Clueless dads are a classic character. They’re corny, confused, and always tell the kids to ask their mother for permission to do anything. From television, movies, and memes, you’d think they were the dominant form of father.
Of course, intermixed into all of that is a Ward Cleaver or Mike Brady with words of wisdom and a martini, but that’s the olden days. It seems that, as time has gone on, men with kids are supposed to exist to tell bad jokes and not know where the peanut butter is.
There are candid pictures of dads wearing their daughters unicorn backpacks during a walk home from school plastered online featuring captions like, “No Matter How Tough You Are, When Your Daughter Asks You To Wear Her Unicorn Backpack, You Do It.” People press little heart buttons next to it and send it down the line. Everyone gives a big “aw”. Look at the man playing parent.
If someone took a picture of a woman holding her son’s catcher’s mitt and said that she was doing something special by this simple act of parenthood, that person would be called a “creeper” and many hashtagged lectures would follow. That person would deserve it too because, well, it’s creepy and sexist.
Just as it is when you do it to the father. You don’t get credit for doing what you’re supposed to do.
Whenever I say this, someone will inevitably say, “Oh. Like that Chris Rock bit.” Yes. Like the Chris Rock bit. It’s the same Chris Rock bit that aired literally 25 years ago on HBO and, apparently, has just sat there while the culture of fatherly acceptance jogged in place. He was right then and he’s right now. You don’t get credit for doing what you’re supposed to do.
When Olivia was younger, I was in charge of her hair before school. Today, at twelve, she wouldn’t let me near it. Back in the elementary years, though, Dad was the hair guy. I was the first one to figure out what products worked best, how much mousse was needed, and the perfect way to scrunch up the back in the palm of my hand to make it spring back right. It was my job and I did it every single day. She would come to me with her hair stuff and I’d proudly oblige. Unless it came up in natural conversation, no one knew about it.
I didn’t do it for the “aw” and I didn’t squirm around and tell her how “out of character” it was for a father to curly his daughter’s hair. Before that time, I didn’t have any experience styling a girl’s hair and I haven’t done it for anyone else since the day she stopped asking. I did it when I did it because I was her father and that’s what fathers do. It’s not even a stretch. It’s part of the job description. It all is.
We had tea parties where I dressed with crowns and pretended to sip from little plastic cups. I have been adorned in the finest costume jewelry and had my nails painted with dry-erase markers. The stuffed animals had voices that I created and I’ve made a rainbow loom or two in my day. We’ve baked, cooked, created cardboard statues, and dressed up Barbies. I did it all for her, not for the reactions.
Frankly, it would have been weird to get a reaction. Had someone jumped out during one of those times and screamed, “Aw! Right in the feels!”, it would have been a reminder that dads aren’t “supposed to” do these things. I didn’t want that reminder to pull me out of the moment. It wouldn’t have been right.
I know the peanut butter is in the cabinet. That’s where I keep it. Even when I was still married, I knew where we kept it because I cooked and baked on a regular basis. It might not have been all the time, but I did it when I did it.
The reason I took care of my kids and do cutesy kid things isn’t for applause. It’s not even because I am supposed to do it out of obligation. I do it because I want to. In fact, I do it because I need to. As their father, something inside me leads me to it and, if I didn’t, I would feel like something was missing from my life.
Applauding dads for the bare minimum does a disservice to every dad out there. It’s not that they don’t deserve it. They do. Moms do too. Anyone who takes care of a child does. It should just be proportioned. It should be expected. When you pretend otherwise, it sends the message that male apathy is the norm and parenting is the anomaly.
By the same token, every mom-centric meme online about “wishing I could sleep as much as my husband does” should get sent to the deleted pile too. Laughing about the do-nothing dads in a way that implies everyone has one is a sad statement on society. Sure, you might have that type of dynamic at your house, but in another house, the mom might be the one dozing through dinner. To assign that type of behavior to a gender is terrible – no matter which gender is getting unfairly lumped into a negative assumption.
Dads need to be dads. Then, when they are, we need to let them. No clapping for taking care of daughters. No laughter when they don’t know how to turn on an oven when their child is hungry. No calling it babysitting when its their own damn kid.
It’s parenthood. If you have a kid, you should do it. Whether you get Father’s Day cards, Mother’s Day cards, or any day cards, it doesn’t matter. If a kid sees you as their care giver, you give care. That’s the whole point.