Fatherhood is more than watching the kids

I think that I was eight or nine when I began noticing it. It was subtle at first, but it was there. I knew that my dad was… different.

The dads on the television and in movies were these inept bumbling Rick Moranis types who were constantly flailing at parenthood and failing horribly.

There was the dad that burned dinner for his kids and shoveled them full of frozen pizza instead. There was the dad who couldn’t figure out the washing machine to save his life and flooded the house with soapy annihilation. There was the dad that had to spend five uninterrupted minutes with his kids, and decided to plop them in front of a video game as opposed to talk to them.

This was the image of fatherhood that corporate America decided was reasonable, and they used it to sell “outs,” meaning ways for hapless fathers to cope with the burden of their families.

I thought, even at eight or nine, that it was on-its-face absurd that these men could go to work and build a house from the foundation up but were somehow flummoxed by a Maytag. It seemed to me that men who could argue a legal case in open court should be able to talk to their own children from time to time.

And it seemed odd that basically every father in the world could sear steaks on a grill but feared stoves as if they contained witchcraft. What made these depictions seem all the more absurd to me was the presence of my own father, capable, engaged and genuinely interested in the goings on of his household. He was never put out by the tasks required to move the day along, and he spent gobs of time with us (even the girl-child) despite the constant imagery that depicted this as a mission doomed pre-launch.

One vestigial part of yesteryear that I sorely want amputated is the notion of a father “babysitting” his own children. The term itself conjures up tweens temporarily filling in for a real parent. It is wholly detestable to address a father as a babysitter, or to reduce a father spending time with his children as equivalent to what a minimum wage tween might do. This offends me; it should offend every father on the planet. Fathers are not merely placeholders for the real parent, and they are not partial parents either. There are oceans between the job of a father and a babysitter. Babysitters babysit, fathers parent. It’s really that simple.

The inept version of fatherhood is thankfully fading from view. Each successive decade since they made “Mr. Mom” has picked away at the concept of fathers as foreigners inside of their own homes. Today the commercials and movies that depict fatherhood have a much broader vocabulary with which to engage their audience.

Though there are notable exceptions and plenty of backsliding, in general they’ve begun to show dads of all stripes capably navigating their familial lives.

My hope is that this trend continues and gains steam, not just for me and for my father for whom fatherhood is a gift, but for my daughters and all the generations of men and women still to come.

By Patricia Older

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