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It’s time we do away with the “clueless dad” stereotype

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Dads are not all clueless idiots. They are smart and capable, wise and engaged. My husband certainly is.

Unspoken expectations

Becoming a parent is a huge learning curve. I don’t know what it’s like in other cultures, but in ours there seems to be unspoken expectations that as soon as that baby pops out, women will immediately click into gear and know exactly what to do, and men will be idiots until trained by their expert wives to be otherwise.

It’s true that most women probably read more, obsess more, talk to their friends and mothers more, and likely had more babysitting experience as teenagers. Perhaps that makes women slightly more prepared or in the “know” about the life-changing task at hand. And perhaps that also adds up to unspoken pressures to know exactly what they’re doing, feel like a stellar mother from the get go, and move into their new role with confidence and grace and authority. Dads are expected to trail behind, taking notes and learning from these all-wise and all-knowing maternal figures of perfection.

But something happens when those parents are actually released from the hospital carrying their tiny bundle of joy and looking at each other in delight and disbelief as they realize this is no joke: the reality sinks in that they are now parents and it’s up to them to raise a human-freaking-being.

They might be just as terrified as thrilled.

Figuring out what it means to be a parent

New moms and dads take on many tasks and roles in the days following birth. Some struggle to find their place and their groove, while others struggle to find their confidence or wrestle with the drastic change of roles and pace they’ve found themselves in. Some soldier on, hardly missing a beat, while some feel as if life as they’ve known it is over forever. All deal with a learning curve and then forge ahead, becoming a family and learning how to parent the next generation.

She learns what it is to be a mom; he learns what it is to be a dad. It’s a process of becoming even as it is an event already done. (I’ve been a mom since the day those two lines first appeared, but I became a mom in a whole new way the day my son was placed in to my arms… and I’m also growing into my role of mom all the time.)

We bring our personal expectations and ideals, our worldviews and cultural stereotypes, and our family upbringings and religious experiences into the mix. And so often—in our culture at least—the women are portrayed as confident, superior parents, and dads are portrayed as hopeless unless they are faultlessly carrying out mom’s detailed instructions with fervor, as if we mothers have the corner on good parenting.

Dads are not “Mom’s Assistant”

Women and men alike joke that dad’s at home playing “Mr. Mom” while we’re out for the day. Some joke that dads are “babysitting”, as if they are no more than a hired hand.

All of this joking and stereotyping is doing two things: 1) giving moms a false sense of superiority, which can easily lead to feeling guilty and insecure when she actually doesn’t feel like she’s attained perfection; and 2) undermining dads’ confidence and diminishing their role as “less than”, which can easily lead to them disengaging and feeling inadequate and defeated as if they will never measure up anyway (so why bother?).

This stereotyping is not helpful to us as parents and it’s not fair to our kids.

Men and the notion of “women’s work”

Sure, there was a day (not that long ago) that men really were disengaged. They kept clear of “women’s work” such as childrearing, housekeeping, and ensuring the family is well nourished and fed. But most families I know don’t operate like that any more. In most families I know, work is distributed through the family according to each person’s strengths, job responsibilities, schedules, and seasons. There is give and take and compromise and partnership.

Our families aren’t perfect, and we sometimes still struggle over roles and stereotypes and desires and laziness and faults and weaknesses and expectations and personal ideals. But we struggle together because our families are worth it, our marriages are worth it, our individual sense of purpose and fulfillment are worth it, and our kids’ security and a healthy, loving home environment is worth it.

Of course there are exceptions, but by and large when I look around at my friends—and certainly my own husband—I see the exact same thing…

The kind of dads I see

I see engaged dads, hands-on dads, creative dads, dads who have wisdom to offer in terms of learning styles and discipline issues for their kids. I see crafting dads and carpooling dads, baking dads and tutoring dads. I see dads who are up in the night with babies and dads changing sheets after accidents, dads cleaning up vomit and dads rising early to serve breakfast. I see dads leaving work early to attend recitals and dad’s working late so they can attend a school field trip the next day. I see dads brushing little heads of hair before church, dads pushing double-wide strollers to the park, dads wrapping birthday gifts and dads getting “manicures” from their four-year-olds (and loving every moment).

I see dads going to parent-teacher conferences and dads folding laundry. I see dads who wonder just as much as their wives if they’re doing a good job and who strive to learn and grow in their roles as fathers. I see dads esteeming the work their wives do by rolling up their sleeves and doing it alongside her. I see dads sending their wives to the office and caring for their children by choice and not feeling less of a man because of it, and other dads kissing their wives goodbye each morning to earn a hard wage so she can stay home with the kids (and every combination of the two). I see dads sacrificing, giving, receiving, compromising, and making it work.

I see dads changing the world, one band-aid, one kiss, one storybook and bedtime prayer at a time 

Are we willing to trust our husbands in their role as dads?

I’m about to leave my family for twelve days while I attend a writer’s retreat overseas. Last year I left for three weeks when I went on an outreach to Papua New Guinea as a staff writer and photographer. When I leave Ryan and the kids behind I don’t leave him with a menu plan, a freezer full of meals, four pages of details on the kids routine, and a schedule of park and library outings for them. I don’t hire a cleaning service or put a hold on the mail.

Why? Because I’m not caring? (Duh.) Because I’m not organized enough? (Could be debatable.)

No. The reason I don’t do all that stuff is because Ryan is a grown man—a dad—who knows how to take care of his family. He’s not my assistant. He’s not the second fiddle parent. His job is not to carry out my parenting wishes or to be a substitute mom when I’m away.

He is a dad. A fantastic one.

Engaged dads are becoming the norm. It’s time we recognize and affirm them.

I realize I have an exceptionally great husband (who is also an exceptionally great dad), and so of course my views on this stuff are a little bias.

But I also realize when I look around me that dads like Ryan aren’t that uncommon any more. There are probably a million reasons why this stuff is shifting culturally (some better reasons than others, I’m sure), but this I do know: pegging dads as clueless, hopeless, incompetent idiots does nothing to encourage them in their family roles or empower them as fathers and as men.

They are not Moms’ Assistants; they are Dads. And they are worthy of our honor and affirmation. They might approach things differently and bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table, but—as different as they might be—they are no less important or significant or competent.

And the more we approach these engaged dads as an anomaly, the less room we give them to shine in all they were created to be. And these are the dads we desperately need shining, not only for our own families’ benefit, but so they can also teach the absent or aloof ones what good parenting looks like.

The joke’s not funny anymore

So maybe it’s only lighthearted, but can we work a little harder to keep our flippant joking and teasing and stereotyping in check? Let’s encourage the dads in our lives that they are incredible: smart, capable, wise, tender, creative, strong, loving, nurturing, and excellent at what they do.

(And in the meantime, we moms can simultaneously deal with the unspoken pressures that fool us into thinking we have to walk in perfection and be the authority on all things parenting and children and home. Isn’t that a liberating concept? Perfection is not our standard. This is fantastic news!)

Happy Father’s Day, to amazing dads everywhere

Happy Father’s Day to you, Ryan. No words can express how wonderful I think you are and what a gift you are to the boys and I (and baby!). You make me aspire to be a better person and parent, and I mean that from the depths of my being. Our boys are blessed beyond measure to have you as their role model and it brings me such pleasure to see you walk in the fullness of your calling as a dad to them.

And Happy Father’s Day to all the dads and granddads who are working tirelessly and devotedly to love their families in ways that are life-changing and world-changing, whether it was modeled to them or not.

And a special Father’s Day shout out to the single dads. You are amazing! Everyday heroes! Worthy of our honor and praise! Thank you for parenting well, despite not having a partner alongside you to figure it all out with.

Friends, do you have the kind of husband or dad in your life like I’m talking about? Feel free to brag about what a wonderful father he is in the comments.

Adriel

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14 Comments

  • Reply Becky 12 June 2014 at 6:27 pm

    Ooh, yes! I’ve been pondering on this for a while- all of it. How I married such a great man, what a wonderful father he is and is becoming. How we still look at dads as though they are 90’s TV sitcom characters. Dads aren’t Mom part 2, they are dads (and we need to celebrate what that means). Also, I think we need to embrace that each child needs a dad, or a dad-like individual in their lives. Moms can’t (and shouldn’t try to) do it all. (I say this as a grown up that wasn’t really *allowed* to have a healthy relationship with her dad for whatever reason- I still am not entirely sure why). I think our generation has a lot of stuff to work through in terms of seeing dads as a healthy part of their children’s lives. And we all need to work together to raise up this next generation of dads, teaching them (and letting them learn from their own fathers) to be engaged.
    Becky recently posted..Unburdened: An IntroductionMy Profile

  • Reply Jess Wolstenholm 12 June 2014 at 7:27 pm

    Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. Love this!!
    Jess Wolstenholm recently posted..6 Ways to Facilitate Good, Old-Fashioned Fun this SummerMy Profile

  • Reply Ana Lyman 12 June 2014 at 7:58 pm

    This is awesome.

    I labored into motherhood the total opposite. It’s like we had switched positions. Ty walked in knowing how to change diapers, understanding medicines, how to prevent diaper rashes, and how to get a tiny hand through that impossibly tiny, tight sleeve without harming the babe while I…well…I played with baby dolls as a child, and I figure that counts as my limit of childcare. I never babysat, rarely was around babies, and was more or less clueless. The little dudes actually love it when I’m gone for an extended period of time (not usually more than a few hours because I’m a relatively boring person, lol). Their “daddy time” is special for them, and I love that starry look in their eyes when they get him all to themselves. I know they love me, they look at me with the same love, but Ty is their daddy and their bond is amazing.

    Thank you for writing this Adriel!

  • Reply Anne Winther 13 June 2014 at 2:47 am

    Hi Adriel;-). Couldn’t agree more. Just a comment on shared parenthood when you have a baby: Don’t know if it is possible in most countries but here (Denmark) mom and dad can share the leave (maternaty leave). In our family I have been on leave for six months and after that my husband has been on leave for three months. This has meant for us that we have experienced “both sides” so to speak; the stay at home life where you nurse baby, do laundry and cook and the working life where coming home also means giving your spouse some time of his/her own. Not long ago politicians discussed wheather families should have a bonus when dad takes leave to encourage the shared leave even more. Though it is possible for dad to take leave it doesn’t always mean that it is well look at at work places…

    • Reply Adriel 13 June 2014 at 9:12 am

      Europe is so much more progressive than America on these types of family social issues. The maternity leave there is AMAZING by comparison and it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that you have incentives like this for dads. So good! So healthy!! What a great start to life your kids can have with these options – and how cool for both parents to be able to understand life on the other side of the work/home front. Love!!!
      Adriel recently posted..The only 4 tips you need for flying with babies and small kidsMy Profile

  • Reply Kasey 13 June 2014 at 6:02 am

    Adriel, I love this! My husband, also a Ryan, works so I can stay at home with our almost-two-year old daughter. Since the day she was born everything has been 50/50. He’s a great husband and father. It’s nice having a partner.

    You’ve brought up such a wonderful point about men who are constantly told they can’t be fathers like mothers can be mothers. Of course it would steal their confidence and in turn creates distance between father and kids and husband and wife. I’m definitely sharing this post with my friends. :-)

  • Reply Ruth 25 June 2014 at 10:59 am

    This whole article is amazing but I really clicked with these few sentences:

    “Our families aren’t perfect, and we sometimes still struggle over roles and stereotypes and desires and laziness and faults and weaknesses and expectations and personal ideals. But we struggle together because our families are worth it, our marriages are worth it, our individual sense of purpose and fulfillment are worth it, and our kids’ security and a healthy, loving home environment is worth it.”

    This is so beautifully and articulates my little families life. My husband is fantastic & hands on with our kids in a way that is so different from me! It go a looong way to keeping any controlling tendencies I have in check and reminding me that we’re a team.

  • Reply Anna paul 24 September 2014 at 2:17 am

    Thanks so much, i love my family
    Anna paul recently posted..Jual Mesin Es Krim Kapasitas BesarMy Profile

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