I’ve never considered myself much of a feminist. To be sure, I fully support equality for women in all areas of human existence, and I fully believe we have a long way to go to get there globally. My only point in bringing it up is that I really don’t spend a lot of time focused on the issue. My advocacy generally lies in another realm.
There is one area of gender equality that I have still found to be way behind the times: Giving fathers all kinds of credit for simply doing what they are supposed to be doing. It makes me crazy, and I know I’m not alone. This is a conversation that I have had with plenty of moms my age over the years. We’ve had enough.
It’s my generation of mothers that experiences it the most, I believe, primarily because it is my generation of mothers that has required fathers to share more of the everyday parenting responsibilities.
My parents’ generation was rife with men who never changed a diaper, never fed a baby, never gave a bath, couldn’t dress a child to save his life, didn’t know where the pre-school was, never went to the doctor, and on and on and on. Heck, many of our fathers weren’t even allowed in the delivery room. That’s hardly the case for dads any more.
But there’s been an unexpected and undeserved consequence of their increased involvement I imagine no woman my age saw coming: men getting compliments for it. Consider the following 3 scenarios and see if you can relate.
Scenario 1: Father of today takes little baby upstairs to change a diaper at a family party while you sit and finish a conversation. Mother of yesteryear says, “Oh, isn’t that so nice daddy taking little baby upstairs like that? My husband would have never done that! You’re so lucky!”
Scenario 2: Father of today brings the little ones to the doctor because mom also had to go to work and it is his turn to take a day off, and nurse says, “Oh, look at you guys getting to spend the day with daddy! I bet you love that!”
Scenario 3: Father of today wakes up early to be with the baby so mom who’s been up three nights in a row can finally get some sleep, and person down the street he runs into while out walking with the stroller says, “Oh, isn’t your wife so lucky sleeping in like that? What a good dad and husband you are!”
I couldn’t count the amount of times my husband has gotten credit...extra credit, I should say...for simply fulfilling his fatherly responsibilities. Heck, even when he does a half ass job at them, he still gets complimented!
“Oh sure, that outfit is for the wrong season and two sizes too small, but hey, he got her dressed, right?”
Um, wrong! Look at the tag! Check the weather!
To the best of my recollection I have never received a compliment for dressing my child properly or changing a baby at a family party. I have never received a compliment for taking my children for a walk, let alone an inquiry about why I was doing it. And I most certainly have never had a nurse ask my children if they were excited to spend the day with me just because we were in the doctor’s office on a Tuesday.
But here’s the thing. I don’t deserve a compliment! I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Which is why this idea that fathers who now share more of the parenting load do deserve a compliment is insane. More important, I think it sends a bad message.
Each compliment serves to remind men of two things: one, that their predecessors never had to do this kind of stuff (the implication being they are worse off now and perhaps somewhat emasculated), and two, that the fact they do means they’re worthy of praise and recognition.
Likewise, it conveys that women are somehow getting more than they deserve, as if changing a diaper at a family party is above and beyond what is expected of a man. Like he’s doing us a favor. Not only is he great for doing it, the compliment tells us, we should be grateful he does.
And let’s just think for a moment about what that compliment’s message is to our children. Mom’s supposed to wipe your butt, kids. Dad’s a hero if he does.
It’s a recipe for resentment if you ask me. Today’s moms already resent the hell out of it, but I imagine today’s dads do too in a different way. Although I’ve never heard it, I can’t imagine this conversation hasn’t come up around a table full of modern dads at some point.
Don’t ya wish we had it like our dads? Do you ever remember your dad giving you a bath? Seriously, my wife has no idea how good she has it.
And in his defense, why wouldn’t he think that if he does? It’s reinforced every time someone praises him for doing anything above and beyond what his father did.
(Also in his defense, I am in no way suggesting today's dads are seeking this recognition. They are not. They are just being given it, primarily by people who seem almost, I don't know, jealous?...or bitter?...or angry? I wish I understood why some folks feel so compelled to point out and compliment a modern father doing something he wasn't expected to do in the past to a modern mother, but I don't. I truly don't get it. What is their point? Are they really impressed by the father, or are they really just aggravated with the "unappreciative" mother and want to let her know how spoiled she is? What's happening here? Anyone?)
My most recent reminder of this nonsense came yesterday. After a 3 day hospital stay for spinal fusion, my daughter was getting ready to be released when the nursing staff came in to get her ready to go. My husband and I had kept a constant vigil by her side since the surgery 4 days earlier.
I had been home a total of 15 hours in those 4 days to briefly shower, take care of my other two children, make sure the house and dog were ok, and oh yeah, sleep. I went over 24 hours without it the first day, not to mention the days beforehand when I couldn’t sleep from the anxiety.
The last two nights at the hospital we decided my husband would stay. Unbeknownst to the nurse, he suffers from insomnia so it made no sense for me to be awake at night again if he was already going to be. I took the 12 hour shift the last day, and he took over that night. It was the next morning the staff felt compelled to compliment him for it.
“You know, she’s so lucky to have a dad like you,” said a female hospital volunteer to him as he helped pack some of her things.
“I wish we had more dads like him,” she then looked at me with a smile. “He’s really just so attentive to her needs. It’s very impressive.”
I looked at her with a half smile with pursed lips and wide eyes as I took in a deep breath trying to not to snort in disgust or roll my eyes. Given my sleep deprivation and exhaustion, it was quite a feat.
“Mmm-hmmm…”, was all I could manage to get out while nodding my head kindly.
Oh, for Christ’s sake! Are you freakin’ kidding me?! This is what I really wanted to say.
Yes, yes, lady, he’s so attentive. And what the hell am I doing over here? Oh, that’s right. I’m drying my shirt off because I just gave her a shower and brushed her hair and teeth and got her dressed and calmed her down to give her the confidence to walk the five steps from the bathroom toilet to the bathroom sink.
I sang her favorite song as I slowly peeled back the gauze down the scar that now goes from her shoulders to her butt to distract her from the pain and the blood she saw oozing out behind her leg, and I kept a perfectly happy, calm, peaceful face the whole time so she couldn’t see or sense the tears and terror in my eyes or voice while I did it.
I then dressed her in the pajamas and robe that I bought special for her at the store days before the surgery, trying to give her something positive to look forward to. And then after getting her back in bed while we breathed together in sync, I met with the other nurse to go over her medications and discharge papers. Funny, they wanted to talk to me about that.
And then I thought about everything that led up to that moment. How I was the one who worried after we stopped physical therapy a few years ago that something might happen, and how I was the one who noticed it last summer, and how I was the one who made the appointment to go back to our therapists to see if I was right...which I was.
I thought about the two months of going 4 times a week to therapy after school and on Saturday mornings, only to realize it wasn’t helping and that we had to take more drastic measures.
I thought about talking with other moms and finding another who had gone through the same thing and had a great doctor for us and making that appointment. And going to that appointment. And getting x rays. And having to explain to my daughter as honestly and gently as possible what was going to happen, all while reassuring her everything would be ok, and this was for the best.
I thought about the email I had to craft to send to her teachers to let them know about why she likes to sit sideways and how nervous she is. I thought about making sure she had resources at school to relieve her pain.
I thought about the 3 MRI’s I had to sit with her through and the other x rays and appointments that were needed to make this happen.
I thought about all of the calls with the insurance company and the hospital and the blood draws and so much more, most especially how my husband had basically nothing to do with or for any of it.
I thought about all of this as this kind, sixty-something woman made sure to let me know how great my husband is for staying overnight two nights in the hospital.
A relative came to visit shortly after and while carrying my daughter’s things to the car, I vented. I told her how ridiculous it was that he was getting compliments and credit for anything, let alone sleeping in the room while she slept, all while I had done absolutely everything for this child before, during, and after. And I was clear.
I’m not looking for a compliment either. I just don’t want to be slapped in the face.
Every time someone praises a father for doing what he’s supposed to do, while at the same time failing to acknowledge everything the mother has done (which is not only usually the same exact thing but also significantly more often and in more depth), that’s exactly how it feels.
It’s not that it wasn’t a good thing that my husband stayed over night. It was. My daughter is lucky to have a dad that loves her and was there for her. Damn right.
It’s just that of all the effort that went into getting her to surgery and beyond, THAT was what and HE was who this woman felt deserved recognition? Nevermind the fact that I spent the first night there too, the worst night, helping her every 15 minutes as she vomited from the pain medication. She was through all of that by the time he took over.
“Well, that’s because you’re the mom,” my cousin replied. “And that’s what our world expects moms to do. You were supposed to do that stuff in her mind, Julie. He wasn’t.”
And therein lies the crux of the issue. Complimenting dads for doing things moms do all the time perpetuates and solidifies the myth that men participating in all aspects of parenting their children is really not their responsibility after all, and more so, that we should be grateful for them doing so even when it pales in comparison in quality and quantity and frequency to what we have done.
“Well, that’s bullshit,” I fired back. “I’ve just about had enough of this.I know I'm tired and cranky, but I'm so sick of it! He’s her father! He’s SUPPOSED to be there! She had surgery for crying out loud! In fact, he should have done a whole hell of a lot more.”
And so that’s my rant and my call to the world this week. Stop complimenting dads and giving them praise just for doing what they are supposed to do. If you catch anyone giving credit where credit isn’t really due, shut that shit down.
Dads are supposed to change diapers. Dads are supposed to go to doctor appointments. Dads are supposed to alternate sleeping over night at the hospital. Dads are supposed to know who the teachers are and where the school is. Dads are supposed to be able to dress their kids properly. Dads are supposed to be involved.
It sucks that dads weren't required to do this stuff years ago. It sucks that my mom and my grandmother and so many generations before them had to do it all by themselves. It sucks that a dad being attentive to his child in the hospital is still seen as some sort of remarkable act in this day and age. And I can accept that my husband didn't have an example of how to do these things, which is honestly much of the reason for him not knowing how and what to do, let alone doing it well. I get that.
But finally doing what he should have been doing all along is not a reason to make him feel like he's doing more than he should, or to punish those of us who are finally requiring it. Seriously, everyone. Let’s save the dad compliments for when they really deserve it.
I’ll be happy to give you an example of when that might be just as soon as I can think of one the world would give a mom.