Dad goes Andy Rooney on woman who praised his parenting
So this woman sees a man saddled with a one- and three-year-old disinfecting his shopping cart at Target. She calls him a good dad, the dad says thanks, but internally he’s seething.
“I absolutely hate it when strangers call me a ‘good dad,’” Matt Villano wrote in “Motherlode”, The New York Times parenting blog.
With no context — and no real basis for interpretation — the act of labeling someone a “good dad” suggests that most dads are, by our very nature as fathers, somehow less than “good.” That we don’t care. That we’re mostly cruel.
What’s more, the phrase evinces a heinous double standard: It’s not like strangers compliment women as being “good moms” for doting, loving and doing normal mom stuff.
You know what they say about opinions.
When I used to do a similar routine at Costco, one strapped to my chest, one in the seat, women—on three separate occasions—complimented my bravery. Part of me wondered if it was a veiled criticism, like why are you taking these two kids under two out in the winter, have you no sense? So many times in parenting have I felt like I’ve had no sense. My defensiveness was tempered by the fact that I was doing what had to be done. It didn’t strike me as difficult, but if they thought so and admired it in comparison to themselves, then sure, thanks. Their empathy made me feel better, because my kids weren’t going to tell me I was doing a good job. And parenting toddlers, or pre-speakers, can be damn lonely.
Mr. Villano deduces that praising a father is condescending and a double standard. I’ve called moms “good” before, though never to a stranger in public. I think our sensitive dad might’ve mistaken her comment for a generalization, when in fact she most likely saw a person taking care of his/her children in the best way he/she knows how. While that might not be worthy of open compliments, it is worthy of admiration. Witnessing effective parenting (wiping carts is not an example—considering your children’s health, safety, and environment is) affirms our species, and in light of so much evidence to the contrary, a little positive support to the human side is not a bad thing.
No doubt that parenting clichés are annoying, especially the presumption of universality: since I’m a parent, and you’re a parent, then my experience will mirror your experience. Still, it takes a community. Parenting praise can be rare affirmation that in the lifelong learning experiment that is parenting, you’re getting something right.
Mr. Villano makes some interesting points—“[it] comes across as condescending commentary on fatherhood” and some not good points, like calling it the same thing as calling President Obama “an eloquent black man” (not even the same sport, let alone ballpark). He urges people to keep comments to themselves, which I agree with. Still, to take a compliment as a criticism says far more about the receiver than the giver. The most honest part of his rant is the temporality of it all, and how he’d just gotten done spraying his kid down with the kitchen hose for not listening. Now that is funny. I’d compliment Mr. Villano for being a good writer, but I wouldn’t want to offend him.
What do you think? What are some of the most annoying comments you’ve ever gotten from strangers about parenting?
—Photo Zion Fiction/Flickr