Lou stops and makes us think about what makes a great Dad.
Every second Friday, my husband stays home with our son while I work. It’s a great arrangement for us and we’re admittedly lucky to have a setup like this. They often have little adventures tasting the variety of different milkshakes our town has to offer (mainly the strawberry ones) and checking out new playgrounds. You know, guy stuff.
You would think, though, that by the complete exaltation from members of the public that surround these outings that my husband was not looking after his child. That instead he was ending world hunger, stopping global warming and solving the problem of Glad-Wrap sticking to itself all at the same goddam time.
“Oh, isn’t he great!”
“You’re so lucky that he is such a good dad!”
“Guess he’s on baby-sitting duties!”
NO. My husband is not baby-sitting his own child – he is parenting. He’s letting a kid have a giant beverage and then playing Russian Roulette by letting him bop around a playground till he pukes. He is changing his nappies and helping him learn to use the potty. He is letting him sneak into bed with us in the mornings and then having farting competitions that leave them both in stitches. He is demonstrating the love and kindness that all children are deserving of, but sadly not all of them receive. But all of this doesn’t make him a great dad.
This makes him an acceptable dad.
Stop congratulating my husband for parenting
By over-complimenting and over-simplifying the act of fathering, we are putting ordinary acts of dad-hood on a pedestal when they should be standard.
What is the message that we are sending when we pile on the platitudes for dads who do things like cook meals, play with their kids or help around the house? When they speak nicely to us and they don’t hit us? We are saying that these qualities are above-average. That they are excelling in the role of father, husband and partner. That they have surpassed what a ‘normal’ man is capable of and have become some kind of higher being.
Does that then mean that ignoring your children, behaving selfishly and being abusive are what our society considers to be ‘average’ husband behaviour? That we are ‘lucky’ wives and partners and mothers because we are not taken for granted and that we are respected? Really? I find it difficult to accept that my child and I should be grateful that there is not a power hierarchy in our house where the man is at the top getting his every need taken care of. Being grateful implies that I’m being given a gift for being treated this way. When, really, this is exactly the way it should be.
This archaic division between what mums do by default and what dads do by design means that when we go bananas congratulating fathers for doing the bare minimum we are widening the parenting gender paradigm. In our case, it’s assumed that the other nine days out of the two-week work cycle are just white noise mothering. It’s on that tenth day, the dad day, that the real magic happens.
I’m not asking to be congratulated for the work, and sometimes it is work, that I do with my son. I don’t expect a parade for cleaning, cooking and carrying on like a pork chop as much as I do. Far from it. What I do expect is that a man should be able to take on his share of these parenting roles without being touted as a hero. He is playing with our son because that is what fathers should be doing. He is cooking dinner, not because I’m tired or sick, but because it’s his bloody turn to cook dinner. He is not a miracle, machine or a magician.
He is a husband and he is a father. And he’s doing what needs to be done because that’s what all men should be doing.
Don’t put the men who meet these standards on pedestals. Look harder at the ones who don’t and ask them why.