While wandering in a daze through the grocery store last week I kept running into a dad with two elementary school-age kids who was clearly auditioning for the “best parent ever” award. It was all I could do not to trip him.
If you’re a mom, you get it. We have eleventy-billion things to get accomplished every day before the witching hour, when all the people want all the food. So that’s about where my head was last week when I ran into the grocery store to grab a few things before picking my daughter up from soccer. I was in auto-pilot mode — which is way easier now that I don’t have small ones asking me questions like why the cauliflower isn’t a soccer ball and what the heck is broccolini.
Then somewhere on aisle four, between the shredded cheese and the pickled beets, I first heard this dude. “Ooh, hey! Let’s pretend we’re on an African safari and let’s hunt for lions!” he belted out to the two little ones hanging on to his cart. His “fun” voice sounded nothing like the voice I use when trying to get my kids through the grocery store. His was charming. Witty. Like the voice of someone who has potentially used a wee bit of Nyquil. “Come on kids! Let’s go get some meat for the lions!” he bellowed. Ugh.
Not wanting to engage them at all (because, I’m on a mission), I pushed my cart past them with hardly a glance at the dad. He seemed normal enough, but he was so fun. I felt irritated. Then irritated at myself for feeling irritated. Honestly, why do I care that this dad might be more fun than I have ever been on a grocery store run? How does it really affect my role as a mom if Dad seems more fun?
I get it — dads are more involved in the caretaking of their kids than ever before. A study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published in December 2013, involving nearly 4,000 fathers aged 15 to 44, suggests that modern-day dads are quite involved in their kids’ lives. University of Chicago sociologist Jennifer Bellamy studies fathering, and shares that even now, the old stereotypes persist, “that dads are sort of the co-pilots in their families,” and that they are absent or less involved than moms. Bellamy shares that this survey shows that fathers “are quite involved in a variety of different and important ways.” So it’s great that moms of this generation have a more hands-on dad to share the parenting load. We just don’t want him to be the fun parent all the time.
As I continued through the store, I could hear them off in the distance. The kids were working up to a pretty excited stage, usually reserved for the playground (or birthday parties with lots of sugar). His enthusiasm was having the desired effect — by damn, he was fun. As I rounded the corner near the juice boxes, I heard him whipping up the troops to choose their favorite flavor.
And it was at this moment that I happened to catch his eye.
He didn’t look extra fun or jolly or like he even knew what he was doing. He looked petrified. Like his relatively short playlist of fun distractions ran out an aisle or two ago. And he still had to make it through the chip and cracker aisle and over to produce. I gave him a half-smirk and a slight nod, as if to say, I could have told you not to do it.
He was screwed. And he knew it.
And suddenly, I wasn’t worried anymore. We’re all in this boat together, people.