Since becoming a father – and a father who spends most of his time with or near his kids – I have come to find that a number of stereotypes exist about fathers. I suppose that if I’d thought about it I might have guessed at this, but as a fatherless guy myself, I never gave it a second thought.
It’s pretty obvious that even with more and more women in the workplace and more and more stay-at-home-dads, the doting housewife cliché is still shockingly ubiquitous, even while having less and less merit. I had never really considered the fact that there are stereotypes for fathers too: the buffoonish, slovenly, football-watching to the exclusion of responsibility, scheming guy who still somehow manages to be the main bread winner has been the standard sitcom trope since Mike Brady rode off into the sunset. And even then, fathers just a generation or two ago would not be the types of dads to babywear, let alone wear super-hero costumes while shopping.
Enter my people: the Generation Xers, Yers, and the Millennials. Yes, when not busy arguing that vinyl sounds better or buying back our He-Man action figures on eBay, we (for the most part) are busy breaking stereotypes and redefining gender roles. Stay-at-home daddery is at its highest level ever, and I see more dads involved more intimately with their kids than even a decade or two ago.
That said, I was a bit taken aback by the comments I started receiving pretty much the first time I set foot outside with my twin boys and sans wife.
“Giving your wife a day off, huh?”
“It’s nice to see a dad out with his kids/I wish more dads were like you.”
“Where’s your wife?”
“I bet they like getting to hang out with dad once in a while!”
I admit, I’ve never seen a guy out with his kids and wondered any of that. Fatherhood stereotypes aside, these kinds of comments don’t take into account single dads, widowers, gay dads, mannies, cousins, uncles, godfathers, or wizard/apprentice relationships.
At first, I started to get offended, both on my behalf and my wife’s. Why would people automatically assume we fit into clichéd gender roles? When I’m out with the boys on a Tuesday afternoon and someone asks if I’m “giving my wife a day off,” are they assuming that not only is she a stay-at-home mom, but that I’m taking time off of work to relieve her? Do they think we’re both unemployed? That my wife is so in need of rest that she had to twist my arm to get me to relieve her of her babies for an afternoon? Does having a day off mean she also doesn’t have to have a martini and fresh-baked pie ready for me when I get home?
What little offense I did take subsided pretty quickly, and for three reasons:
- There are years and years (like, all the years ever) of gender roles to work against. People – especially people over a certain age – have certain ideas in mind about who does what in a family. Their friends and families are all that way, and they might not have their fingers on the pulse of today’s modern family.
- It doesn’t hurt me. Racial stereotypes, sexual stereotypes, educational, class, income, physical – these are actually harmful. Even the stereotypes regarding what a woman’s role in the home is harmful, in that they are reducing a woman’s job to housewifery and mothering. Assuming that I’m not the primary caretaker (or that I’m taking the day off work or off of watching football to spend time with my kids) might be outdated, ignorant, and annoying, but it doesn’t hold me back or (in my opinion) even devalue my caretaking. If, as a dad, I correct someone and tell them I spend most of my time with our boys, they will most likely applaud me for being an involved father. At the worst, they might think I’ve been emasculated, but I know I haven’t been so who cares. However, if a woman says she is away from her kids most of the week to work, takes up time and space at her job to pump, or “makes” her partner stay home, she is often viewed as a poor mother. Women in the workforce without kids take enough crap from men, and even other women, as it is. When they have children and continue to work, (terrible) people just see them as failing in every aspect of a woman’s role. Those are harmful stereotypes. Thinking that I can’t put together outfits for my kids because I’m a guy really doesn’t ruffle my feathers.
- They’re partly true, at least in my case. I can’t put together outfits. I pretty much forget one thing (see blog title) every time I leave the house with them. And frankly, I flat-out don’t know as much as my wife does about babies, kids, and parenting. I’ve read some books and watched some videos and even been to a couple of classes, but wife has read ALL the books and seen ALL the videos and been to ALL the classes (except a babywearing class; only I’ve done that, what what!). She has thought about being a mother since she was a kid. She babysat and voluntarily held babies when the opportunity presented itself. Being a mom is in her DNA, while I didn’t think seriously about what having babies actually meant until we decided to start trying.
I never would have thought that this issue would warrant heated Internet debate, but it has because of course. We have one side that thinks any joke at the expense of dads is rude at best and setting a terrible example for our kids at worst. Then we have the “calm down, it’s just a joke” side. Commercials in particular are a hot-button item; there’s a great neutral article on both sides of TV commercial gender role issue here; yes, women are often portrayed a certain way in ads, too, and that way is usually as a modern Donna Reed.
For me, being a dad is rolling with the jokes while working to defy the stereotypes and raising my boys with their mom and me as their role models; not sitcom and commercial characters.