it by pointing out that their target audience is women. Besides the fact that this is specious reasoning (after all, it is rightly no longer okay to target an audience of men to sell, say, tires, by making fun of women as dangerous or incompetent drivers) it’s also increasingly becoming clear that women are tired of seeing men portrayed as buffoons too — and, especially when it comes to parenting-related ads, are very drawn to images of men as nurturing, competent dads. It’s time to take the Doofus Dad right out of the advertiser’s toolkit once and for all.
In concert with the above, it’s time we put aside this silly idea that moms are the only ones who have any opinions, likes, or dislikes, when it comes to a myriad of parenting decisions. Disposable diapers or cloth? Circumcision or no? Do we get a diaper bag with a giant flower on it, in camouflage green, or something we can both use? What is our parenting philosophy when it comes to co-sleeping, education, discipline, media exposure, breastfeeding, vaccinations, and what age to introduce the kids to Star Wars? What about larger issues like maternity and paternity leave, access to birth control, the strengths and weaknesses of Common Core? Dads have opinions on these things too. Let them be part of the conversation.
If you need any more proof that dads have something to say about the whole parenting thing, ask yourself who made the blog you’re reading, or any of the hundreds of other “dad blogs” out there? Dads are writing, thinking, discussing, debating, and even attending conventions and summits, all the with purpose of being better dads.
Speaking of paternity leave, let’s call the idea that dads don’t need and shouldn’t make use of paternity leave what it is: a big fat stinkin’ lie. There are a myriad of reasons why a dad having access to a fair paternity leave policy is not only valuable as an opportunity to bond with his newborn child, but in many cases is absolutely vital so he can support his partner after a serious medical procedure. We need to make paternity leave more easily available, to help small businesses be in a position to provide it as a benefit, and to stop punishing dads who make use of it. Paternity leave is not a vacation!
No. A dad taking care of his own kid is “parenting.” He’s being a dad. You cannot babysit your own child!
Um, yeah, no. Certainly there are lots of dads who lost their jobs and stepped it up at home — as they should — but the majority of men who are in the role of “stay-at-home dad” are doing it because it was the best arrangement for their family, and most men discover that they absolutely love doing it.
Now that’s just stupid. Almost a third of dads spend significant amounts of regular time as the primary caregiver of their small children, and you can bet that those that don’t often have to go it alone sometimes and manage to do it just fine. There’s no doubt that there are far, far too many homes with absent fathers today. But in a home where dad is present he is almost always as involved and active a parenting partner as possible, often despite being treated like a secondary parent.
As to the idea that a man is emasculated by virtue of being competent at changing a diaper? I guess it depends on the man. But for most of us, nothing makes us feel like more of a man than when we serve our family. Period.
No. No! A thousand times no! I am not a “Mr. Mom,” any more than my wife is a “Mrs. Dad” just because she makes the majority of our family’s income working outside the home. My kids have a mom, and I am not her. Every time a stay-at-home dad is called “Mr. Mom” or is hilariously wished “Happy Mother’s Day” because of what he does for his family, it sends a message that caring for kids and the home is properly a job for women only, which pretty much insults everyone. Let’s end that now.