When my daughter was born, I already knew my husband had the makings of a Wonder Dad. I married him, after all. I just didn’t expect to hear about it everywhere I went: the glowing tones, the gushing from other women, the constant reminders that I “picked a good one,” because he not only knew how to change a diaper, but did so.
Let me be clear – my husband IS a fantastic father, a wonderful husband, the love of my life:the whole nine. But he’d be the first to tell you that he’s not looking for accolades. He’s just looking to be a parent.
That I still outrank him on the numbers of diapers changed or number of boo-boos kissed has more to do with my work-at-home job and his work-at-an-office job than it does with his involvement in our daughter’s life.
Today’s dads do a lot more than their predecessors, it’s true. My daughter’s godmother related once that her father never changed a single diaper. She has three brothers. Even if they potty-trained early, that’s a good six years of avoidance.
What does that say about the man? That he couldn’t lift a finger to help his wife? That he was so disgusted by his own children’s poop that he couldn’t bear to touch a diaper? I think it says he was lazy, that he was willing to make a baby, but not responsible enough to deal with the aftermath.
So what if it was culturally acceptable back then? It was once culturally acceptable to drop racial epithets into polite conversation; that doesn’t make it any less disgusting.
It’s not just diapers, of course. In the months when my daughter was still getting up in the middle of the night, my husband took his share of evening shifts (this was after I’d quit breastfeeding). It was only fair, he said.
He knows the words to Green Eggs and Ham as well as I do, knows that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches need to be cut into four triangles and that juice cups should be filled halfway with water. He has a carseat in his car, picks her up at the sitter, makes her dinner.
In short, my husband knows how to be a parent – like millions of other dads. Labor figures put the number of fathers providing primary care to their kids today at one in five, while surveys have put the number of fathers who’ve mulled staying at home with their kids anywhere from thirty-seven percent to fifty-six. They’re taking over Brownie troops and grabbing hold of stroller steering.
So why is it now culturally acceptable for men to be involved parents, but not to let it go uncelebrated? If I go out into public without my daughter in our small town, someone will invariably ask if “Daddy’s babysitting.” In 2009, I get that question a lot, even from women my age, women with children and partners of their own – women who should know better.
Calling my husband a babysitter is insulting. He doesn’t get paid. He doesn’t spend time with our daughter because he’s required to or because it’s going to get him something (money, sex, whatever). He spends time with our daughter because he is her father, and he kinda, sorta, really likes her. Isn’t that why men become fathers? Because they want children?
The comments from women on a recent Strollerderby post about the Daddy-babysitting issue poured in. One woman recounted the story of a kindly seatmate tapping her on the shoulder on a plane to tell her how “lucky” she was because her husband helped give their child a bottle. “Clearly, he deserves a nomination for Man of the Year, because those are the little woman’s jobs, and any man who does them is worthy of a ticker-tape parade,” she said.
Good mothers are, well, there. And good fathers? They’re idolized. Hence the paradox. It’s no longer culturally acceptable for men to lay the entire burden of parenting at the feet of the women:but he still earns a big pat on the back for doing what women are automatically expected to do. Make no mistake: we are still expected to be good mothers. Even as it’s become the norm for women to get out of the kitchen – indeed out of the house – there’s still been more backlash against Brit than there has against K-Fed.
Bad mothers are strung up. Bad fathers are shrugged off. Good mothers are, well, there. And good fathers? They’re idolized.
A Washington Post article from 2007 meant to celebrate Father’s Day ends with what’s intended to be a sweet reference to dads’ ability to hear their kids crying in the night before their partners do. It turns sour when the author dubs it “mother’s intuition.”
Because fathers can’t be intuitive? Tell that to my husband the next time he hears our daughter cry out, and he’s on his feet before she can fall fully from her toddler bed onto the floor. Tell that to a father who fishes a doll’s hairbrush from the toilet while his daughter hiccups out an unintelligible string of pleas for help.
Yes, fathers should be respected for being fathers, just as mothers should be for being mothers. Parenting is a hard job. But all the gushing about what a super-duper guy a father is because he figured out how to work the pull tabs on a diaper comes off as patronizing. He’s not a martyr because he spends time with his kids and likes reading bedtime stories. He’s a parent.