(This Father’s Day post is a day late because I spent Father’s Day hanging out with three generations of dads and ran out of time to finish writing. Priorities, what can I say?)
In honor of all the dads out there this Father’s Day, especially the dads in my life, I want to talk about giving dads more credit. I’m torn about using that phrase, “giving them credit,” because on the one hand, dads already get a lot of credit. Watches his kids for an afternoon? Wow, what an awesome dad! Looking for a job to support his family? He’ll be extra dedicated, let’s hire him. (This is a real effect.)
But we give fathers almost no credit at all when it comes to one very important thing: taking care of their children. How often do television commercials play up the bumbling dad, baffled by the thought of changing a single diaper, whose incompetence leaves the household in a mass of confusion and chaos? How many jokes rely solely on the punchline “ha ha ha men are such idiots at parenting”? Heck, just yesterday my Facebook feed included a “humorous” set of images supposedly contrasting mothers and fathers. Mom shops with the baby like a normal person, Dad piles random groceries in the stroller on top of his kid. Mom carefully helps an older child slice vegetables; Dad lets his toddler stand on the BBQ to flip steaks. Really? I’m sure there are fathers out there who haven’t got a clue, but let’s be honest, there are mothers out there who haven’t got a clue either.
When dads do take on parenting duties, they still get treated as “substitute moms” or “mom’s support system” rather than fully qualified parents in their own right. I like what blogger Mannly Mama says about this in “It Ain’t Babysitting“:
If you see a dad out with his kids, let’s stop assuming he is “doing mom a favor” and getting them out of the house. He might be but he may want to take his kids out because he, I dunno, loves them?
Go read her whole post, it’s great. My husband shared it on Facebook a while back. The idea that moms are the primary parents is so darn pervasive, though, that when one of his relatives chose to comment on that very link, it was to tell my husband that he was “a good father” because he had “helped [Crazy Grad Mama’s real name] a great deal.” I know she meant it to be complimentary, but way to miss the point.
Dads are perfectly capable of being proficient parents, and we should both expect them to be and give them the opportunity. My husband changed all of his son’s diapers during the first week of Little Boy’s life (except for, as he always insists I point out, the two times the hospital nurses did the job). He taught me how to give Little Boy a bath, and continues to manage the bedtime routine solo on a weekly basis so that I can attend a postpartum support group. Except for actually making breast milk, there is nothing that I, the mom, can do that he, the dad, can’t.
In fact, for more than six months, between the end of my maternity leave and the start of Little Boy’s time in daycare, my husband used his ability to work from home to trade off shifts of work and child care with me. While I spent mornings busy with research at the university, my son was home with his father, getting love and attention and snuggles and playtime. My husband wasn’t doing me a favor, and he wasn’t “babysitting.” I didn’t have to give him a detailed list of instructions on how to look after his own child. He’s not a secondary caregiver.
My husband is an awesome guy, no doubt about that, but he’s not some kind of magical miracle father. He’s just a good parent, doing what good parents do. He and I sometimes have different approaches to the details of parenting, but that’s because we’re different people, not because one of us has ovaries and the other doesn’t.
I recognize that in many families, by choice or necessity, one parent (and it’s usually the mom) stays home with the kids while the other parent works. The stay-at-home parent is going to be the more experienced one, and that’s OK. But there’s a big difference between “doesn’t know this week’s favorite toy” and “doesn’t know where the diapers are.”
Men, as a group, are not doomed to be idiots about babies. (Or about cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. etc.) Let’s not treat them that way.
Happy Father’s Day!