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I’m a stay-at-home dad. People say all kinds of dumb things to stay-at-home dads. This blog began as a way for me to record these comments and criticize the people who said them. However, it's evolved, and I now use it to express other random thoughts on parenting, children, gender, and society. Thanks for checking it out.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

“Father of the Year”

I almost feel bad writing about this one, because the lady who said it really did mean it as a compliment. She didn’t intend to simultaneously degrade all fathers and mothers everywhere. But she kind of did.

It happened a few weeks ago, when I was at a restaurant with my kids. It was just the three of us: me, my 5-year-old, and my 9-month-old. My wife was in the midst of a busy period at work, and, for the second time that week, she’d be home rather late. It always feels a bit pointless to cook a substantial dinner on nights like that, as I’m the only adult around to enjoy it, so I figured we’d dine out instead. Let someone else do the cooking and wash the dishes, and let the kids be distracted and entertained by the many sights and sounds of “da westawant,” as my son fondly calls it.

We were sitting at the outside patio—my son enjoying his buttered noodles and fruit salad and me skillfully eating a black bean burger with my daughter squiggling on my lap—when a lady sat down at the table next to ours. I was taken aback, because she was a dead ringer for Margot Kidder. For those of you unfamiliar with Margot Kidder, she played Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies in the ‘70s and ‘80s. She also went bat-shit crazy in the ‘90s. This lady at the restaurant looked like the ‘90s Margot Kidder. We’ll refer to her simply as “Bonkers.”

Left: Young, graceful Margot Kidder. Right: Old, crazy Margot Kidder.
Bonkers noticed my little family and seemed excited by us. She energetically asked me, “Are you out to eat with both of your kids?”

“Yes, I am,” I replied.

“Wow! You’re Father of the Year!” Bonkers declared with a slightly-psychotic smile.

I smiled back and thanked her. She stared at us for a while and then periodically glanced over and smiled adoringly throughout the rest of our time together. I was a bit frightened but mostly flattered.

I knew she was just being nice. She was congratulating me on my bravery for taking two young children out in public with no assistance. And, for a moment, I bought it. “Yeah, I am Father of the Year,” I thought, smugly helping myself to another sweet potato fry. But it didn’t take long before my general dislike of people kicked in, and I recognized how unfair her statement was.

This amazing feat that I was pulling off? This “Father of the Year” display I was exhibiting? Moms do it all the time, and nobody seems to notice. This lady sees a dad doing it, and it’s the greatest thing she’s ever witnessed.
Do I really deserve one of these? Probably not.

Yes, it can be difficult to handle a 5-year-old and a 9-month-old at a restaurant. So I hope the next time Bonkers sees a mom doing that, she flashes her a creepy grin and declares her Mother of the Year.

But that never happens. In fact, I’ll tell you another story. A few days later, all four of us—my wife included—were out to dinner at a restaurant to celebrate Mother’s Day. Our 9-month-old was especially cranky that evening, and she refused to sit in the restaurant’s highchair without crying, pounding her fists, and letting everyone around her know what awful, selfish parents we are for asking her to sit quietly for ten minutes while we eat our meals. So, my wife and I took turns eating. My wife ate first while I carried the baby around, making silly faces at her and pointing out distractions like ceiling fans and crappy wall paintings with my best faux enthusiasm. Then, when my wife finished eating, she grabbed the baby and returned the favor so I could eat.

While I walked around with my daughter, I caught some man who was standing at the bar beaming warmly at me. When I got closer to him, he said, “You’re a good dad.” Of course, I thanked him. But when my wife walked around with the baby, he said no such thing to her. And he had the opportunity to say it, as she walked right past him. When we left the restaurant after finishing our meal, he saw me carrying the baby in her car seat, and he said it again.

But no compliment for my wife. Not even a “Happy Mother’s Day.”

“What about me?” my wife asked me. “Am I not a good mom?”

Sorry, honey. That’s how double standards work. You don’t get any praise; all that hard work and dedication to your children is just expected of you.

Here’s yet another example, brought to you by Facebook. One night, around 8:00, a friend and mother of two posted something along the following lines:

“Whew! So thankful for my wonderful husband Larry, who’s taking over bath and bedtime duty with the boys so Mommy can get some alone time at the gym! Feeling blessed.”

The comments came pouring in, from men and women alike:

“What a great dad!!!”
“Awwww! Lucky girl!”
“Good guy you’ve got there. Hang on to him. ;)”
“So great that Larry will do that for you!”

In other words, 364 nights a year, this lady bathes her kids and puts them to bed, usually after working her full-time job. Then, one night, her husband takes over, and he’s elevated to superhero status.

Like Bonkers’s Father of the Year proclamation and bar dude’s “You’re a good dad,” this Facebook BS is an insult to both sexes.

It’s an insult to women because it reinforces the outdated idea that it’s their job to take care of the kids while the men do whatever it is they do—work, eat, drink, perhaps relax with a pipe and the evening newspaper. When people subscribe to this kind of thinking, mothers who aren’t constantly nurturing their children are seen as being bad at “their job.” That’s right, ladies. You don’t get time to enjoy a meal, read a few pages of a favorite book, or—heaven forbid—have a career. Your proper place is in your house, bent over the side of a tub, washing your screaming two-year-old. Whatever other silly endeavors you take on, child-rearing is still all on you.

It’s an insult to men because it implies an expectation of incompetence or indifference. Even though someone might mean it as a compliment, they’re also saying, “Gee, seeing as how you’re a man and all, I would expect you to be a bumbling idiot or just not give a shit about your own kids. But look at you! Way to go, you big, loveable dummy!”

So, the moral of the story is this: Don’t compliment anyone. No, that can’t be it. I guess you should just think before you speak. And maybe try gradually shedding whatever archaic ideas about gender roles you’re still carrying around in 2014. It’s not easy, I know. These ideas are reinforced everywhere: our upbringing, our peers, TV, movies, advertising. Everywhere. But you can do it if you put forth a conscious effort.

I mean, if a moron like me can figure out how to clothe and feed my children, anything’s possible, right?

1 comment:

  1. Dave, you've nailed it once again. Good job making us all think before we speak.