By Eric Koelma | Dare List Dad
It all started with a comment while I was out for a walk:
“Oh, you’re a good father for giving your wife a sleep in.”
I bit my tongue (rather hard).
It didn’t seem like the context to spray her with my irate feelings at such an innocent passing comment. She meant it kindly, but far out was she wrong.
And so in my head I thought “how DARE you label me a ‘good father’!”
You might think that’s either weird or an over-reaction, or both.
But here’s why it sent me into a rage:
1. It’s so damn patronising
I don’t need a pat on the head from some old lady stranger telling me I did a good job. I am out walking with my son. No one needs a medal here. Or even a compliment. It’s an everyday activity (or at least it should be).
2. Is the bar really that low?
Are dads really that shit at parenting in our society that to go for a walk with your child is something that needs comment and needs to be congratulated like this? What happened to responsibility? Is the assumption that I must usually be some incessantly irresponsible dad who takes no responsibility for my role as a father? Not every dad is Homer Simpson or Peter Griffin you know…
3. Why assume that my wife is sleeping in?
On this one particular day she was. But that's beside the point. That was only because we’d been working until 2AM the night before. Having a little one means we have a system where we work all kinds of stupid hours and therefore take shifts entertaining our son while the other works. To assume my wife is lazy is a double insult now and not one I'm taking lightly.
4. If my wife was walking with him, would anything have been said?
I know the answer. No it would not. It is expected in our society that the mum will do all of the child rearing and the dad just works to sustain everything. The expectation is unfortunately so normal. It’s a thankless job for mums, who work bloody hard with their kids to provide a safe, loving environment for them to grow up and learn. In contrast though, it seems like if the dad even lifts a finger, there’s a need for a fricken medal ceremony and tickertape parade through the streets.
It's a problem-riddled cycle...
If we feel the insidious need to use this label of "good father" for taking on the responsibility (that we have chosen) then it’s only going to perpetuate the problem:
1. Fathers free-wheeling it based on expectations of society/other fathers, which leads to;
2. Dad only lifting a finger every now and again and feeling like that’s enough, which leads to;
3. Mums doing everything and feeling overwhelmed, which leads to;
4. Forcing the Dad to take the kid for a walk so Mum can sleep in, which leads to;
5. Getting complimented for being out with their own children, like some kind of hero, which leads to;
6. Feeling like their ‘parenting’ work is done for this month, so time to free wheel...
So, what's a better response to dads being... dads?
Start taking responsibility for being a father. It’s not baby sitting if it’s your own kid. Get out and about and discover the unique individual that is your child/ren. They are amazing, inquisitive little beings with real needs for interaction with a solid father figure who shows an interest and loves them. If someone compliments you for being a "good father", immediately call your partner and tell her she does a great job.
Stop feeling like you need to do everything. If you have been doing everything while your partner watches TV or plays Xbox, get him off the thing and encourage activities together as a family so Dad feels confident going out on his own with the kids.
Instead of applauding a father for being out on their own, make it normal so it’s not some kind of special occasion. Instead just say “morning” and be on your merry way old lady stranger.
The next time you see a dad out with his kid, doing normal dad stuff, being involved and engaged, I dare you NOT to congratulate him on being a good father.
Have you ever been told you were a 'good father'? What was your response?
Eric is husband to Grace and Dad to Leo, exploring the world and doing everything he can to align the travel itinerary with world sporting events (hello Tour de France!). He's all logical precision and epic decision-making. Eric's also a rare kind of super-human who works best between 9pm and 2am, and still manages to get up early and chase that wilful toddler, WITHOUT coffee (he hates the stuff!)