I can’t even begin to count the times a friend or family member has told me my husband is “such a great dad.” Let me start by saying, I couldn’t agree more. I often refer to my husband as our family’s Superman. He’s steadfast, committed, and there’s nothing he won’t do for us.
But, my husband is not a wonderful father because he’s parenting his kids. Parenting, my friends, is what he should do. He chose to have kids, just like I did, so why in the world is he getting verbal accolades for parenting? My husband is a wonderful father because he works every single day to process his own childhood, adapt his parenting, and enjoy parenthood —understanding that it’s not my job alone to raise our children. He shows up for our kids. But he’s doing his job.
This isn’t an issue of appreciation. I’m grateful that I have an equal partner — both as a spouse and as a co-parent. In fact, my husband has taken on more than his “fair share” of parenting duties this past year when I battled breast cancer for the second time. While I was laid up in bed for days on end — between my 12 weekly chemo infusions, 3 surgeries, and 33 radiation treatments — my husband did it all. He worked full time, took care of the kids’ every need (and mine), and still somehow managed to be in a good mood most days. We don’t know what we would have done without him.
I’ve grown to understand just how deep toxic masculinity runs. Though we have outright rejected the idea that the males in our family need to “man up” (whatever that means), the poison of masculinity continues its attempt to seep into modern family life. When a father even offers the slightest whiff of support, love, and encouragement to his children, he’s a “great dad.” Why? Because society has conditioned us to praise the slightest fatherly effort, while moms continue to do most of the heavy lifting without acknowledgement.
I get that many people didn’t have an active, present father in their lives. Having a good dad is a gift, no doubt — but so is having a mom who keeps things running. However, I don’t think we should be giving out gold medals to present fathers just because some fathers didn’t show up for their kids. Why is the standard of greatness so low for male parents?
My husband is the school volunteer in our family. I have zero interest in being a “room mom.” I’m not crafty at all, I have a chronic disease, and frankly, I hate the sensory overload that comes with classroom chaos. My husband is more adventurous than I am, and he actually enjoys the role of field trip chaperone. Many times, fellow moms will tell me how stellar my husband is, taking time out of his busy work day to escort his son or daughter’s class to watch birds and listen to science lectures. I nod and smile (yikes, that’s toxic femininity right there), because I don’t want to be a jerk who launches into a discussion on why their compliment is actually pretty messed up.
Why do we put dads on a pedestal for showing up when they need to for their kids? Why have moms been the default parent for all of time? No one hands me a soy latte when I drop my kids off at school, gives me a standing ovation for picking up some extra glue sticks for the class, or gazes at me with adoring eyes when I video my child’s performance. In fact, I don’t think I need or deserve these things. I’m just doing the job I signed up for.
Praise for my husband doing these things happens time and time again. When we adopted each of our kids, my husband took on more than half the feedings. I am someone who doesn’t function well when I’m sleep deprived. When the nighttime feedings came up in conversations with fellow parents, they were often in awe of my husband’s “sacrifice.” I said I certainly appreciate his willingness to prioritize my need for more rest, but he is the child’s father. Why wouldn’t he get up and feed them when they are hungry? Isn’t feeding your children a basic responsibility?
As our kids grew into toddlers, my husband and I would take turns changing diapers or taking them potty in public restrooms. My husband, again, was praised by strangers for taking his kids to the bathroom. It was bizarre. No one has, not once, ever thanked me for putting down my (always) lukewarm restaurant meal to take my frantic three-year-old to potty. Again, isn’t a bathroom break Parenting 101?
After I quit my part-time teaching job to stay home with our (then) three children, who were, by the way, all under the age of four, I started scheduling coffee dates for myself with other moms. These were few and far between, but precious. My husband would chill with the kids while I met up with a friend, to which I’d always hear that my husband was “watching the kids” so I could have some “self-care” time.
Is it just me, or is this incredibly bizarre that a husband is acknowledged for “watching” his kids, as if he is the babysitter?
I am grateful that my husband understands how important it is that he be a dad who’s in it to win it. He doesn’t get a pass because he’s male. Parenting is hard, complicated, continuous work, and we are both committed to our kids. We understand that society has long placed dads in othering categories, either by dismissing them as less-than-necessary or by praising them for the smallest of efforts. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the norm — the default — should be a dad doing dad things because he chose to be a dad.