Dear Playground Patron of the Adult Persuasion,
The playground at our local park remains a really great yet intimidating place for fathers like me. It’s a place where we get to have loud, crazy fun with our kids but it is often where we encounter frustratingly frequent reminders of how much gender roles and stereotypes about men and dads are entrenched in society.
To help you and all those of us who watch over our children (or others’ children) at these public spaces, I put together a guide so you can understand what modern dads are thinking and experiencing. This guide could have been a lot longer but Octonauts is on at noon and no good parent is going to miss watching that with his child!
1. Playground dads want to be there
We enjoy being actively involved in our children’s lives, and do not want to shirk the responsibility of raising them.
2. Don’t assume we are unemployed or unemployable
Since the majority of modern households contain two working parents, it’s likely that dad came to the park today because mom is working and he has time off. Shift work, gig economy jobs, telecommuting, seasonal contracts, alternating parental work schedules — the trend for this is clear: Today’s working dads today trade off more primary caregiver hours with their partners.
3. If we are stay-at-home dads, it is probably by choice
For the most part, men who become primary caregivers today want to be the primary caregiver. He made a conscious decision – along with his partner – to take that role for a reason: financial or otherwise. The “he can’t even get a job” dad stereotype is outdated and incorrect (see No. 2).
4. Playground dads aren’t looking for a hook up
Like most playground moms, playground dads have kids because we are already in committed relationships. We are not at the park on a Tuesday morning to find a date. We’re here to escape the house while the sun is shining, and let the kids burn off some energy. Yes, some playground dads are divorced or single, but that number is actually lower than in the general population. Call it the modern father factor: Capable dads who want to raise kids aren’t hitting the singles bars after work or the playgrounds while parenting.
5. We are tired
Our kids run us ragged. We also may have been up at 3 a.m. to care for the baby. Unless 3 a.m. was breastfeeding time, in which case we were up at 4 a.m. to change a diaper.
6. There’s a reason we aren’t looking our best today
See No. 5 above. Or we might have missed our whole self-care time today in between picking up 18,000 Legos and cleaning sweet potatoes out of things that were never designed to encounter sweet potatoes. We’ll shave tomorrow. Promise.
7. These kids might not even be all ours!
What?!? Why would a man take someone else’s kids to the park? We may be here because once our friends and family found out we were capable parents, they began asking us for help. At a playground recently, my sister-in-law handed me her baby while she went off to play with her 3-year-old. Of course, no one there knew I was holding my niece and not my daughter. Thank you though, my niece is pretty cute.
8. We’ve got this
Time and time again, dad friends tell me stories of strangers saying, “Oh, give me the child, you’re doing it wrong!” They’ve had their kids taken from strollers and even right out of their arms by someone who thinks they can parent better often because the child is crying. This gatekeeping has to stop.
9. We belong here as much as any mom
Still have a problem with me being here? Complain to my wife. She’ll really appreciate your call interrupting her staff meeting. She’s out there making headway in corporate America for women — making her daughter and family proud — and my active parenting contributes to her being able to succeed in her career. (BTW, you’d like her.)
10. We’ll be here next week
Yeah, this parenting thing takes a whole bunch of our time. We’re cool with that. See you soon.
That dad at the park today
About the author
Chris Brandenburg, shown here with his daughter, August, is a husband, stay-at-home father and co-founder of Twin Cities Dads Group. He is also a member of the National At-Home Dads Network, and one time ate some reeeeeally spicy Chinese food.