January 9, 2011

Competent Dads and Other Mythical Creatures

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Article recently appeared on The Good Men Project. This is the original.

"You're such a great dad!"

My husband hears this all the time. This, or the slightly more puzzling "Bethany is lucky to have such a great dad!" If I post a picture of me and my daughter on Facebook I hear how cute she is, or how nice my hair looks, or what fun the activity must have been. If I post a picture of Jerry with my daughter the comments are about what a terrific father he is.

I've spent quite some time reflecting on why this bothers me. Is it jealousy? After much introspection I can honestly say no, definitely not. I devote every waking hour to my daughter and I worship the ground she walks on. I have no insecurities about my own parenting ability nor do I think anyone else considers me to be a sub-par mommy.

Is it the implied sexism? Well, yeah. I guess it is. I (of course) don't think any less of the friends who make these comments, rather I'm troubled by our society which still perceives fathers to be absentee buffoons. A couple hours on Google revealed many touching articles written by dads who are even more pissed off about it than I am.

Sure, our society has its share of deadbeat dads, but there are plenty of crappy moms, too. So why are the dads saddled with a Neanderthal image? Why does having a penis preclude the ability to comfort a crying child? Or help with homework? Or give a bath?

It is an injustice to men to treat parental competency as some sort of monumental achievement. If I were a forklift operator it would get pretty old to have good ol' boys patting me on the back all the time, winking, and telling me what a great job I was doing. Same principle.

Conversely it is an injustice to women to make the assumption that parenting is somehow easier for us.

My parents divorced when I was two years old. I stand before you today at 35 and solemnly swear that I've never seen those people have an argument. They never once undermined one another or even disagreed about anything. God could not have created two less similar personality types if He spent hours trying. Did they have different parenting philosophies? I'd bet my firstborn on it. Did it show? Never. My father was at every school play and parent/teacher conference. Although my mom had primary custody my dad still took me camping, introduced me to some of the most delicious food in the world, and dug in his heels and handled my teen angst like a pro.

Having a child is deciding to take responsibility for someone else's life. Good parents everywhere, of both genders, deserve rewards and riches for what they do every day.

I dedicate this post to my husband: the best co-parent I could have possibly hoped for (and good lookin', too).     -Kim


  1. I've never thought about this, but I'm certain I'm one of the people who would have (or has) remarked on Jerry being a good Daddy. Maybe because my Dad wasn't all that I needed him to be (though I think he was all that he was capable of being), I guess I am always surprised when Dads are great. Where you had a great relationship with your Dad as a kid, so it's "normal" to you. I do have high expectations of my hubby in the fatherhood department though. Hmmm... You've given me something to think about.

  2. This type of reaction goes hand-in-hand with the "bumbling idiot of a husband" trope that is so prevalent in our society and media. When just about every commercial, sitcom, and movie portrays the "average" husband/father as an incompetent buffoon who would flounder without the supervision and guidance of a wife/mother figure, it's not surprising that society is so impressed by fathers who don't fit that stereotype.

    Your observation of the off-balance praise given to normal fathers for satisfactory completion of expected, everyday child rearing tasks is a symptom of the real problem: a society that propagates condescendingly sexist stereotypes regarding men's true capabilities in the home.

    A man co-parenting two daughters

  3. As a mom, I want to be encouraged & acknowledged for the work that I do as a parent. There are so many times when I question if I've done the right thing or made a good decision. So it's a blessing when someone says that I'm doing something right. I guess since I feel that way, I assume that others, moms & dads both, would want similar encouragement. So I offer it.

    I think what bothers me more is when someone asks something along the lines of "is daddy babysitting tonight?" No, in fact, daddy is NOT babysitting. Daddy is parenting.

  4. So true. When my husband any I were having problem, my mom say fit to remind me a dozen times what I great dad he is and how I didn't want to "ruin" anything.

    First, why couldn't he still be a great dad if we weren't together, and second, how great of a dad he is is shouldn't be the reason we stay together. But I'm so "lucky"!

    He is a great dad and I'm glad we worked things out. but that's beside the point.


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