One of the very many things that makes me happy I am living in this era versus the early 1960s (at least as presented on “Mad Men”) is that fathers are expected to take an active role in childcare — and the icky diaper-changing nose-wiping stuff, too, not just playing with your clean, bathed children for an hour before bedtime. I even can think of four stay-at-home dads I personally know without even having to strain my memory.
But the culture is pretty slow to change around us. This NPR essay by Richard Weissbourd talks about being relegated to the role of secondary parent, that his wife is pretty much expected to know all and take responsibility for all, while he’s treated like an adjunct.
Weissbourd points out, for example, that schools rarely send report cards to fathers after a divorce (and I am sure they aren’t included in the many other communication that come home from school unless they have a supremely conscientious ex-spouse — I live with my husband and can’t always remember to tell him everything every day). One study found that pediatricians ask fathers one question for every fifteen they ask mothers when both are in the room.
This is something of a corollary to a favorite complaint of just about every mother I know: What is just generally expected of us, the guys practically get a medal for. You see a guy out with a baby strapped to his chest and a toddler by the hand, and you smile and think what a great dad he is; you see a mom doing the same thing and it hardly registers. It’s as if fathers are expected to be irresponsible or incompetent, while mothers are expected to have it together. If you see a man in the visible act of parenting, it’s as if he is doing something remarkable.
To Weissbourd’s great credit, he doesn’t complain about how unfair it is so much as he prevails on men to change that perception. “If mothers suddenly became as marginal a presence in children’s lives as dads are now, the public outcry would be deafening. We can get much closer to gender parity in caring for our children. But we as fathers need to step up — and others need to expect and accept no less.”
Damn straight. Most of the guys I know are accepting the challenge and behaving as equal parents. It’s time to treat that as the norm, rather than the exception.
More on Strollerderby: Why Parenting Mags Ignore Dad