At barbecues, pool parties, birthdays… I sit and watch.
The Mom: changes the diapers… sanitizes hands… provides pre-made, kid-friendly food… breast feeds in another room… comforts crying baby… spreads the sunscreen…
The Dad: hangs out with his friends… talks about his career… grabs a beer… plays in the pool with the kids… “Oh look at him in the pool with the kids, he’s such a good father.”
I see this, and I think… moms do the most important job on the planet.
I just… can I… um… I want the dad job.
I’ve been a private, academic tutor for over eight years, teaching students ranging from 7 to 25 years old. I constantly communicate with moms over scheduling, grades, learning disabilities, organization, billing, homework, the kid’s emotional well-being, and stress levels. Out of the 78 students that I’ve taught, the father has been my primary point of contact… four whole times. Three of these were divorced fathers who share equal custody. Almost all of these fathers are considered “great fathers.”
Perhaps you’re thinking, “No, plenty of dads are very involved!”… Okay. Honestly, I don’t see it in my circle of good, kind, pro-feminist men though. If I set a much lower bar for fathers, then I see it. Fathers simply get way more credit for their contributions. Fathers receive “ooos” and “awws” whenever they take the kids to the grocery store, an after-school activity, or change a diaper. If I were able to secure those accolades, I would keep that lower bar preeetty top secret as well. I would love to provide “crazy fun,” and be “an adventure guide” (Fatherhood, as recently defined by my friend’s FB post). I would love to occasionally stand by the barbecue as a hero for cooking everyone burgers.
Obviously I’m focusing on hetero-couples here, since same-sex parenting dynamics are worthy of an exploration all to itself. But in seeking out more clarity around the “dad-job,” a friend framed a father’s main contributions as the major stresses that he endures while overseeing: insurance, retirement planning, credit card bills, stock market investments, mortgage, utilities, education costs, and taxes. Oh wow… yeah… you mean all the stuff I already do? If responsibilities are still divided along those gender lines, let’s be clear, those tasks don’t directly involve any interaction with the child. And the pay-off is ideal, since the father’s dynamic with his children gets to stay so positive. He might be stressfully figuring out how to pay for pre-school, but the kids only see the mom trying to force-feed them vegetables. As the father, I would get to pull out the wallet and buy them ice cream.
While tutoring, I have seen immense vitriol expressed toward mothers. I have witnessed kids screaming at their mom for stupid little things, and time and time again, that mom valiantly bears her child’s stress and emotions. When the dad comes home, the kids brighten up, telling him about their day… while mom is struggling to cook a healthy dinner and pack tomorrow’s school lunches. So often I want to scream for those moms, “It’s just so unfair!!”… but no one would hear me because the plumber just arrived, a kid can’t find her backpack, the dog is barking… and the mom is dealing with all of it. One could argue that she chose the role of primary caregiver… maybe. I know that women have become more cognizant of that choice, but I wouldn’t say that great progress has been made in subverting that choice.
In baby care alone, you cannot underestimate the question of who will manage all of the exhausting details? Who is going to create a baby gift registry (sounds awful), buy Boudreaux’s Butt Paste (the preferred brand from what I hear on the mom-streets), learn how to bathe the baby (without drowning it), watch the YouTube video on Moby wraps (she makes it look so easy!) figure out how to treat this neck rash (google it?), research the best material and sizing of bottle nipples (yep, totally a thing).
Fathers currently aren’t up for that. Bold statement, I know, but please don’t try to argue with me that “women are just better at those types of things.” That makes me want to light those bottle nipples on fire with feminist fury. Let’s be honest, we give men a free-pass to not be involved with these things. A free-pass, that I want too.
On top of it all, my mom-friends are relentlessly guilt stricken. They missed ballet class on Thursday, baby won’t sleep through the night, toddler won’t stop biting other kids in the playgroup, will they be kicked out of the playgroup?? AHHH make it stop!!! For measuring mothers, we set an impossibly high bar. Remarkably, fathers don’t seem to feel this level of incessant guilt. I know a lot of fathers who travel for work, and from what I can tell, a father doesn’t even need to be home much to be labeled a “great father.” I’m not saying this with any bitterness. Seriously, lucky them. Can you imagine if I (a woman) traveled 75% of the month, away from my child? Everyone and anyone would inject guilt into my being through endless childcare concerns and gossip that sweats through the walls of the Bikram yoga class. I still hear women say that their husband is “baby-sitting tonight”… Wait what? Oh, you mean taking care of his child? There are countless examples of this double standard in action, from the working-woman receiving the “who’s raising your children” question to the “how do you juggle it all??” Fathers don’t get those questions!!
I remain hopeful for progress in the gender role realm, and perhaps one day women will be able to take a weekend vacation without battling the interior guilt-monologue that roars, “TRUST ME, THIS TIME AWAY IS BADLY NEEDED, PLEASE DON’T JUDGE ME!!”
No one wants to be judged. And if you feel judged by my observations, then please know that you’re in good company, because everyone who has read this piece (male and female) has taken it VERY PERSONALLY… which I find intriguing. I was told everything from “you just want to be a shit father” to “you can’t put a value on a dad’s contribution” to “fathers do way less than you’re even detailing.” All so very interesting…
Perhaps I’m just looking at the free-pass that fathers get and asking for it too?
Or maybe we need more conversations surrounding this topic and how it impacts the various aspirations women have for their lives. I want to work toward a world wherein equality is so pervasive that no one even defines these roles. A vision for a more expansive, unrestricted, choice-filled world for women. So I press on, boldly making choices that are right for me and subversively letting my fatherly light shine.