Not all dads should be treated as second-class parents. I know at least three of them!
I have been gifted subscriptions to several parenting magazines. They have titles like Parenting, Parent and Child, and something else I can’t remember but has something to do with Parents (not Parents), but they should just be called Moms. With the exception of one that has a “cool dad” column, they are all mom-focused and all have women’s beauty tips and product reviews.
I assume that women are the bulk of parenting magazine readers, and I honestly can’t see my husband spending more than a minute looking at a parenting magazine. But after I got pregnant I noticed that when people said “parents” they meant “moms.” Either the world has not caught up to dads taking on more of the baby-raising basics, or I just know the exceptions.
The father of my child, who I am conveniently married to, is a partner in childcare. Though I will take credit for running the show a little more, if I weren’t around, he would be more than capable of solo-parenting, and I never have to tell him how to do anything. He’s not the babysitter when I’m not there. He’s the other parent.
I do sometimes feel bad for the underrepresentation of dads in the parenting world. Poor guys! Men make up something like 99% of all characters in TV and film,1 but they’re often MIA or in the background in children’s stories. Parenting is considered a mother-knows-best and mother-is-best (or mother-cares-more) area. Take Mother’s Day for example. Everyone gets cold sweats about making sure mom gets flowers, brunch, gifts, show tickets, and massages. People try to see their moms on Mother’s Day. But Father’s Day is different. The most work anyone does for Father’s Day is to find out if Paul McCartney released a new album since the last time they had to buy dad a gift. Oh, Father’s Day. I don’t even know why I bothered to capitalize you.
Maybe dads are considered second-class parents because moms are just naturally the leaders of the family gang, or maybe it’s because even if they want to be more involved they haven’t been allowed to. One of my dad’s favorite memories (dare I say, his most treasured) is that he saw me being born. It wasn’t even an option for him to be in the room while my mom was in labor for their first two kids,2 which is a bananas idea considering three decades later my husband had so much access to our daughter’s labor that I think he actually could have given birth in my place if I wanted him to. So while some men chose to have limited involvement with their kids’ lives, they didn’t even have the choice to be involved not too long ago.
Dads who do make the effort to be there don’t get their due credit as caretakers. When Dads are considered “men who parent” they have the right to channel Neko Case and say that they’re not men who are good at parenting, they’re parents.3
But don’t fret, dads. If you don’t see your role as a dad represented correctly in our culture and in the media kids consume, keep in mind that they probably don’t see their entertainment as a reflection of real life when it comes to parents. For instance, moms are usually dead in Disney movies. This is definitely not always the case, but in the small sampling of films my daughter has recently watched, it is often the case. The lack of moms (who would probably try a little harder to keep their half-fish daughters from marrying at 16 or going missing for long periods of time with talking animals) doesn’t make children think their lives could have fairy tale endings if only their moms would die already.4
While our cuIture often reduces the dad role to the guy who just wants grill accessories and thinks a doula is some sort of head scarf, I have a husband who would wake up (after I was forcibly waking him up) to me crying because I couldn’t swaddle our newborn and I needed him to do it. He handles the bulk of daycare drop-off and pick-up, keeps the patience that I lose, takes our parenting concerns and researches or seeks advice, and is excited to share the things that he loves with his daughter. Most importantly, he teaches our daughter how she should expect to be treated because she sees that I am treated with respect and care, despite the fact that I shut down when my husband wants to do things like teach me how to swaddle correctly.
Even though dads get second place in parenting, kudos to all the great dads I know, including (but not limited to) my husband, my own father, and Coach Eric Taylor of Friday Night Lights. I hope you all like Paul McCartney.
- This is my estimate based on the last two things I watched: the series finale of Silicon Valley and The Grand Budapest Hotel. ↩
- He played a softball game while my sister was being born. ↩
- I know that there are bad parents and good parents and parents who aren’t given a chance, but let’s limit this to the world of dads as represented in Target ads. I don’t have the bandwidth to tackle more serious parenting issues. ↩
- The lack of moms in Disney movies is a new favorite subject of mine. Are they dead because of the darker source material, or because moms would squash all the dumb stuff that happens to cause the main events of the movie? ↩