On Moms and Dads

So this week some of you may have heard about the trending commercial celebrating the hardwork moms do. If you haven’t take 2 minutes of your life and watch it. You’ll enjoy it.

In the video an interviewer conducts a fake interview for a high demand job. Those being interviewed don’t know it’s fake, but at the end it’s finally revealed what the job is: Mom, or Director of Operations as the video calls it. Once this is revealed, participants respond emotionally when they realize that all the responsibilities the interviewer described, while they sounded positively inhumane and illegal as a typical 9-5, were things their mothers did for them tirelessly.

In response, a parody of the commercial was made, but the subject was changed to Dads. There have been mixed responses to it. In the parody, Dads are described as ….well ….not moms. That’s the nicest way I can put it. While I got a few chuckles out of the video they were the kind that make you wonder if you should be laughing at it. To be fair, it is funny but it’s because it says something truthful (all good comedy does, right?).

I’m a dad. I have a dad and a mom. So does my wife and of course she’s a mom. We’re the new parents in our family. When our first was born, I remember the sense of happy panic I felt about it. I wanted the baby, but I was scared. I didn’t know what kind of father I would be. Sure, I knew the kind I wanted to be, but the truth was I didn’t have any male father models. Not any good ones.

For my wife the story is the opposite. She has very strong parent models and its easy to see the influence her mother has had on the kind of mother she is to our children. I remembered that she didn’t have nearly the amount of concerns about her future parenting as I did. She was fairly confident, seemed to understand what she had to do. It seemed clear to her what motherhood meant and I could see she had images in her mind of what it would look like for her. My images were either blank or blurry. I’m not saying she didn’t have her own doubts and concerns: I’m saying she had working, reliable models of parenthood that she trusted.

One of my friends growing up had a dad that I thought was pretty cool. I thought of that man several times when I tried to imagine the kind of father I could be. Without getting into the violent details of my childhood, I’ll just say I had a crappy father. He was an equally crappy husband. My mother did her best but he put her life into such a ruin that it was difficult for her to be the parent she needed to be. For me becoming a father, I didn’t have strong parents to model for my own children. Grandfathers and uncles were not good replacement models for me either. These were men who stood by while me and my mother went through hell. Sometimes they even told her that an abusive husband was still her husband and that her duty to the family was to make him a better man. Not role-model material in my mind.

I mention I had one friend with a cool dad, but mostly I remember that none of us had particularly active fathers, not even the ones who the neighborhood described as decent. These men were present, married, they worked, but it’s not like they took my friends surfing on Saturday afternoons or went fishing or anything. They merely filled a space, that of a patriarch. It’s what made it possible for us to spend so much time together after school (or during school, but not at school). I remember our mothers hunting us down in the night, warning us to come home and not stay out late, to stay out of trouble, or to not leave the house at a certain hour. I remember them allowing us to sleep over night if we had nowhere else to go, forcing us to eat breakfast before we left. Hell, they often forced us to run errands with them, even when they preferred to go on their own, just so we knew someone cared about us. All the dads I knew, except one, were more disciplinarians than fathers, who more or less allowed us to run the streets because it was considered necessary to becoming tough. Boys who made their own rules were boys becoming men and the fathers mostly approved of the trouble we got into (fights as long as we won, shows of righteous anger, competitiveness, having sex, and on). There’s a point here and I’m getting to it.

Those fathers also had fathers. This is generations of fathers passing down what it means to be a father to their sons. Now I grew up in a poorer neighborhood and I think there are some class ramifications here as far as the pattern of father models is concerned. All I have to go on here are my experiences, so I’m not trying to say these are representative of all father figures. Clearly there are some great ones out there and some of them are members of your own families.

But here’s something I know. The traditional model of masculinity – which continues to erode today, thankfully – permits and in fact encourages a father model that is cold, distant, and militant. I don’t really believe in parenting books, but when our first child was on the way I picked up a couple because I literally had no one to turn to for good advice about fatherhood. And even then I didn’t think those books would be helpful, but I’m so glad I read them. If nothing else they taught me what NOT to do as a father most of the time. Some articles I read in men’s magazines actually suggested not to hug my children “too much”. Others encouraged me to let babies cry in order to teach them something about toughness or something — or the opposite, to spoil my daughters so that she’s “daddy’s girl”. Some books outright advise drawing gender lines so that my children know who should touch dolls and who should behead the dolls of their siblings. Being a father was defined overall as being the distant tough-love sort of man who taught strict survival, the proper uses of violence, and a lot of repression (a LOT). Oh and to protect, that’s what all the righteous violence I learned was about …or something. The lessons I took away from these “guides” were to suppress my feelings, make sure my sons suppressed theirs, and to “get through” the childhood as manly as we could. In fact I’d say the gist of some of those books was that childhood was a time to fend off the advances of softness, because it’s such a precarious time for boys to become men. Put another way, boys aren’t supposed to be children. They are supposed to prove themselves worthy of being called a man someday, and the preparations prescribed were insane.

Now the dad commercial: the title of the fake job position is Director of Whatever. Here’s why I think that’s a pretty apt description of the traditional expectation of dads. It’s not that I think the overall culture encourages dads to be bad, but that the bar is set extremely low such that being a “good” dad amounts to “just pay the bills”. This is why child support laws favor custody for mothers; there’s no expectation that the father will or should be allowed to raise their children unless the mom hands the kids over on a platter. Nurseries and schools are filled with women teachers while male teachers are immediately under suspicion around children (it is widely assumed that men waiting for kids after school are more likely to be predators than parents, that should a child need help that child should seek a woman, not a man). There’s no expectation of what dads will do for their daughters, because it’s culturally assumed men should not do anything to raise their daughters except tell them to listen to their mothers (the same goes for moms with their boys, lest she raises a “sissy”). There’s some truth to the parody. It leaves us with the question: what do we demand of fathers other than money?

(On a brief, but related tangent, this is a strong component of the pressure 21st century men feel in a diversifying workforce; this diversity is long overdue, but it doesn’t mean that a direct consequence of increased equality is increased feelings of inadequacy among men. This is why it’s so important that we come up with new models of manhood — it is not the world our fathers lived in.  /end tangent.

Even for those of us who have/had amazing dads, you probably know how fortunate you were — how rare that man is/was in your life. There’s a reason for that. Society expects men to pay the bills and everything else is “whatever”. Director of Whatever, indeed. Women have, rightfully, earned the title of Director of Operations in the western family model. They have been the CEO, really since that’s their socially allotted role. Traditionally, men are there strictly to bring home the bacon, but the 21st century family is truly a departure from the past. The progress is all around us, even as the rotting shreds of tradition linger. Dads I know today are proud fathers, eager to be there for their kids, treasuring every waking moment, volunteering to change diapers, breast feed (there are devices to help men simulate it), babysit, cook and, of course, bring home the bacon for their babies. Our kids are definitely better off than we were.

So while the parody is funny, it should also feel somewhat alarming that this shows us how low the bar has been for dads, how much we’ve put “family” into the sphere of women and “work” into the sphere of men. It’s gotten to the point that men everywhere are literally having identity crises because of these changes in the traditional family.Taken seriously, the traditional job description of Dad would read more like this:

  • Pays all the bills
  • Shuns all things women
  • Teaches ‘appropriate’ uses of violence and anger
  • Teaches repression of feelings
  • Delegate your personal needs (wash dishes, laundry, cooking, sex, etc)
  • Take long breaks after work (when the dad gets home, its his time to kick off his shoes, hang his hat, and watch sports until dinner)

Of course, all men don’t follow this uniformly, not even our grandfathers. But my point is that this has been the model of the father in the traditional family. Everyone’s mileage will vary with their local customs and culture, and as I said before there have been exemplary fathers despite this model. Those men have managed to raise their children despite pressures to conform to a model that encourages them to limit their interaction with children. The few good men I knew growing up were key to my eventual rejection of the kind of man my father was. So these men have been important and continue to be important for future generations. Today’s grandads who survived the ravages of traditional manhood will be the image for grandchildren, an image some of us didn’t have, when they become fathers. Yes, this model is awful, but there have been men who’ve successfully defied it and done it to the great benefit of their children.

As a father, I meet 21st century parents everyday and I can say with high confidence that today’s parents are a big step forward. It’s truly a new time for society. However, there still exists this model and I meet those families as well – tradition will not go quietly and civilly. Some of families I meet more or less adhere to the list above and these people are more numerous than the families who reject the old ways. So we have to remain vigilant, to not become complacent just because things are changing. Change can be reversed if we’re not active about it.

Scree Tags: #gamerdads #parenting

7 thoughts on “On Moms and Dads

  1. The timing of this article’s release interests me. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not. Released on a day when the faithful celebrate a father’s ultimate sacrifice and triumph in the name of love. While God is described in both fatherly and motherly ways, many do have trouble relating to Him as a fatherly figure due to the types of experiences you describe. I readily admit that our experiences were vastly different. In fact, I’d go as far as to say as my idea of ‘traditional’ (in the way it is used in the post) is vastly different than the one you describe, and can be influenced by our perspectives and experiences. “Traditional” is seen by some as stagnant, and by others as a firm foundation.

    At any rate, in my twelve years of parenting experience, I haven’t seen a book that teaches you how to be a father, but I do read one (not as often as I should) that teaches me how to be a person. Fathers are people, and people aren’t perfect. There are times when I’m friends with my kids and there are times when I have to be firm and lay down the law because to do otherwise would be a disservice to them later in life. I hate those times. I want to be “fun dad” all of the time. But both kids AND fathers learn and grow through challenges, I can’t remember the last time I learned anything significant about life during a trip to Chuck-E-Cheese, other than maybe to avoid the ball pit. 🙂

    • Me and my wife call it the Cesspit. We’ve decided to no longer take our kids to that place lol.

      Thanks for sharing your fatherly experience. My oldest is 5 and the youngest is 5 months. I try to so hard to be an image of love for them, but now that my son is getting into the ages where he’s out with other children, I can more easily see how the pressures of the world work on kids. It interesting to watch.

      I didn’t intend to broad stroke tradition as simply “stagnant”. Likewise, it’s not always a firm foundation. In fact some foundations aren’t worth redeeming, best to rebuild. In my family, Im having to rebuild the father model (my father in-law is actually an outstanding model and thats helped). As for the videos, I hope more men do get that nervous laughter about it. Its a good question to ask ourselves: what is our expectation of fathers compared to mothers?

  2. Pingback: I know I’m probably late, but … | Murf Versus

  3. No one knows how to be a dad until they’ve either created spawn or shack up with a woman with children. Even then, it takes a lot of time to get to a point where you kinda know what you’re doing. I’m a rarity, being over 30 with no children, and I’m starting to wonder if I ever will go down that road. I have however done the shacking up, and man kids are a challenge. Not only do you have to build relationships with them but they can also put a strain on your relationship with their mother. And then the mother can simply decide to pull them out of your life (in my case, no legal action required. In your case, there would be divorce and/or custody hearings).

    I did follow those traditional roles for a time when I was with that woman, but we also agreed upon them. At one point she decided she didn’t want to work to be able to spend more time with the kids (they were just getting involved in school and she wanted to be more available) and I happened to make enough money at the time for us to be able to afford that. Our agreement was that if I was the only one working and paying all or most of the bills, that she would keep the house maintained, and also do the cooking. I can cook, but it’s much nicer to come home to an already prepared meal. So I guess we were doing things the old fashioned way, and it worked. What didn’t work was when I started a new relationship some years later, and tried to expect the same things. These days regardless of if I’m in a relationship or not (I’m not) I feel more like the mom (though there are no kids in the house). I do most of the cleaning. I do most of the shopping. I do mostly everything, on top of working. I still have managed to avoid being the cook though!

    These types of subjects can be endlessly commented on and debated, so I’ll just leave it at that. I’m not sure I even made a point, but so be it.

    • Yeah you’re right, no one knows the kind of dad they will be until they have children. Still, having models to aspire to are extremely helpful. Invaluable even. It’s the same way other role-models work, except I think family models are far more crucial. Those the people we live with and sleep with and eat with every single day.

      Your story about how your relationship with your girlfriends children ended is unfortunate. It goes to the point I bring up about how the law views fathers and father figures. It’s true that legally you have no claim, but that doesnt make it right. I’m sure it was tough for the children too that they had you one day and then didn’t. That’s not right. But that’s one of the faults in the traditional model. It allows men and women to BELIEVE that this kind of thing is OK to do to children.

      I didn’t know what my life would be like before my babies got here. I honestly didn’t think about the future much. My babies changed that dramatically.

  4. “Even for those of us who have/had amazing dads”
    …there are amazing dads out there? what is this madness? 😉
    Unfortunately I have not much good to say on the subject of fathers and neither has the person I spend my life with. Sadly also in our closest friend circles, there is maybe a single case of happy family life. The majority of everyone I know either grew up without or with an abusive or negligent father. I spent the greatest part of my life wishing I belonged to the first group. I barely managed to get my mother out of there before it was too late.

    I’ve often pondered this issue because it’s clearly a wide-spread one. Men are a product of culture and upbringing just as women are. And despite the fact that both me and my partner are a very anti-traditionalist couple in almost every sense, he is different in such typical ways that can bring me to the edge at times. Observing our differences and also speaking as a teacher: the lessons we teach boys is that it’s okay to be self-centered; they never ever get asked to be nearly as attentive or empathic about others as girls do on a daily basis. The other related issue is communication: boys don’t get to show their feelings or communicate their needs (so why would they relate to others?). That’s something that needs to change, very much also for/pro boys and men and better families.

    • When I think back on my own upbringing …it was a VERY confusing place. Granted, my circumstances were very non-traditional but also extremely common where I come from. When you add class to the mix, the prospects for young men get even darker as far as psychological and emotional development.Only some of us survived that. One of my friends wound up in an asylum before the age of 21 (literally cracked under the pressure) and later killed himself. Others were either taken by the streets or wound up on the streets. Few of us made it and I think what we teach boys has everything to do with it. So many of us just didnt know that we could CHOOSE. As a young man nothing is presented as choice — you do what manhood asks of you or youre not a man. Big brothers ride little brothers, uncles ride nephews, team mates ride team mates …it is relentless. Class magnifies this in many horrible ways.

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