But it’s relative.
Over the 34 months that I’ve been a father, one thing has become clear to me: the bar for fatherhood is very, very low.
I don’t consider anything I do as a dad to be more than what any other father should do, but over and over again I have people tell me that what I’m doing is unusual. I don’t think the enthusiasm with which I greet every other kid in my son’s school to be out of the ordinary. I think it’s something I do because these are kids he spends his day with and I want to know all of their names so that when he talks about them, I can talk back.
I don’t think it’s strange that I make his lunches and his dinners or that I get up in the middle of the night to comfort him when he has a bad dream. I don’t think it’s unusual that I spent a solid two months bathing with him because he refused to take a bath otherwise. He’s my son. I would do anything for him.
I don’t know why gender roles still exist when it comes to parenting and I don’t know why the average father has a time limit on how much time they can spend with their kid(s). I’m not the idiot TV dad who is clueless when it comes to raising children. I’m aghast that such a character exists on TV, let alone in real life. But he does.
I was Facebook friends with a woman I know from my home town, although I haven’t actually seen her in probably twenty-five years. She still lives in my hometown, though, and occasionally sees my parents. One day, she saw them and mentioned what an incredibly involved father I am. Her basis for this was all of my posts about my son, about being a parent.
But what else would I post about? What could possibly be going on in my life that is more important than raising my son?
The other night Nicole noticed that I went into our son’s room to check on him before going to bed. She asked me if I always did that. I do. Every single night, I step into his room and just listen to him breathe.
Stepping into his room is magic. I’m suddenly free from everything but my son. There’s a purity of purpose, a clarity of mind that I don’t really get anywhere else in my life. I love my son, I would do anything for him, and I will do everything I can to raise him the best that I can. None of that is questionable. It’s absolute.
A friend recently shared this column from Time magazine about the added mental burden that women take on as the person who keeps the ship afloat, in this case the ship being the household.
Columns like that are frustrating for me because that’s not the way it is in our house. We split our work. Nicole keeps tabs on the toilet paper (and all other paper products that we order in bulk), I do the grocery shopping. She handles more big picture things while I’m much more day to day. That’s not to say those roles don’t switch from time to time, but they always work well together.
We’ve fallen into these roles because our jobs and, to a certain extent, our personalities require them. We are each doing what we are most capable of doing and neither of us takes on more than the other. We are a team.
And we’re an anomaly.
This isn’t to say that we’re perfect or that our system doesn’t have flaws or that there aren’t times when each of us wants to curl up in a ball and hide under the blankets for a few days. But we try our best to make sure that the stress of raising a child is distributed equally.
I know other parents who do the same, but there are an awful lot who don’t and that is hard for me wrap my brain around.
There are also plenty of dads out there who think they’re doing just as much as mom, but just aren’t — and just as many moms who are willing to put up with that.
It makes sense, I suppose: my mom did everything. My dad was responsible for all the things that the Y chromosome was “supposed” to take care of, like teaching me sports or punishing me. That’s what men did.
It wouldn’t be hard to see how kids raised in that environment would grow up believing certain things, and I would imagine a lot of kids from my generation had similar upbringings.
But isn’t the goal to learn from the prior generation, to improve?
The problem is that we live in a society that constantly attempts to normalize that which shouldn’t be considered normal. Be it sexism, racism, homophobia, etc., we exist in a time when a lot of preconceived notions are being upended as wrong headed and hurtful, but they are so ingrained into our being that we are trying to hold on.
I fully admit that change is hard and that I have to reconsider my perspective on a regular basis. But, man, I can’t even comprehend not playing an active role in my son’s life. I can’t imagine leaving the bulk of the work of parenting to my wife, not just because of how stressful that would be for her, but because of how much I would miss out on.
We’re a nation that prides ourselves on our work ethic, and yet we seem to draw the line at acknowledging that the most important work we can do is to raise our children.
Mothers, at least, seem to have a sorority that values giving your all at being a parent (to the point where it’s a problem, really, but I digress). The time and effort you put into raising your kids doesn’t hold the same weight among fathers. And that doesn’t seem to be changing the way that I figured it would.
So, yes, I can say I’m a great dad, but given the standards, that’s not saying much.*
*Although, to be honest, even if the standards were higher, I think I’d still be considered a great dad.