I have a dog, by the name of Mick. He’s a mutt, part border collie, part golden retriever. We rescued him from a shelter, which could explain his gregarious nature, or it could be that he picked up the best traits from his forebears. Whatever it is that makes him so, he’s a friendly fellow, loves kids, and other dogs. From time to time we take him for walks, and every so often we encounter what my dad calls “a good kickin’ dog” – a Pomeranian, perhaps, one of those pathetic little shits who usually end up being carted around in a purse. When we do, the same thing happens – my dog wags his tail and occasionally goes for a sniff, and the little dog responds with hysterical, angry, terrified yapping. My dog’s a big fellow, and would have no difficulty whatsoever dispatching said purse dog. But he never makes a move to do so; instead, we walk on, puzzling over the potentially suicidal actions of the little dog, at least until we come across a good bush for Mick to pee on.
As a parent blogger, it’s (unfortunately) difficult to avoid reading about the so-called “Mommy Wars”. The Mommy Wars, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a Web 2.0 version of the Peloponnesian War, a seemingly endless conflict pitting mother against mother, fueled by angst and keyboard courage, with mom bloggers lobbing salvos at each other over such heated topics as breastfeeding, working while parenting, what kind of diapers one should use, the moral implications of Disney Princesses, etc. As a dad blogger, the concept puzzles me, for a few reasons. First, “Mommy Wars” is certainly one of those media-created taglines designed to draw in readers and viewers; most people, whether they admit it or not, enjoy watching or reading a good verbal smackdown. Second, there’s nothing even remotely similar going on with dads.
Why is that? Why aren’t we reading about the battle between SAHD’s versus working dads? Why isn’t there a national debate over the merits or pitfalls of being a “Tiger Dad”? (Actually, the phrase is “Wolf Father“, and it is not sweeping the nation.) Why aren’t we dads yelling at each other over Training Wheels Or Not, Youth Soccer Or Little League Baseball, Star Wars Or Star Trek? It’s not like dads don’t occasionally try to stir shit up – several days back, on this very website, Joel Stein tried to pick a fight with EVERYONE over their parenting philosophies. And I’ll admit it – I had a rebuttal article in mind, entitled “Your Article Telling Me That My Childrearing Philosophy Is Bullshit? Is Bullshit”. But a funny thing happened – about five words into the draft, I decided I really didn’t care enough about Joel Stein’s opinion of my childrearing philosophy to finish it.
I suspect that a general lack of concern over others’ opinion of our parenting styles is one reason dads aren’t tearing into each other on the Internet. Don’t get me wrong: we dadbloggers aren’t one big happy Band of Brothers, watching each others’ backs and offering unconditional support. There’s a bit of grousing here and there, but it’s usually over blog lists or awards or names for dad blogs – trivial stuff that has very little to do with our choices as parents. I’ve been a dadblogger for six years now. I’ve written about swearing and drinking in front of my kid, giving my kid the green light to punch a bully or knock an opposing player on his ass, gleefully exploiting my children on the Internet…and I can count the number of angry, bitchy comments I’ve gotten from fellow dads about my parenting style on one hand. If my fellow dads are judging me, they certainly aren’t calling me out publicly; perhaps this is a guy thing, the understanding among males that if you talk shit about someone you’d best be prepared to back it up with your fists. But I don’t think that’s the reason. I think that most of us dads are remarkably tolerant of the way other dads raise their kids. And it has everything to do with that Pomeranian from way back in paragraph one.
Here’s the thing: most of us, dads and moms, are like that Pomeranian. We go through life in Fear Mode, scared shitless that we’re one slip-up, one harsh word, one failure to discipline our kid, one can of Coke away from irrevocably screwing up our kids’ lives. Failure is our big dog. We do what we think and hope is best, knowing that our control over what they see, do, and consume is finite at best and an illusion at worst. And so when anyone presumes to question those choices, we lash out. Why? Because deep down, even though we know they’re wrong, we fear that they’re right. And just like every other animal on this planet, when Fear overtakes us, we think we have two choices: flee, or fight. Being parents, fleeing isn’t an option. And so the knives come out, the blog posts and comments fly back and forth, and the crowd gathers to watch the outcome.
One of the few benefits of being relatively new to the overall parenting conversation is that dads understand this fear; as more of us move into roles that our our own parents didn’t really prepare us for – that of equal parenting partner, or in many cases primary caregiver – we feel that pressure, the ever-present fear of failing our kids and our partners. We recognize that at some point, we’re gonna screw something up, and it’ll be because we thought something should be done just this way. That knowledge keeps me and most dads I know humble; most of us will cheerfully admit that what we don’t know about being a Perfect Parent could fill a book. It also gives us a sense of something, the absence of which is ultimately the catalyst for every battle in the so-called “Mommy Wars”: compassion.