Derek Bolen doesn’t snort at women who tell him they’re angling for a promotion at the office, so he has to wonder what’s so funny about his paternity leave.
There was a great article in this month’s Esquire that focused on the progress (or lack thereof) in equalizing gender roles in a family dynamic. Namely, that for all the advancements we’ve made promoting equality in the workplace (we HAVE made those, right?), we’ve still got a long way to go towards accepting or promoting men’s enhanced roles at home.
When we got pregnant, I actively had to seek out information that was dad-oriented. Every pregnancy app was focused on the woman. Ditto for every book we stocked up on. The odd token male-oriented book we found was chock-full of helpful tips like ‘Rub her feet!’ and ‘Stop drinking so much beer, you big dumb idiot!’ Right out of the gate, there were roadblocks to me being an active and engaged parent. Essentially it feels like men are relegated to a secondary support unit for the primary caregiver, the woman. And while this may be true during the pregnancy (because I’m sure as hell not birthing anything anytime soon), what after? Every blog article or support group I find is TOTALLY mom-dominated. You can make the argument that, yes, 96% of stay-at-home parents are mothers and that, yes, traditionally the dynamic is mom stays with kids while dad works. But it’s 2013 and we’re two years away from having hoverboards and if you’re basing ANY point on tradition alone then you are a huge opponent of progress and I don’t like you very much.
When I initially told C that I wished to take some paternity leave to a) give her a break and b) properly bond with the fruit of my loins, she laughed. When she told her friends about it? Bemused smirks and head shaking and comments to the effect of ‘She was pregnant, so she gets the leave’, or ‘You understand that it isn’t a vacation, right?’ It isn’t? I can’t just put the baby in its baby cage while I play Xbox and pound beers? I mean, I’ve been doing that with our idiot dog, and our baby is, you know, human, so shouldn’t it be a little more self sufficient? There’s this entrenched perception that dads are either hopeless idiots at home, or career-oriented workaholics. If we want to continue promoting equality in the workplace, maybe it makes sense to start promoting it at home as well.
The question I have is no longer ‘How do I convince people that an active, engaged father is a necessary and vital part of family life?’ It’s now ‘WHY should I have to convince people of that at all?’ I want to be considered on equal parental footing as C throughout our child’s life; I want to be there for the big events, those transcendental moments with children that seem to eclipse everything else in life and annoy your childless Facebook friends. I want to be the point of contact for daycares and schools and doctors. I don’t want to miss anything because I’m stuck behind a desk, and I don’t want to place the burden of parenting on my partner. But it seems like the view persists: men, take a backseat in the parentmobile because you have no idea what you’re doing.
A little secret: I cook at home. I clean at home. I’m a flowery cardigan and a horrible Cockney accent away from being Mrs. Doubtfire, whereas C is the go-to in matters of home improvement and car repair (if there was any doubt as to who wore the pants in this relationship, let it rest now). She’s also the primary breadwinner. Essentially it feels like we’ve ALREADY swapped gender roles. So yeah, it’s safe to say my maternal instincts are kicking in a little bit.
We’re seeing stories like this pop up all time now; friends and family and strangers making passing remarks on ‘Daddy’s day with the kids’ or hamfisted implications that the mother is the preferred at-home parent. Gender equality goes both ways. I don’t snort with derision when you tell me you’re angling for that promotion at work, so why would you do the same when I tell you I want to be an active parent?
Ultimately, I believe dads just want to feel like they’re a vital and necessary part of this whole ‘parenting’ thing rather than a sperm machine/money maker, and they’re looking for any opportunity to do so. We all benefit when dads are active and engaged. It’s probably time we start supporting them when they are.
Originally appeared at Fatherhurrrd
Photo: Flickr/julien haler