How Do Dads Play?

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About Jennifer Cooper

As a kid, I would dress up like a hobo for no apparent reason, paint my face like KISS, build elaborate forts, and once I transformed our dining room into a giant library.

Now, I design toys for Ellie Bellie Kids and write about parenting, childhood and creativity at Classic Play!


  1. “Today, fathers are given more freedom to be engaged with their children.”

    Who exactly has bestowed this “freedom” on fathers such that they now have permission to be engaged with their children? When was this enacted?

    A generation ago, when families actually ate together, who was that man sitting there talking with the family? A generation ago, who was it that played catch with the kids, taught them to ride their bikes, helped with math homework, science projects, work on the car? Who was it that taught them how to drive, deal with bullies at school, on and on?

    Way back in the 50′s and 60′s there were shows such as Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver. Were those fathers not engaged?

    The impression given here consistently is that before 1980, fathers went to work, came home without acknowledging the kids, watched TV and went to bed. This is such a silly and inaccurate stereotype.

    • About that sentence… I agree. It needs to be reworked. What I was trying to do with this piece, but apparently was not successful in articulating, was to celebrate the way some of today’s dads play with their kids. My intention wasn’t to denigrate fathers of the past.

      Before I go though, I have to ask, you mentioned that there were stereotypes of what fathers were like prior to the 80s, but then you used two television shows that were pretty stereotypical as an illustration. Can you add a personal anecdote to this conversation of how your dad played with you or you played with your kids? I think it would help shape the conversation.

      • Your article is very nice.  Thanks for contributing it.

        The stereotypes I alluded to are propagated on feminist websites; suggesting that the best and only truly “engaged” fathers are stay at home dads.  There are plenty of articles here that promote that as an ideal.

        The stereotype they insist is reality is that our fathers and grandfathers were not engaged fathers, perhaps because they didn’t cook as much, etc .  Though it might be true that more fathers than ever cook and clean, I would argue that our fathers and grandfathers were more engaged on average because they were more likely to still be married and living in the home, for one thing.

        It’s not possible to be as engaged with children if they don’t live with you full time.  Furthermore, the now antiquated and all but abandoned practice of eating dinner together enabled our fathers and grandfathers to engage with their children.

        My dad taught me to ride a bike, played with us in the dark, took us to the park, played basketball with us, played board games with us,(as I am told) did the throw the kid up in the air and catch him/her thing that fathers and kids love but scares mothers, and whatever else we wanted to do. 

        I have two girls. I do the rough and tumble running (tag) and falling, wrestling, ticking, crazy-type play with them and they love it.  I actually do most of the play.  I even do tea parties with them, whatever it takes, whatever they like, I will do. Their mom does plenty of things with them too but we have different styles.

  2. All the dads I referenced in this piece are “working” not stay-at-home dads. The whole dinner and divorce thing are separate issues to this piece entirely and I’m sure can be better explored by someone other than me.

    But I do think a timeline of how interactions have changed (or haven’t) over the years would be interesting. Perhaps GMP will develop that?

    Thanks for the conversation. You presented a new angle.

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