Growing up, adults never spoke much to me about becoming a dad one day. It was usually an after-thought buried beneath aspirations like firefighter, baseball player, policeman, or hundreds of other jobs that people assumed I should want to do. Rarely, if ever, was the concept of being a father brought up.
Girls, on the other hand, were prepared for motherhood the moment they popped into the world. They were handed fake babies to cradle and cribs to rock. Their toys cried and came with diapers while boy toys revved and were packaged with swords. It’s as if all adults were preparing for a future of mass single parenthood.
For a boy in the 1980s, getting a doll was harder than getting a shotgun. That’s not a joke either. Realistic toy guns were all the rage. Ask Santa for an exact replica of a 44 magnum and he’d ho ho ho it right into your stocking. Ask for a Cabbage Patch Doll and you were put into therapy. The ’80s were a weird time.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t end when you become an actual father. I’ve been a card carrying member of the I-Made-A-Kid-Club for nearly nine years now and I still encounter some whacked out discrimination. So many people like to preach about the importance of fathers in a family unit but then look down on them when they arrive pushing a stroller.
Forget for a moment the countless commercials mocking a dad’s ability to care for his kids or the insulting stereotype that men lay in bed while his wife cares for the sick children all night (neither are true in our home). The dismissive demeanor to dads stretches beyond mass media. It’s a common issue that we face every day.
I could tell you stories of being treated like an idiot by Music Together teachers or getting glared at by grandmothers while waiting to pick my daughter up from preschool, but you could probably imagine. Unfortunately, the prejudice that men face from the world for simply being dads is abundant and widely known.
Have you ever seen those “adorable” pictures online of a father wearing his daughter’s butterfly backpack along with a caption about how cute he is for doing so? Sure. About as cute as it would be to see an adorable picture of a woman fixing her son’s bike with a similar caption. Aw. What a cute little woman! She thinks she’s a man! Sweet.
Wait…that second one is insulting, isn’t it? Well, guess what. So is the first one. Reinforcing gender roles is outdated and ridiculous enough. Doing so when a parent is simply being a parent is even worse. There’s nothing cute about a father doing his daughter’s hair or picking out a dress for her, just like there’s nothing cute about a mom playing catch or building a treehouse. If you don’t mock one, you shouldn’t mock the other.
This issue isn’t even limited to gender specific duties either. Sometimes just simply showing up will earn you ridicule. It stretches beyond cradling dolls or having tea parties. There are some people who act as if dads exist to simply feed the family and watch football. When they take an active role of any kind outside of the preconceived notions, it doesn’t always go over so well.
Perhaps the worst example of this came when my son first started receiving services for his autism. I met with the coordinator to determine his schedule and set up. When she saw that I was there alone, she reacted with a shocked laugh. It was as if I showed up without pants. Her first question was:
Is Mrs. Guttman joining us?
No, she’s unable to be here today.
Oh, uh, well then. Hmmm. OK. Well. That’s fine. We like dads here too! Ha ha ha.
Keep in mind, I was a father taking a first-hand approach to his son’s special needs care. She was a professional who meets with hundreds of families a year. Yet, she found no problem with expressing appalled mockery at the thought of a man doing the very thing that most people consider “being a man”. Years later, I still think about that woman’s dated mindset while holding a position that should dictate otherwise and other fathers who have had to endure it.
Raising a child is the job of whomever chooses to do it. If we want men to step up and take an active role in parenting, then perhaps we should all accept them. Notice I didn’t call for applause. We don’t need to be clapped for. We just need to be treated with the same respect you would treat anyone else in our position. You hear that statement as it relates to so many other situations and job titles. Why not fathers?
A woman’s place isn’t always in the kitchen and a man’s place isn’t always in bed while she cares for the kids. We’re all in this together. It’s the only way to ensure that the next generation is better than we are.