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Challenging dads to ‘be a father’ isn’t always up to dads

After we all collectively “aww” at this video challenge posted by Kendell J. Smith with his toddler — and it is aww-worthy, handsome dad, adorable kid, awesome message — I think we can also agree that most dads want to be fathers. But doesn’t take into account all the ways society can make that difficult for dads.

Kendell J. Smith, who claims he doesn’t make Facebook videos, recently posted a video challenge to Facebook asking men to “be a father, take care of your kids, be there in their lives.” It’s a great message. Dads, even dads who no longer have a relationship with the person who gave birth to their child, should be involved in their children’s lives. I think everyone can advocate for that.

The issue is that in some circumstances, life doesn’t always make it easy for men to father. We live in a country that where only 16 percent of companies offer fully paid maternity leave and 14 percent offer dads any sort of paternity leave. We live in a country where women are still expected to be the primary caregiver of children. We live in a country where dads are portrayed in the media as helpless buffoons when it comes to parenting. If the message you are always being force-fed is “men can’t parent” then it is bound to affect how you actually parent.

The majority of men who had a child want to parent that child. But when they don’t reside in the same home, have a conflictive relationship with their co-parent or financial circumstances mean they have to take a job away from their child, it makes stepping up and being a dad difficult. I think the sentiment expressed in Smith’s video is a lovely one, but I also think that if dads had more support from their partners, their employers and the world in general they would be better at fathering.

Some of these things we cannot fix. We cannot solve the problem working parents face when they need to take time off to parent. We can’t suddenly fix how the media portrays fathers. But what we can do, as women, is let dads be dads. That means if you are no longer with the father of your child, unless they are abusive or negligent, let them see their kids. Let them talk to their kids on the phone or via webcam and allow them visitation, without letting your own feelings of anger or animosity affect the relationship the father of your child has with that child. That means if you are partnered or married with the father of your children you let them father, even if that means they don’t do things exactly the way you do or that you expect them to do. That means that we don’t ask our partners to watch the kids or treat them like glorified babysitters, we assume they are just as capable as we are at looking out for our children’s safety and well-being.

Because they are.

I applaud Smith and his challenge of asking dads to be dads, but I think more men would accept this challenge if we all didn’t treat fathering like it was something other than what it is — totally normal.

More on dads

Dad is off the hook, but not mom
Simple ways for dad to bond with baby

Misconceptions about stay-at-home-dads

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