This is my column for the March edition of our neighborhood newsletter.
On my day off during the week I get to stay at home with our newborn daughter while my wife goes to work. We spend our day together doing the same things that most everybody does with a newborn: eating, changing diapers, and sleeping.
On some of these warmer days, I have taken our daughter out to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. I strap her to my chest into a fancy contraption, the Ergo Baby, and go out for a walk. While she and I are out in public, the state of fatherhood in our society is palpably, and disturbingly, apparent.
I receive more surprised looks, more grins, and more well wishes when I’m walking alone with my daughter than when my wife is with us. I’m smothered with gratuitous praise from complete strangers: “you’re such a good father,” “wow, just daddy and baby,” “that is so wonderful that you’re taking her for a walk.” Really? You have no idea who I am or who this baby is. A stranger sees a man and a child, and their heart melts with sentimentality and a vague hope for the future.
I could take our daughter to the grocery store dressed in plaid pants and a striped shirt, buy a dozen boxes of Lucky Charms and a bucket of lard, and some well-meaning stranger would approach me with a glint in their eye and give their nod of approval, “way to go, dad.”
Sure, all this praise is a great boost for my ego, but it only shows how low the bar is for fathers in our society. One of my favorite authors, Michael Chabon, offers these reflections in his book, “Manhood for Amateurs.” Chabon manages to peel back the layers and offers refreshingly vivid reflections on fatherhood in America.
If the bar is low for fathers in our society, then the bar is impossibly high for mothers. If a woman has one child, she’s criticized for spoiling the kid. If she has multiple children, she’s criticized for not giving the attention each one deserves. If a mother goes back to work, she’s criticized for leaving the child with a stranger, but if she stays at home, society asks, “what kind of example are you setting for young women?” (Credit to Brene Brown in “Daring Greatly” for these insights). The bar isn’t high for mothers in our society; no, the bar is moved at every decision a woman makes so as to make success an impossibility. And I haven’t even touched on women who never married or never had children. I can’t even imagine the shame that society has dumped on them.
So let’s all be honest with one another. Parenting is hard. Really hard. Instead of giving me a thumbs-up for my parenting skills, I ask you to encourage anybody and everybody who has kids. Let them know that the bar set by society is fiction.