Father of the Year
“Wow…Father of the Year!”: said to me when taking 4 kids to have their pictures taken while The Good Doctor was at a work function
“You’re such a great dad”: said to me while at the library or park with the kids.
“Super Dad!”: Said to me on several occasions, probably when I was doing something completely normal, bordering on pedestrian.
“Great Job Mr. Mom:” said as walked through a parking lot with all 4 kids.
All these superlatives were freely offered to me by mostly women (and a few men) as I was doing something normal that parents do. Going to the grocery store, going to the library. Trying to entertain the kids with a fun activity. To be clear, I am not rejecting these labels. I am rather fabulous, and who wouldn’t want a little sincere positive reinforcement throughout the day? Rarely, however, do I ever hear anyone say these things to women while I am out and about. And I am often in proximity with other moms and their kids. Note: I don’t consider Mr. Mom a superlative. It is a misnomer. I’m a dad and I don’t call my wife Mr. or Dr. Dad because she works outside the home.
This one-sided praise really speaks to society’s lowered expectations of fathers in general and heightened expectations of moms. Although times, they are a-changin’ it is not uncommon for the Dad of mainstream TV and movies to be a punch line–an incompetent bumbler who serves merely as a foil to the competent mom figure. Kids TV does this too. I’m looking at YOU every Disney tween sitcom ever made. I do agree that there are many times in life when my wife is the far more capable of the two of us (i.e. see the word “doctor” in The Good Doctor, as well as the many times she is more patient, supportive and organized than I) but there are many times when we jointly address family needs. And yes there are even times when I do some things better than she does. Society at large, though, still seems to award 5-k participation trophies to dads for showing up while withholding a mom’s accolade because they didn’t run a marathon. So many mothers (whether they have kids or serve as a mother role to kids) are some of the best people in our society. They deserve our praise and encouragement too.
The mom/dad compliment and expectation gap is also an issue at church. Having just celebrated Mother’s Day I heard so many stories of women in our congregation, people on Facebook or from the “bloggernacle” (nickname for the Mormon blogosphere due to the famous Tabernacle in SLC) who choose not to come to church on Mother’s day for various reasons. I have yet to hear a story of a man who doesn’t go to church on Father’s Day, although there most likely are some. My wife has also attended functions by herself and people ask “Who has the kids tonight?.” The response “home with their father” should not evoke fear and trembling. My wife and I are not going to use our hard-to-schedule baby sitter for the month’s book club/bread demonstration/fitness presentation/emotional well-being seminar/ice sculpture class. Dad’s can do it–they do it all the time. Differently perhaps than how Mom does it but it is done just the same.
Complimenting parents for parenting things can be fine if done wisely. I recently took the kids to the pool and as we were leaving a mom said to me “Wow, you are very brave taking 4 to the pool.” and to the kids “Looks like you had a big outing with Dad!” I have a hard time splitting the hairs as to why this comment felt different to me than the typical “father of the year” comment but it did. I think we should recognize all parents for doing things that parents do. I fully recognize however, that comments or compliments poorly given can feel like a referendum on another person’s parenting, which is never good since we never have the full story. My response to most comments is usually the same–a smile, a thank you and reminding myself that they meant it in the best way possible.
Since this is my quasi Father’s Day post let’s wrap it up with Dads. Given the fact that dad’s “can’t do anything”, or dad’s “don’t know how to parent today”, I love it when TV shows and commercials get it right. This TV commercial from Cheerios was a favorite of mine when it came out–both as a marketer and a student of pop culture. Although I don’t think I am cool enough to be this dad, I think the commercial does a good job representing the spectrum of activities and responsibilities shouldered by many dads today.
I also think of my dad who served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force and then found other employment to support our family once he retired. Yes he was gone on TDYs in the military or work trips later, but I remember him being involved. He attended our concerts, volunteered when he could and did his fair share of things around the house. When we lived in Germany and my mom went back to Utah for 2 weeks because her father was ill. I missed my mom, but I wasn’t worried that we would starve because dad had to do the cooking. He took great care of us and, perhaps more importantly, he and my mom taught us how to take care of ourselves. In fact, I think we did most of the cooking during those 2 weeks and he was a good sport because we kept making pizza and home-made mac and cheese. A lot. He just ate it and said thanks even though mac and cheese wasn’t his favorite (no he was not a communist–he just didn’t prefer mac and cheese).
So this Father’s Day I am grateful that times are changing and fathers both can and are expected to be involved and capable. These random superlatives remind me both that we still have a way to go and that we can dish out respectful praise to any parent (mom or dad) who needs it to keep going. I am grateful for my Dad and the example of hard work and service that he gave me. He taught me dads can do great things. He taught me “How to Dad” although I didn’t realize it at the time.
Perhaps with his example, the support of my wife and the love of my kids I really can earn the title “Father of the Year.”