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