I regularly fly with my kids.
And almost as regularly, I receive adulation from flight attendants and fellow passengers. You’re such a brave dad. You are traveling on your own? Wow, this journey is not for the faint of heart!
In some ways, these words are gratifying. It feels good to be recognized. But in other ways, these comments are insulting. Yes, I’m traveling with my kids. No, that doesn’t mean I should get a medal. My wife does the same, and she rarely hears a compliment. Sometimes, it’s even worse.
A few months ago, I took my boys to the indoor pool at our neighborhood rec center. I planned poorly and afterward had to carry both boys in their wet swimming suits and tee shirts back to our car. It was snowing and absolutely frigid outside. As I walked to the car, a passerby noted that I was a “brave dad.” Yet if my wife had been carrying two soaking wet underdressed bambinos in a blizzard, would she have received the same response? My experience is that what dads get cheered for, moms get judged for!
The sobering revelation here is this: we have terribly low expectations for fathers.
But this is what fatherhood has become in our country. With Homer Simpson, Don Draper, Carl Winslow, and Ray Barone as our exemplars of fatherhood, just about anything you and I do is an act of valor.
Engaged dads can attest to just how normal this experience is. Dads are often celebrated for what moms do routinely.
So now what?
Well, fathers today spend about 7x as much time with their children compared to fathers 40 years ago. The stereotypes and norms associated with fathers will not change quickly, but if the current trends continue, the stereotypes will change … eventually.
In the meantime, engaged fathers have opportunities to dismantle these stereotypes. Here are a few ways to do so:
- Subvert the stereotypes. “I figure, if my wife can do it, I can.” This sort of line is a great place to start. The more dads can assert that caring for our children is normal, the better we can undo some of the work Homer and Winslow have done to us.
- Avoid feeding the beast. In our language, it can be easy to reinforce the stereotypes, albeit accidentally. Dad’s don’t babysit our children. We shouldn’t ask for a participation medal if we successfully bathe our children or get them out the door for school on time.
- Challenge fellow dads. A lot of these stereotypes are our own fault. Dads need to hold each other accountable to serve our families well. Fathering can be isolating and that isolation is dangerous. Dads are responsible for the journey of other dads.
These ideas won’t immediately solve the problem, of course, but they’re a start.