I was looking for an activity to do with my youngest child on a hot summer day a few years ago. She was only two and toddling around the house was becoming a bore. I decided that I would start taking her regularly to the library for story time. At story time they would read books and sing songs while dancing around. I loved watching her interact with the other kids and when the story would begin, she would scoot forward so close she would practically be touching the librarian’s shoes trying to get a closer look at the pictures.
I’ve been reading to my kids ever since they were in the womb knowing that it was good for them to hear my voice even before they were born. We’ve been reading to them every day since before bed as part of our bedtime routine. Literacy starts with just hearing the words you are saying to them. I can still recite Goodnight Moon and I Know a Rhino by heart because I’ve read them thousands of times.
On a typical day at the library I would most often be the only dad there, surrounded by moms and their children and nannies caring for someone else’s children. On this particular day they were stressing the importance of literacy and how to help your child become a better reader. So, when it came time for the librarian to pass out the pamphlets I was interested to see what tips they suggested.
The librarian walked around passing out the pamphlets to each mom, grandma, and nanny in turn. She came around the oddly shaped semicircle and stopped in front of me and said “Uh, Do you want one?”
Um, “Yes, I would like one please” I responded. She didn’t ask anyone else if they wanted one and I considered for a moment that maybe the response she was looking for was more along the lines of “Me read good. Make fire. Go hunt later.” I didn’t get why I was singled out but tried not to let it bother me though it did. I was singled out just because I am a dad. Unfortunately sometimes the way men are perceived when it comes to raising the kids we seem more like an afterthought.
I’ve heard lots of snide comments about being a stay at home dad some of which assume that I do nothing all day but play video games and scratch my nether regions while the kids may be out in the garage tinkering with the chainsaw. Well I have news for those people, it’s not all donuts with dad and daytime television. It’s filled with breakfast, getting the kids dressed, school lunches and homework. It’s wondering if what I’m doing at home is preparing them for life. It’s talking with them to find out how their day was. There is nothing that happens in my day that revolves around my gender. I’m a parent too.
This disregard for dads didn’t stop when the kids grew older. Fast forward a few years to my youngest first starting school and emails that were supposed to be for all parents went to only the moms instead. It’s also been a battle with schools to get them to call me first and my wife second. She’s at work and I am the one at home managing the household. There’s a good reason I put a number one next to my name and a two next to hers. She is quick to point out to people who don’t seem to get it to call me first instead of her. “Oh, my son is sick in the nurses office? You better call my husband, he’s in charge.” Don’t bother calling my wife while she is working to support our family. I’m your huckleberry.
I’ve always maintained this attitude about gender roles and parenting “We are all parents” so let’s start treating moms and dads the same. As Liz Henry of The Good Mother Myth stated in her post “What if moms were treated like dads this school year?” we need to include dads whether they are working or not, that they aren’t special unicorns when they appear at their child’s school. Don’t celebrate the fact that I am there because it isn’t about me. I’m there for my child. There are so many more like me. We aren’t the dads of old assuming our spouses will handle it all while the dog fetches our slippers. To quote Scott Behson from this past National At Home Dad Network Convention, “Almost every dad I know is putting in the work to be a loving, hands on, involved dad.” Dads who are present and actively engaged dads have in interest in knowing what goes on in their children’s lives, nothing more.
What it will take are dads stepping up into roles where they usually weren’t before. Getting involved in your child’s school PTA or skipping the lunchtime golf and volunteering in the classroom instead can go a long way. I’ve been to enough corporate lunches to know that there is some wiggle room in there to operate and make it work. If you can find the time to chaperon a field trip or just be a mystery reader it goes a long way in a child’s life to see a parent in their school for something other than open house night.
Dads unfortunately can be seen as second class parents because of the roles we used to fill. In the past we’d often defer to our spouses claiming we weren’t in charge of raising the kids and say we only helped in making them. The 1950’s dad would rather hide behind a newspaper instead of play on the floor with their little tykes. It just isn’t that way anymore. I see more dads at the playground and at story time than I ever have before. Now when I attend school functions, it’s not just the moms running the show anymore. It’s not because we feel we can lift your burden but instead lift up our children by showing them that we care.
This year, I volunteered to be on the parent board for my daughter’s preschool. It’s just me and a dozen moms but my contribution has changed the question from “Do we have any volunteers to be the room mom?” to “Do we have any volunteers to be the room parent?” It’s small but significant change in the way we perceive dads and their roles as parents and not just as an accomplice to mom. It’s that change in perception that will have a butterfly effect when it comes to dads being regarded as an equal partner in the raising of the children. Isn’t it about time we recognize involved dads as the new normal?