The following story was submitted by a Fatherly reader. Opinions expressed in the story do not reflect the opinions of Fatherly as a publication. The fact that we’re printing the story does, however, reflect a belief that it is an interesting and worthwhile read.
“Stuck with the kids tonight, huh?” the store employee asked as I walked in with my two small daughters. We were shopping for my wife’s birthday and, having seen a shirt in the store window, popped in to see how much it cost. Maybe it was because it was late. Or because I was tired. Or because I was just trying to get in and out of the store and wasn’t expecting the question, but immediately I wanted to snap back, “What the f&*k is that supposed to mean?” I didn’t. I resisted the urge and instead blurted out, “Yeah, they are my kids. I guess they’re always stuck with me.” He chuckled, and we made our way to the shirt. Too expensive.
It wasn’t the first time a stranger had diminished my role as a dad. I hear it all the time when out with my girls, “Looks like you have your hands full.” And every time, I drop an f-bomb under my breath. I often brush it off with a “Nope, I got this,” but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me question how I’m coming across as a dad, not to mention my actual parenting skills. Does it not look like I have control of the situation? Do I look frazzled? Worse still, do I look like a bad father? I realize it’s just small talk but the self-doubt starts to creep in.
Although, honestly, I’m not sure what’s more frustrating: having people question my ability to parent, or the opposite, being showered with faux praise for doing the littlest damn thing. I can’t go to the grocery store without receiving a hero’s welcome because I’m out shopping with my two kids. On a recent hike with my girls, one woman actually stopped to tell me how brave I was. Yes, hiking with young kids can be an adventure, but really? I’m brave for taking my girls for a casual walk on a path wide enough to land a small plane? I know most people just qualify it all as casual conversation, but it gets old ⏤ and, as an active dad who plays an active role in my kids’ lives, I’m tired of hearing it.
Both views are rooted in the same outdated belief that dads aren’t expected to be involved parents, or know what the hell they’re doing. As long as a father isn’t a complete deadbeat, he gets a pass. We compare men to the worst version of society’s fathers while comparing women to the best version of its mothers. I mean, why do people still look down at stay-at-home mothers for not working while rewarding fathers for doing simple tasks?
This participation-ribbon praise that fathers get for doing the absolute basics has to stop. As does the cliched caricature of dad as a bumbling idiot. Our society needs to redefine its expectations of fatherhood. It should be expected that a father would go grocery shopping with his kids, It should be expected that fathers change diapers, drop their kids off at school, and are actively engaged with their families. My wife is a mom and a nurse who works the night shift at a local hospital. Yet I am the hero for buying frozen peas with two girls in tow? As a society, we have always expected the world from our mothers. Shouldn’t we expect the same from our fathers?
Joshua Brand is trying to find the perfect balance of being a good father and a good husband. He’s an avid sports fan who enjoys exploring Northern California with his two small daughters, drinking craft beer, and channeling a sense of inner peace while riding his bicycle.