“OK, dad, do you need my help?” the polite medical assistant asked.
I assured her I was fine.
“Oh, ummm, do you want me to help with her pants?” she asked this time.
Once more, I assured the kind woman I was fine.
She would ask if I needed help two more times. By the final question, I was clenching my fist as hard as I could, hoping it would keep me from saying something ridiculous.
For the record, I’m always at risk of saying something ridiculous.
It’s not the medical assistant’s fault. She was trying to help a seemingly hapless dad handle a 2-year-old. A 2-year-old who really, really had zero interest in being at the doctor’s office. A 2-year-old who felt duty bound to wage a war of not-so-quiet resistance against each and every request made – no matter how politely asked.
This moment was a challenge for me, of course. It’s never easy to force your kid into doing something, but I was getting it done. I’m a professional father at this point, after all! This tiny, unruly, curly haired resistance fighter is my third child. I’ve got this. In fact, any time I’m in charge of just one kid, I’m having an easy day.
So no, I don’t need your damn help!
Gender roles and stereotypes
There are many societal forces at play when it comes to parsing out the origins of gender roles. I dare not dip my toes into that ever-expanding quagmire, but whether I like it or not, as a house husband, I am on the leading edge of redefining what it means to be a male caretaker of kids and home.
Despite this reality, it’s no surprise when a woman in a pediatrician’s office spots a dad alone with a kid, she naturally assumes something has gone horribly wrong: Poor ol’ dad is stuck taking the kid to an appointment! He likely has no idea what he’s doing. He definitely needs help. With EVERYTHING!
I admit, at one point in my life, I believed the trope. Maybe the slew of useless sitcom dads that populated my childhood evening TV time influenced my thinking. Those TV dads ALWAYS screwed things up. They were chronically unsure of how to handle young kids. Diapers? Comedy gold. Alone time with their kids was called “babysitting.” And, in general, they seemed completely unable to handle a pregnant woman. Household chores were a mystery. Without a female partner’s guiding hand, only bedlam followed.
Full confession: Sometimes I do need help. This isn’t the angry rant of a prideful male feeling emasculated by the woke mob. I’m simply suggesting the default response to a father out with his kids shouldn’t be to assume he is in over his head. Fathers aren’t babysitters. Fathers alone with their children are just parents parenting.
It’s not babysitting; it’s parenting
Once, I was at the zoo. At the time, I only had two kids. I had them in a stroller. I was wearing a backpack, and the stroller was kitted out with all the survival equipment one needs to endure an outing with tiny monsters. This was during the work week, so the other parents — equally kitted out, equally with their hands full — were mostly women.
I had dozens of people look at me and say, “Wow, you’ve got YOUR hands full!” Each time, I smiled and made increasingly smart-ass replies (remember, always about to say something ridiculous).
I noticed the same comments were not being made to the equally encumbered women around me. They had their hands full, too. However, only the bumbling dad needed encouragement.
I accept that the previous generation of men bare some burden for the bumbling dad archetype. Some may call the past generations the “greatest,” or behave as if they were somehow part of a time when the United States was “better,” but many fathers back then dropped the ball. A lot of absent dads discarded their children, either to chase careers or other women with whom they could procreate. So maybe men earned this judgment on their own. Whatever the cause, whatever the reason, I think it’s time society stop assuming that a dad alone with his child is in over his head.
Equal roles require equal help
I’m genuinely glad good people desire to do good things. It’s one of humanity’s most endearing qualities, but our broad assumptions need to become more enlightened. We need to start seeing a father as sharing parenting duties equally with a mother. (Well, OK — dads can’t grow humans, eject those humans, and feed same humans with our bodies, so, you now, there’s that.)
A father’s parenting duties isn’t limited to ball fields and arenas. It’s not just the garage and the backyard. A father can take his kid to the doctor, to ballet, and anywhere else his kids need him. It’s not punishment. It’s not a scheduling fail. People — it is called parenting, and dads do it, too.
And now I’m not sure exactly how to end this. I sure could use your help.
Just kidding. I got this.