EDWARD FROM SOUTHBOROUGH WONDERS WHY ONLY WOMEN ARE BORN WITH THE PARENTING GENE
Picture this; three men are sitting in the food court of RVP’s shopping centre. Two of them have clothes that are paint splattered, their boots have reinforced toes and they are both adorned with a faint layer of plaster dust. Their friend sits with them – he has joined them for lunch – they might know each other from work, he may be in a similar trade, but today he has swapped his plastering trowel for the pram by his side. As they chat, he stands to readjust the blankets around his baby and gently rocks the cot.
Is this a strange image? It shouldn’t be. I dare say it wouldn’t have even captured my attention had I not already been in the midst of writing this letter. But as you walk past all the Father’s Day merchandise in shops this month, the cards paint a very different picture of what fatherhood looks like. As you run your eyes down the aisle, a narrative begins to form; ‘If in doubt, ask your mother’, ‘Be a bad parent – They’ll move out sooner’, ‘Everything I learned from life I learned from beer’. Not very complimentary. I understand these are supposed to be an attempt at humour, and these lazy efforts at swaying the consumer’s purse strings are not the end of the world.
Truth be told, I’ve seen worse instances of perpetuating the incompetent dad stereotype, but the reason I’m so bent out of shape about this is because it’s a small problem that’s indicative of a much larger issue.
On one hand, dads are being told how important involved fatherhood is – besides just having a better relationship with your children – social awareness is steadily eroding the ‘bread-winning-bacon-bearing’ father stereotype as we seek to mirror the multicultural and single-sex families that we encounter every day. In similar fashion, the now outdated stereotype of the stay-at-home mum has given way to the understanding that working mums make our kids and our society better off than before. So why hasn’t culture tried to do the same with the father figure – only in reverse? Instead of encouraging dads, the industry is branding them incompetent babysitters or just another big kid to handle.
When this all too familiar message is spread, it simultaneously dis-invites fathers from the parenting conversation and perpetuates sexist views about their female partners. It narrows their place and their contribution. Instead of being considered capable, men are being placed in a position of submissive duty, simply following their wives’ childcare directives and becoming little more than the equivalent of hired help.
Unless we are being kept in the dark about the cheat sheet that is hard wired into the XX chromosomes, then mothers must be just as clueless as the rest of us. There are no standards, and it is possible that there never will be again – we are all just groping about in the sleep-deprived haze that is parenthood and then lying about it afterwards. And when I take the time to sit back and notice parents and the way these fathers care for their children, wipe off sticky fingers after snack time, kerb the tantrums and tuck in the blankets, it becomes evident that they are no more or less prepared than anybody else.
So this year, when my kids are reaching for the Father’s Day cards on the shelves, I hope they stop. I hope they take a moment to remember all the lifts to school, the piles of laundry, the late nights spent waiting up for them to call to be picked up from a party, and I hope they forget the cards and pick up some very strong coffee instead…
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