When I was growing up, my dad was always at work. He owned a restaurant and could rarely be away from it. On the rare occasion he was home, he was sleeping or watching the news. Weekends and holidays were no exception. We knew he loved us, but we counted on our mom to give us the hands-on care of a parent. She cooked, cleaned, schlepped us to our activities, and invited all four of us into bed with her at night.
Once, when I was about 9, my dad picked me up a from a friend’s house, and I remember how strange it felt to be alone in a car with him. My husband, who is much more present and involved than my own father, still spends well over 60 hours a week at work, and I stay home with the kids. Perhaps it’s my experience with such traditional gender roles that prompted me to comment, “Amazing!” on this photo that blogger Papa Does Preach posted on his Instagram account. In it, he’s vacuuming while holding his infant in a carrier:
He responded, “Naw, just dad.” And ever since I’ve been thinking about our (maybe outdated) expectations of fathers.
The following week I stumbled upon this picture that blogger Woke Dad posted on his Facebook page. In it he’s navigating a full cart and a stroller with twin babies in a grocery store:
His caption is, “Just me and the girls at the store — heads were turning. They had never seen anyone maneuver a cart & stroller with such grace. Never send a woman to do a man’s job.” In the comments, he says that his wife’s parenting gets questioned all the time, but he gets credit just for being a dad. While people ask Mom if the little girls are over or underdressed, he is met with nothing but compliments.
Many in his position share similar experiences. Dads get credit for doing the same things that go unnoticed when done by moms. Another father commented that when he’s out with his son, people often tell him what a good dad he is, to which he thinks, damn, no. I’m just a father. It’s what dads do. Easily earned compliments sound delightful to me, so why do some find them borderline offensive?
Although I am one of those who sees fathers as wonderful for simply taking charge in packing a diaper bag, going on outings with his young children by himself, and knowing where the socks and wipes are, I see how this can insinuate low expectations. Like complimenting a woman for being good at math, complimenting dads for doing normal parenting activities can suggest they’re not naturally as capable or invested in taking care of their children as women.
It’s not that I don’t think men are capable of these things, it’s just that I don’t see them in action too often in my personal life. My husband is as loving as they come, but due to the roles and responsibilities we take on, I’m the more efficient diaper-changer, the meal-maker, and the finder of things.
Men who do dishes and fold towels genuinely impress me, not because I don’t think they can, but because they’re pioneers. They’re doing things they probably didn’t see their fathers or grandfathers do. They’re stepping up to the plate to do more at home, to find a better work-life balance, and to break out of an old mold. I compliment dads who are simply dadding not because I’m surprised by their aptitude, but inspired by their progressiveness.
I don’t want to offend anyone, but I don’t think we should stop acknowledging.
Yes, we should stop expecting men to be the clueless ones, and women to be the naturals. That’s giving way too much credit to our ability to lactate.
Yes, we should stop being surprised if a man puts his career on pause to care for his young children, while making an issue out of what a woman chooses to do.
Yes, we should stop referring to a dad with his children as “babysitting” because no, fathering isn’t “giving Mommy a break.”
Yes, we should stop expecting less from dads, and more from moms, but no, we should not stop complimenting. Rather, we should share the easily earned love with moms too.
This isn’t about lowering standards for moms, or making them higher for dads, but celebrating all the little things we do every single day, as parents. It’s acknowledging that what we do is badass, regardless of how normal and expected it is. We change diaper after diaper for years, but never do we stop (until, you know). We listen to cry after cry, only to commit to deeper patience (and a bottle of wine). We spend hours on playgrounds, not because it’s fun for us, but because it’s a good place for our children.
Both genders need equal amounts of compliments and advice. Let’s put to rest the intense pressure we put on mothers to do it all, and the surprise we feel when fathers do anything at all. Let’s continue to break down the walls of gender roles because it frees everybody to live in more connected and authentic ways. Let’s expect everyone to be equally as competent (and clueless) and say to anyone who is loving his or her kids, “You are such a good parent!”