Competent Dads and Other Mythical Creatures

Kim Quinn asks why people act like good fathers are some miraculous rarity when, to her eyes, they’re all around.

“You’re such a great dad!”

My husband hears this all the time. This, or the slightly more puzzling “Bethany is lucky to have such a great dad!” If I post a picture of me and my daughter on Facebook I hear how cute she is, or how nice my hair looks, or what fun the activity must have been. If I post a picture of Jerry with my daughter the comments are about what a terrific father he is.

I’ve spent quite some time reflecting on why this bothers me. Is it jealousy? After much introspection I can honestly say no, definitely not. I devote every waking hour to my daughter and I worship the ground she walks on. I have no insecurities about my own parenting ability nor do I think anyone else considers me to be a sub-par mommy.

Is it the implied sexism? Well, yeah. I guess it is. I don’t think any less of the friends who make these comments, rather I’m troubled by our society which still perceives fathers to be absentee buffoons. A couple hours on Google revealed many touching articles written by dads who are even more pissed off about it than I am.

Sure, our society has its share of deadbeat dads, but there are plenty of crappy moms too. So why are the dads saddled with a Neanderthal image? Why does having a penis preclude the ability to comfort a crying child? Or help with homework? Or give a bath?

It is an injustice to men to treat parental competency as some sort of monumental achievement. If I were a forklift operator it would get pretty old to have good ol’ boys patting me on the back all the time, winking, and telling me what a great job I was doing. Same principle.

Conversely it is an injustice to women to make the assumption that parenting is somehow easier for us.

My parents divorced when I was two years old. I stand before you today at 35 and solemnly swear that I’ve never seen those people have an argument. They never once undermined one another or even disagreed about anything. God could not have created two less similar personality types if He spent hours trying. Did they have different parenting philosophies? I’d bet my firstborn on it. Did it show? Never. My father was at every school play and parent/teacher conference. Although my mom had primary custody my dad took me camping, introduced me to some of the most delicious food in the world, and dug in his heels to handle my teen angst like a pro.

Having a child is deciding to take responsibility for someone else’s life. Good parents everywhere, of both genders, deserve rewards and riches for what they do every day.

I dedicate this post to my husband: the best co-parent I could have possibly hoped for (and good lookin’, too).

About Kim Quinn

Kim Quinn is a feminist, writer, and former banker. She built two humans entirely from scratch. Find more of her work at No Better Forum.


  1. I’ve always found it compelling and argued against people saying that all too common phrase “You’re such a good dad”, or any variations there of. Nearly every time I heard it was simply because I told someone that I have custody of my daughter. I did not yet explain any of the things I do for her. I did not talk about how I try to be involved in her life and how I engage with her everyday. Simply “being there” was more than enough. This makes little sense, as I know from experience, a parent can “be there” but provide little to no positive experiences to your existence.

    I’m not the best father in the world. But I try to be the best I can be. From this, I know that just being there is never enough to being a good parent!

    • Amen!

      Funny, you gents are happy that a woman “gets it” but I’m happy that my observation resonates with dads. At the time I was embarrassed to even say such a thing. Thanks for the comment.

      • I’m thrilled someone is acknowledging it!

        Everyone loves a good compliment. But it just bugs me that “being there” is the qualifier for men.

  2. Jason Kiker says:

    Excellent article, Kim. I live in one of the most affluent and liberal parts of the country and I still get so many shocked looks and responses to being an At Home Dad. Once they realize that they have looked or sound shocked, they fall all over themselves trying to praise me and make the situation worse. Just let me do my job and when I do something worth noting, note it.

  3. Kim is not only a woman who gets it. But, more importantly, a woman who had the courage to publicly write and express the truth. I love your quote “Sure, our society has its share of deadbeat dads, but there are plenty of crappy moms too.” Bravo KIm! Thank you!

    • Aw, thank you! I wrote this post in January 2011, one month before my son was born and long before I’d heard about The Good Men Project. I support your efforts here 100%.

  4. Emmett Doyle says:

    Ah, Papa- you’re a good man.

  5. Tom Brechlin says:

    Thank you for writing this. But may you wonder that people say these things about / to dads because they feel that men don’t get the credit they deserve and in some small way they are simply affirming that which is not recognized enough?

  6. Being a “mother” doesn’t even mean you’re a parent at all.

    • O_o

      Maybe I’m taking this too personally because of the “you’re.”

      Do you mean that giving birth to a child doesn’t make a person a parent? Agreed, but same with “donating sperm” as the saying goes.

      A good parent is a good parent, period. Yes?

  7. In January 2006 I walked into a lawyer’s offcie and said “my marriage is so bad that for me to be the faither I need and want to be, I need to get a divorce.” From that moment til today, I’ve changed my life so that I can honor that statement.

    I hear “you’re such a great dad” a lot too. Go read my blog. It;s ridiculous how much it;s typed. I’ve stopped being offended or surprised. I don’t view raising children as women;s work. I’m remarried and now have 3 daughter, aged 7, 8 (the aforementioned one), and a teenager 16. I view being their dad as what I’m supposed to do and what I want to do.

    The sexism that exists in divorce courts, family trials, and mommy blogs is sickening. My biggest adversary/enemy is my own mother. Having a vagina does not mean you’re the best parent.

    • 100% agreed. I have known several men who were completely screwed by a CSED that refused to listen. Even with hired attorneys many men are treated unfairly in regard to child support. Listen to the Kanye West song “Gold Digger” and know you’re not alone. It’s one of my favorite songs.

      I also know (fewer) women who have had their children unfairly taken from them because the judge wanted to prove a point. I’ve heard that Idaho (where I currently live) is a “dad state.”

      Good on you for everything you do. Your children thank you. As a person with divorced parents, I thank you. What you have done for your kids is going to bless them for the rest of their lives.

  8. gabby watts says:

    While I see your point (the forklift operator analogy worked well for me) I must say that lots of us act like a good dad, or even any kind of dad, is a rarity because it was our experience. That’s all. I definitely don’t think that all moms are good and I wish that weren’t a myth, as well.

  9. Good write-up, Kim! Also, it’s an admittedly difficult paradox; us fathers want to be recognized as being good (and maybe even exceptional!) but not singled out. We don’t want to be caricatured in commercials as idiots, but we don’t want to be pointed and stared at as that mythical creature.

    My suggestion has always been that we stop pointing out the good parents and start pointing out the bad. We need to stop looking at the dad pushing his kid around in the grocery store and saying “gosh he’s amazing” and start looking at the parents yelling at their kids in the parking lot and saying “that’s got to stop.” We need to stop considering the dad pushing his kid on a swing in the park as an anomaly and start treating the parents NOT pushing their kids on the swings as anomalies. We’re focusing on the wrong stuff.

    We’ll get there someday as fatherhood and society continue to evolve. But in the meantime, let’s start calling-out the bad parents!

    • The problem isn’t that bad parents aren’t getting called out. The problem is that when the bad parents get called out they are also being presented as the norm which indirectly paints up the good parents as anomaly

      • Sorry I didn’t see this earlier – good point, I agree! Bad parents are being presented as the norm. And I think that even on reality television and other such take-a-look-at-this television, when we see bad parenting, it normalizes it. Even if it’s wrapped in a “Bad Parent of the Week” wrapper, it’s still being put out there as something that happens – and that should be celebrated on television. Sucks.


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