Dads Need to Help Themselves

It’s Friday which means it’s Fatherhood Friday over at Dad-Blogs, where the wicked cool dad (and mom) bloggers hang out and showcase our insane talents as bloggers and writers. When you’re done here, head there.

Shawn over at Backpacking Dad had a really thought-provoking post dealing with immersed parents, feminism and one of his solutions to the problem of non-involved fathers. Among other things, he’s calling for women and mothers everywhere to stop any and all negative blogging concerning the parental shortcomings of their husbands. He feels it perpetuates the “Everybody Loves Raymond” stereotype that fathers are nothing but buffoons, who are too far removed from being an involved parent. But even if this stereotype is true, Shawn contends that mommy bloggers shouldn’t write about it because it just serves to tear away at the father’s already diminished parenting capabilities. Instead, he said it is up to feminists everywhere to assist failing fathers instead of tearing them down.

While I agree with a lot of the points he makes, I completely disagree with this particular theory.

Look, we all know there are more and more stay at home dads these days for a variety of reasons. Some just really want to be involved parents while others are doing it out of necessity because of the failing economy. And yes, this new crop of immersed fathers is up against some resistance from not only men, but strangely enough, mothers. Some moms are firmly entrenched in traditional gender roles and they think parenting is their turf. To them, stay at home dads are an affront to the parenting community and therefore they are met with derision and skepticism. It’s almost as if they think these dads have chosen to be lazy and they’re using this newfound daddy gig to cruise the neighborhood for poor, unsuspecting MILFs.

That is wrong, and that mentality has to be broken down and fixed. But unlike Shawn, who puts the onus for societal change on feminists, women and mothers in general, I think it is up to us dads.

One thing I’ve noticed since becoming a father is that expectations for dads couldn’t be any lower. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me over the last 18 months and lauded me for being such a great dad, simply because I’m taking Will for a walk or I take him to a local play group. One woman who saw me changing a diaper at a restaurant stopped me and said “that’s just fantastic that you help your wife with diapers.” If I wasn’t so stunned I probably would’ve replied with something witty, but I was stopped in my tracks.

After all, no one goes up to a mom changing a diaper in public and comments on what a great job she’s doing. And why is that? Because moms are expected to engage in diaper changes, dressing the baby, feedings and most other caretaking responsibilities.

But dads? Society thinks so little of fathers that anything we do — even the tiniest effort we put forth — is celebrated and applauded. Some may think that’s a good thing because it means we can put in minimal effort with maximum praise. It’s like getting 500 points on your SATs just for spelling your name right. And not to get too off topic, but that makes “dead beat dads” even more deplorable because we live in a society that barely expects anything from us as fathers. But I think this  system is the root of the problem, and dads are the ones who need to fix it.

I think all dads need to take a good long look in the mirror and really evaluate their fatherly contributions. Dads can’t come home from work, give the baby a bath and go to bed feeling good about themselves thinking they made an ample contribution. And just because you changed a couple of diapers over the years doesn’t make you an involved parent.

We have to hold ourselves to higher standards. Sure most of us have to work all day but we can still stay involved. If your wife stays home with the baby call her a couple times a day and see how things are going. Just because you’re not there doesn’t mean you can’t still be a part of what’s happening. If the kid is at day care, make it a point to visit with the provider or call him/her up to get a first-hand account of how your child is faring and the specifics of what they’re doing. Go to the doctor’s appointments and learn about vaccination schedules. Do some research online about milestones and what your kid should be doing when. Change diapers on a regular basis and learn what constitutes a regular poop and when your kid is crapping strangely. Focus on nutrition and know what your kid is eating, don’t just rely on mom cooking everything for him/her.

And yes, we will need the help of mothers here. We need moms to be accepting of involved dads instead of suspicious. More importantly, moms will be required to relinquish some control and loosen their grip on the parenting reins. I know for a fact this may be the single biggest obstacle for mothers. Because even the ones who wish their husbands would do more to help out, often have big problems when dad starts to take over and change the way mom has been handling everything. But if dads are to step up, moms need to be willing to move over and make way.

However, unlike Shawn, I think asking women to censor themselves is a big mistake. Sure there are some annoying mommy bloggers out there who constantly bitch and complain about their husbands, and that can become tiresome. However, it might also be deserved. And let’s not forget, not all criticism is negative. If MJ had a blog and I read something about how I wasn’t performing my duties as a dad, I might take it to heart and learn from it. But in the end, I’m a freedom of speech guy and I think asking people to censor their thoughts never leads anywhere positive.

But the bulk of the responsibility to institute change is squarely on the shoulders of fathers. We need to stop doing the minimum. We need to be partners in parenting instead of just part-time contributors. That doesn’t mean every guy has to be a stay at home dad by any stretch of the imagination, but it does mean making your role as father the top priority. It means you’re thinking about your kid all the time and making it mandatory to stay perpetually involved. And unfortunately, it means dealing with long-held stereotypes — even from the women who have asked us to get more involved — and not backing down from them.

Although women can help us achieve this, fundamental change has to be instituted by the people seeking it. So dads, let’s be better. Let’s be persistent and unwavering in our desire to make men equal partners in parenting. Let’s make involved dads the industry standard.

It starts with each of us in our own homes. So let’s do it.

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12 thoughts on “Dads Need to Help Themselves

  1. I read both entries (yours & his) and I agree with you completely. Making anecdotes out of a parenting mistake (women make them too and no one complains when daddy bloggers point out their wives’ mistakes!) is not the same thing as saying that men are incompetent. My husband is highly competent and the most involved male parent that I know but he still does things that make me shake my head and if I want to (and he doesn’t mind) then I am going to share it. I’m sure he tells his friends all about the things that I do, too. As far as I’m concerned, any dad who is scared away from involved parenting by the comments of a mommy blogger is probably just looking for an excuse not to be involved anyway. If someone was sitting around telling me I sucked at something I would get up off my ass and prove them wrong. But maybe that’s just me.

  2. You’ve misunderstood the point of that post. It wasn’t about placing onus on feminists for problems fathers face. It was about problems that feminists face, and how this one behaviour on the part of feminists (and other, non-feminists, but they aren’t the target) undermines the goals of feminism.

    I never say anywhere that the root cause, the main cause, the most important cause of the culture of the Buffoon Father is women complaining on their blogs about their husbands. I don’t look for the root cause at all. The post was very narrowly targeted from a feminist persepctive to feminists about feminist problems. It’s point is not to figure out how to get more dads involved; it’s point is to figure out if some feminists are doing something to KEEP them from getting involved.

  3. Duly noted.

    But what I was taking issue with and expanding on in my post was this statement from yours: “If your husband needs help or training in parenting then help him, but don’t shame him as a parent.” My contention is it’s up to the fathers to train themselves. Now granted there are extenuating circumstances here that will differ in each individual case.

    Is a mother shaming a father as a parent if she’s excoriating him while he’s genuinely trying to learn something but failing? Yes. But if a woman complains about her husband because he’s not trying and not putting in any effort, then I think that’s valid criticism. And it should not be withheld from the blogosphere simply because it might potentially undermine all of the Immersed Fathers out there.

    I’m sorry if you feel I misinterpreted the point of the post, but I wanted to link to it because I thought it was extremely well written and one of the few things I’ve read on a blog lately that had me thinking for days afterward.

    Thanks for commenting.

  4. Thank you for the kind words.

    But I don’t say anything in the post about the duty the father has to train himself. Most importantly, I don’t say anything about the father LACKING a duty to train himself, or to seek help on his own. That statement you quote isn’t about the father’s duty, it’s about taking what some women are doing and offering them an alternative to their behaviour: help him, don’t shame him. What HE does is irrelevant to the post. He could have the biggest burden of all to learn how to do everything he needs to do, and that wouldn’t change the fact that it’s better for her to help him than shame him.

    And whether the criticisms are valid or not are irrelevant, when you remember that the post is directed at feminists and those who share the goal of a rationally-based gender equality. Because even if it’s valid it is still completely undermining, not of Immersed Fathers (although it is that), but of the goal of equality. And not even because it belittles fathers and might make them feel icky and belittled, but because if it continues the home front will continue to be seen, popularly, as a weomen’s realm in which father’s are awkward aliens and fewer dads will want to enter into it. And if fewer dads enter that lifestyle then they are not going to pick of the perspective they would need in order to help feminists achieve broader gender equality. The point is that if feminists don’t stop it then they are shooting themselves in the foot. No matter what fathers themselves do. And if they don’t want to shoot themselves in the foot then they should pay attention.

    So it’s not simply that the criticism should be withheld from the blogosphere because it might undermine Immersed Fathers. It should be withheld from the blogosphere by those who have committed themselves to broader goals than just getting things off their chests.

  5. Great post! It has definitely got me thinking. As fathers we do need to be at the forefront in decision making for our children, as well as involved in the doctors visits, and checking on them if they are in daycare, etc. Many dads do leave this up to the moms, and it not only leaves them without assistance, but also personifies the “Raymond” mentality. I haven’t personally delved into this topic in the past in my blog, mostly because of the time it takes to coordinate the thoughts and put it on paper, but too have thought about it many times as to where our roles as fathers lie. Way to say it clearly! -Jason

  6. Glamour Girl – STOP, he’ll run! Seriously.

    Side note – my Captch is “58 throbs”, Aaron, do you get to make these up!?!?

  7. Some guys are very involved, wonderful fathers, and some guys just plain suck as fathers. There’s a wide spectrum in between. Bitching about it in a blog post isn’t going to change much, so I don’t really understand why some mommy bloggers go there. I have to say that I don’t read any blogs where that happens, and I probably never will.

    My husband is a great father, who spends all of his free time with our son and even takes him to work with him, so I never complain about him in that respect. If only I could get him to take over the homework duty, he would be the perfect father and husband 😉

  8. ((I wanted to e-mail you – but I don’t see a way to do that – So…..sorry this ‘post’ is an e-mail))

    I sent this same e-mail to Backpacking Daddy — I just wanted to take a moment and tell you something. You may not give a shit – but then again you might…(SMILE)

    For several months I’ve wanted to start a blog, but had way too many ideas – but no burning ‘fire’.

    Then I ran across your post on Sept. 18. I truly do not recall the topic, nor would I comment on it – but as I “watched” each of you comment back and forth I suddenly had the most amazing idea….and I acted on it.

    ((Follow me here)) I created a blog for fathers who want to be Dads. I grew up a fatherless daughter – and have been amazed by the impact the lack of a strong male role model can have on a child – especially a girl. If even ONE father looks at my blog and says,”Wow, I did not realize how much I impact my daughter.” Then telling my story will be well worth it.

    My blog is less than a week old, but I just ‘know’ that it is the right thing at the right time.

    So…..just wanted to let you know…..your blog and (great) fathering skills caused a EUREKA!….that inspired me to create a blog – that MAY help some wonderfully amazing little girls get the love they ALL deserve.

    Peace ~ Maggie Beth

  9. That’s great Maggie Beth. But you forgot to leave the url so we can all link to it! Post it as a comment and I’ll check it out ASAP.

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