As most dads today undoubtedly know, defining “the modern dad” is an ongoing, work in progress. We walk a fine line between the masculinity that we were raised on and being nurturing, sensitive fathers as our roles in the home get more involved.
In my house, my wife and I have created a functioning ‘tag-team’ structure to managing our home and children. More of a zone strategy than man-to-man! For the most part, we don’t have assigned roles in the house. Cooking is done by whoever gets to it first. Same with cleaning and other household chores. We sometimes divide and conquer with our kids and other times it’s a group effort. The bedtime process is a well-oiled machine of dinner, baths, brushing and bed. Again, we don’t assign any one task. I do what is in front of me and my wife picks up the slack. Tomorrow can be the reverse. It’s not for everyone, but it seems to work for us. This week, anyway. There are exceptions of course and there are a small number of things that we have assigned to one-another like bill-paying and certain paperwork. On a day-to-day basis, however, every day is a little different.
This set-up at home has the both of us breaking from “traditional” roles as parents every day. As many at-home dads and involved fathers have noticed, we find ourselves nurturing our children more and more frequently. Roles that have been traditionally “mom” roles are now blurred. We bathe our kids, read to them, console them when they get hurt. We talk to them about school and problems, we take them on play-dates and care for them when they are sick.
We strive to be more involved, sensitive, and caring in our family life. All of that said, we still want to be ‘guys’. We are, after all, Men. We perceive ourselves as rugged, strong, even stoic individuals. It thrills me that my kids (even my wife) feels safe when I am present at home. My daughter thinks I am an indestructible super-hero. I love that! I want it to be like that. To be honest, I would say that a kid should feel that way about their father. But I want to eat my cake too.
Most dads that I know don’t view it as a zero-sum game, but we do want a little bit of what moms have traditionally had. The caring nurturing stuff. Because we kind of love that too. In today’s world, or more accurately my world, some of this is actually pretty necessary in order to manage our massively hectic lives. My wife should be able to comfortably leave the kids knowing, with confidence, that their every need is met – and not give it a second thought.
The challenge for dads lies in balancing the grey area of a caring, nurturing dad and a protector, rock-solid father. It’s not easy.
My 4-year-old daughter recently fell and hit her front tooth. We were hoping that it could heal on its own without having to have it pulled. I had taken her to a follow-up appointment at her dentist to get verdict. An x-ray revealed that the tooth would need to be pulled. Right away. As my daughter sat in my lap still smiling and happy from the birthday party we just left, I had to explain to her that her tooth needed to come out. The look of sheer terror and (what I perceived to be) betrayal that overcame her face broke my heart. When the tears started to fall, stoic, protector dad went with them.
My wife met us at the doctor’s office and held her down as the doctor pulled her tooth. No sugar-coating, it was awful. When it was all done, she recovered quite quickly. She was quite excited to be a big girl that already had a tooth out. My wife and I took a bit more time to recover.
I find that the more that dads move to the center to be the best fathers they can be, the more difficult it is to maintain a balance to exceptional fathering and being the men we want to be. It’s a moving target, but I can tell you this. There is nothing like a minor child trauma to equalize all of us. Tough guys, indeed.