There’s been a whole lot of talk about dads of late — stay-at-home dads, out-of-work dads, marketing to dads, dads being more involved, and of course, dad bloggers. We’re the hot topic it would seem. Someone even made a remark to me that dads are the new moms. Yeah? Well don’t lump me in that group. I don’t want to be a mommy.
Sure, the cultural landscape has shifted for families partly as a result of the economic downturn and partly due to changing attitudes about fatherhood. In fact, this is something I understand on a very personal level, seen as how I lost my job and ended up becoming a stay-at-home dad (SAHD). Even so, just because my wife and I flip-flopped roles, that doesn’t mean I handed in my man card in the process.
Admittedly, that was a trap I fell into. I have experienced many changes to my life, but making that transition from provider to caregiver proved to be the toughest I have ever endured. It didn’t help that my ego had been crushed because I had been laid off from work. Prior to this I earned promotions and performance bonuses, which in turn, translated into a comfortable lifestyle that I could provide to my family.
Shallow as this may sound, these were the indicators by which I gauged my worth, both as a father and as a man. After becoming a full-time parent, however, all of those indicators were gone. I had nothing by which to rate myself, except maybe the number of consecutive days that I got the kids off to school on time, but then again, who really cared?
I struggled with this daily, traversing a regular cycle of anger and depression along the way. In time, though, I came to grips with my new non-traditional role (I even wrote a whole damn book about it actually) after realizing that 1) my family was depending on me to still provide for them only on another level, and 2) who I was should define what I do and not the other way around. Ultimately, I ended up gaining a new, more lasting self-confidence, knowing that I could handle full-time parenting free from external validation such as job reviews and raises as I had in the past.
Being a man is defined by action verbs — love, teach, defend, support — not nouns like, Vice President, blogger, or even father. Any swinging Richard can be a father, not all can act like one. The same, of course, can be said about women, well, except for the swinging Richard part. It’s about action verbs too, some of which can overlap with fathers, and some are unique only to the XX chromosome. (For some reason birthing a baby comes to mind.) We should be okay with this.
Sometimes I wonder if, in our effort to promote the ideas of egalitarian parenting, we blur the line between the actual parenting duties and the innate gender differences that shape how men and women approach these duties. A father might teach his son how to share toys in a way that differs from how a mother would. Both are being parents in this scenario, but because the dad does so in his own way, it doesn’t mean he’s wrong.
And might I add here that there are moms out there who need to relinquish some of their parenting control and let dad do his part. I’ve had mothers tell me to my face, “It’s my way or the highway” when it comes to letting their husbands have a say in parenting matters. All this does is send a clear message to both the father and the child that dads are insignificant.
I think most of you would agree the opposite is true; dads are important, and it’s because they bring something different to the table. I read somewhere a quote that said, “Mothers see the world in relation to their kids, and fathers see their kids in relation to the world.” Roughly put another way, while mothers are nurturing their children in the world of now, fathers look to prepare their children for a harsher world that awaits them.
Granted, that may be a bit over-generalized, but after I thought about it for a while, these different approaches made sense to me. My personal parenting philosophy is built on the premise the greatest lesson I can teach my children how to make good choices in life by understanding that there are consequences, both good and bad, depending on what decision they finally make. If they have a firm grasp on this when they leave home, then I’ve done my job preparing them for the real world.
At the same time, however, there are moments when, as a dad, I might not be the best person for the job, and that should be okay too. For example, when my seven-year-old stepdaughter turns to me one day and asks, “Hey, Ron, how old were you when you first had your period?” I am perfectly capable of providing a mature, scientific answer to the question, but there’s no way I could never explain the emotional complexities that are involved with this topic.
So, no, I don’t want to be a mommy, and just because I stay at home with the kids (and have a blog), that doesn’t make me a mother or mean I have to parent like one or to their liking. I like being a dad. I like that what I have to offer my children is different from a mom. And I like that moms are there to offer what I can’t so my kids get the best of both worlds.
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Are there differences in parenting styles? If so, what do you think they are?