Normalize Involved Dads

When my daughter was born, I remember saying to myself, “This person right here is my legacy. She is my next generation. She will remind me of myself at times. If someone does me wrong in my old age, she will be the one to avenge me.”

Glimpses of Princess Bride ran through my head as I pictured this tiny infant running around, pointing her sword, and declaring her vengeance. I knew, in that moment, how important my baby (and eventually her yet-to-be-born brother) would be to me.

We all do. We get it because we all come from parents. Regardless of who raised us, we all were spawned from a mother and father. Whether that person was good, bad, or in your life, they are the focal point of your story. Everything you do in your existence on Earth begins with them. They are page one of your life’s memoirs.

There’s even a name for those among us who grow up a little whacky. We look and say that he or she has “mommy issues” or “daddy issues.” Absentee parents make great waves in the rivers of those they bring onto the planet. It’s a punchline in life and just like the soccer mom who curses out the referee in front of a team of cringing seven-year-olds, we know that it’s wrong from a young age. We laugh about it.

Then, amazingly enough, so many of us grow up to be that caricature of bad parenting we knew was wrong. We watch as friends we grew up with, having dealt with their own mean-spirited parents, become mean-spirited to their own kids. We watch as other moms and dads scream obscenities at the 2nd grade basketball coach while their child hides in embarrassment. We watch as moms and dads give up on parenting while they’re in the midst of doing it.

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I don’t want my kids to have daddy issues one day. Luckily, so much of what I do for them comes naturally. These are my avengers. These are my little sequels. I owe them my time, energy, and devotion. Even if they asked me not to, I’d still do it. They could cut my out of the lives one day and I’d camp out on their lawn until the police took me away. Then, just like Joe Pesci in Casino, just as I get out of jail, I’d be back on that lawn again.

Yet, for some people out there, that’s not how it should be. After all, doing for our children is more like a woman’s job, right?

Hold up. Don’t start cancelling me just yet. It’s not me saying that, but many I have come into contact with. It just feels like many sometimes-accidental critics discount involved dad to the derision of good parenting. I’ve experienced those people too.

There was the tale of the surly grandmother at preschool pick-up who would glare at me as I stood with my son in his stroller. One day, while helping my daughter with something, his carriage started rolling. I hadn’t noticed until I heard her, five feet away from me, muttering under just her breath, “Losing your stroller. Losing your stroller.” When I noticed and grabbed it, I stared at her with the same look you would.

There was the case of the school administrator when my special needs son was setting up his schooling who, when I called on the phone, couldn’t fathom that I was the one doing it. She asked where Lucas’s mom was and whether she would be calling in. When I said she wouldn’t, she stopped cold and then let out a bizarre laugh before saying, “Ha ha. That’s OK. We like dads here too!”

I’ve been on parental text chains for years that still had each new post begin with “Good day, ladies”. I get it.

Even when people don’t say anything to me, I still see it on a regular basis. Awful memes from mommies who need vodka declare, “I wish I could sleep as well as my husband does!” That’s funny to read at four in the morning on my phone as I sit next to my non-verbal son, trying to coax him back to sleep. I laugh like a school administrator with a rolling stroller, I tell ya.

When I’m done with those memes, I get to see the ones that show a dad holding his daughter’s unicorn backpack with captions like “so cute”. How so? Is it the gender roles? Is a woman CEO “so cute” because it wasn’t common in the 1950s? Seems to follow the same logic. Neither are cute because both are viable things for men and women to be. Dads aren’t putting on a show. We’re just being dads.

Having a teenage daughter means that I’ve played princess during my life, attended tea parties, and talked about biological things that men on TV comically wince their faces at. I’ve run the gamut. Nothing is off-limits when it comes to what my daughter can talk to me about. It’s my job. I’m supposed to be one of the main people to guide her though life.

My kids are my world. They will be the ones who remain when I’m gone and the victories, pitfalls, and life lessons I experience will be retold by them when day. I am more important to these two people than I ever have been to anyone else in my life. I know that. I recognize that.

All dads should recognize that. The low expectations that the community has for fathers almost acts like their get-out-of-jail free card. While plenty of moms out there bite the big one in terms of their parenting skills too, they at least get more grief for it. Men, it seems, are expected to do next to nothing and, unfortunately, some can’t even reach that level.

That doesn’t mean good, solid, and involved dads don’t exist. They do. We need more of them and we need more people to let them be just that. To all the fathers and mothers out there who fully understand their shared gender-neutral roles of importance for their kids, thank you. For all those who allow them to be those roles without trying to push one gender away, thank you too. Our kids need every person they can get.

 

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