Competent. Hands on.

Competent. Hands on.

I can’t favorite this NPR piece enough:

It’s not the world I live in — the one where every day, competent hands-on fathers (married, partnered, single) navigate their children from point to point without mishap. But then it’s not the world anyone lives in. With more and more women serving as primary wage-earners and more and more men serving as primary caregivers, it’s only logical that the organizing intelligence behind any given household might actually have a Y chromosome.

via Mom, Meet Dad. He Promises He’s Not Going To Break The Kids. : Monkey See : NPR.

Hat tip to Doug French: LODBabble VoicesDad 2.0

The above story is a response to this New York Times piece about a kind of man I don’t know. Most of the fathers I know are not as distant from familial routine,  can schedule a play date and can make meals for their families. No father I know gripes about having to single parent if his partner or spouse travels. I may have had doubts the first time I was alone with my first kid. After that, I figured it out and was fine. Because that is what fatherhood is. You want the family? This is what it means to have a family: diapering, cleaning, bedtime stories, untold drinks of water at bedtime, cooking, homework supervision/assistance, school drop off and pickup, daycare drop off and pick up, scheduling play dates (including hosting play dates), comforting and conflict resolution. If you aren’t willing to do those things, why the hell would you have a family?

Certainly, I’m not alone in my thinking: Fathers can solo parent.

I should add an expletive, but.

  • http://twitter.com/mburtis Martha

    I’m married to someone who is a pretty involved father. We both work, but we’ve always shared parenting. This wasn’t something that was up for discussion or debate. It just WAS. Sure, there are parenting things he’s better at than I am (and vice versa), and we try to spell each other on these fronts from time to time. But overall, we both see parenting as a joint venture. 

    So it’s always been incredibly frustrating to me when others (family members, day care providers) remark to me how “lucky” my kids (and I) are to have such an “involved” father. The women who worked at my daughter’s day care positively oozed over him when he would pick her up a few days a week. 

    I find the whole thing baffling. I don’t get (nor do I expect) that kind of reaction to doing, well, what a parent SHOULD do. And I periodically tell people that, I’m sorry, but he doesn’t get points from me for NOT being an asshole (which, quite frankly, is how I would describe men who don’t see themselves as partners in the entire parenting venture). 

    When I say this to people, however, they act appalled. Why am I not more grateful? 

    I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Really. I feel very lucky to be married to a great man and to have a marriage in which we share the responsibilities and joys of family.  I just think that as a society if we reward men (and boys) for merely living up to their basic responsibilities we are abdicating a responsibility to teach them to try and be MORE than that. 

    Anyway, your post (and the NYT article) made me think of that and I’m curious to know what you think, I guess. 

    • chernevik

      Maybe you should be a little more appreciative.  I’m occupied 60-80 hours a week paying the bills, and no, my wife doesn’t want that role, am I one of those assholes who’s not equal?  No, I don’t do as much carpool duty.  I am the one who can turn the daughter around when the other kids are mean and who takes her to the museum to draw and getting her into track.  I’m on top of the son’s math class, taught him to wait ten seconds before making a move at chess and know how to make him confident when he’s anxious.

      You’ve got your own situation and maybe it works great for all.  But maybe you ought to look at how much of the “traditional” dad / father role you’ve offloaded from _him_, and ask yourself how sustainable his load is.

      In the meantime, my compliance with your expectations has nothing to do with my decency.  So watch your language.

      • Heather Tolley

        I didn’t get the feel that Martha was attacking  a family system where one parent stays at home and the other works. I don’t think that was the point, or result, of her statements at all. What I got out of it was that there should be balance and involvement of both parties, as much as possible, for whatever your family system looks like. If one parent works, then it is logical that in order to keep a balance, the other parent will take on additional “home” responsibilities. She was not making and claims about whether parents should work vs. stay at home, but saying that if both parents do work, then parenting and home responsibilities should be equally shared. And that one person shouldn’t be held on a pedistal for doing what’s only fair, simply based on their gender – male OR female. 

      • http://twitter.com/JessW1982 Jessica Woods

         so watch your language?? who are you, her dad? wtf

        • chernevik

          Well, “he doesn’t get points from me for NOT being an asshole” don’t really suggest tolerance of other approaches, now do it?  Not really clear what she means.  So maybe if she chose her words better we’d actually know what she’s saying. 

      • http://www.facebook.com/mburtis Martha Fay Burtis

        I’m not suggesting at all that partners shouldn’t come up with a balance that works for them. As I said in my comment: “. . .there are parenting things [my husband's] better at than I am (and vice versa),
        and we try to spell each other on these fronts from time to time.” We all need to play to our strengths and recognize our weaknesses. In our house, my husband takes care of bills and I take care of doctors’ appointments and the majority of the kids’ activities. That’s one example of a workable balance for us.

        The problem I’m identifying is with larger cultural expectations that if my husband does basic parenting things like pick up our daughter from daycare or act interested in her schoolwork, he’s commended for his “involvement.” This just doesn’t make sense to me.

        As for my not being appreciative, perhaps you missed it when I said, “I feel very lucky to be married to a great man and to have a marriage in which we share the responsibilities and joys of family.”

        Honestly, I’m not particularly interested in whether or not you comply with my expectations. I was just expressing my own personal take on this issue based on my own personal experiences.

        And, I have no idea what you mean by telling me to “watch my language.”

        • chernevik

          I’ve spoken to the language thing above.

          And I don’t know the commendations signify anything about overall expectations.  If your income seemed substantially more than others, say you drove fancy cars or had a big house, people would notice it.  This happens to be something noticeable that is socially acceptable to compliment.  If your husband was a noticeably great little league coach or a particularly funny guy people would comment on that and it wouldn’t mean anything.  Maybe they think he’s doing the “traditional” stuff and adding this apparent stuff on top, wouldn’t that be somehow praiseworthy?

          Stuff like this does make him seem more involved than average, because it’s more apparent than the components of more Ward-and-June models.  And maybe he is, the ‘average’ includes some real losers.  But from where I sit dads are ‘traditionally’ expected to do a lot, and none of it’s easy.

  • http://twitter.com/jessicadennis Jessica Dennis

    I’d be willing to bet moms have doubts about the first time they’re left alone with their kids too. I’m not a parent, but hell, I had doubts about the first time I was left alone with my new *car* — I kinda couldn’t believe they let me take this shiny new thing home with me. I imagine a baby is like that only much much more so, regardless of gender.

  • Alicia Wells

    I think that men are becoming more involved fathers. In my parents’ generation most men had very little involvement with their children. DIapering and feeding were not on their list of jobs, but then the women were not working outside the home much either. In my generation, with more women in the work force full time, fathers were helping more but still were not too excited about taking care of the kids for more than a couple of hours at a time by themselves. There are now a lot of fathers with young kids who are hands-on, my son-in-law is one of them, but it is a work in process and there are still a lot who don’t think it is their job. Jon, be proud of the father you are and that through your blog you are promoting a more involved type of fathering.

  • http://twitter.com/lala34mc Laura Gaunt

    The NY Times article makes me want to hurl. As a mother who sometimes travels, works quite a lot, and contributes equally to the breadwinning in our home, I’m bored and disappointed in the content and tone of the article. It’s lazy and I’m wondering (hoping) it’s something she dug up from 1996 to meet a deadline.

    High five to NPR for the response, very well done.

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  • http://twitter.com/kateblah Kate

    ummm i guess I will vote on the side of celebrating good fathers when I see them.  Probably to the point of annoying people who think it’s just what you should be always doing.

     Professionally I’ve been working with at risk/incarcerated teenagers for 10 years and I honestly can not think of one instance of positive biological father involvement.  I also socially know a good number of ok-ish dudes who are pretty lazy as far as equal involvement goes.  I don’t mean to sound like a cynical asshole but I still think involved fathers as the exception rather then the rule. 

    Like all things, especially with families people see things through their own experiences.  Maybe I’ve just experienced/seen WAY too many bad (and when I say bad I don’t mean they don’t pick up their kid from daycare I mean actively damaging their child bad)  I overreact to the good ones.  I’m sorry you guys are feeling disrespected for your energy and time but I’m always happy to see good fathers. 

    • http://blurbomat.com/wordpress/ blurb

      Not enough dads are towing the line. Straight up. I’m not looking for and don’t need hero worship. But I’m tired of being crapped on in popular culture.

  • Julie H

    Millions of dads are doing it, and doing it well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robin.dearing Robin Dearing

    Holy cow! I’m finding this all shocking. I have a stepson and a daughter. After my daughter was born, I looked to my husband as the expert since he’d successful reared a child for 10 years.

    When my husband went on a trip when my daughter was 18 months old, my mother stayed with me to help me out. When he went on another trip when our daughter was 5, she called him on the phone asking, “Who’s going to feed us?” (He’s the cook of the house.)

    We parent as a team just like most of the two-parent families we know (whether they are together or not). I just don’t see a lot of families where the moms take care of the kids and the dads are on the couch. This idea that dads are secondary care givers seems so antiquated.

  • Obregon Pattillo

    I always think of the Chris Rock routine  in which he mocks people who
    congratulate themselves for doing things they’re supposed to do anyway.
    “‘I take care of my kids.’ You’re supposed to take care of your kids! ‘I’ve never been to jail.’ What do you want – a cookie?”

  • http://clarkkentslunchbox.blogspot.com/ R_Mattocks

    Well, my thoughts on the NYT piece are obvious an eye-roll so strenuous I sprain an extraocular muscle. I know it sounds weird that people are that out of touch with what’s going on in fatherhood, but as I’ve transitioned from SAHD back to the workforce there’s an awkwardness sometimes when I end up in a situation where I’m explaining my experience. Not awkward for me but for them, they just don’t think about it because for a lot of guys continues to be status quo – traditional roles and all that. On person said to me the other day, “A SAHD, huh? I’ve heard of them, but you’re the first I’ve ever met.” (He was kind of a jerk, so I asked him what his kid’s favorite toy was to play with. He chuckled and changed the subject.) 

    • http://blurbomat.com/wordpress/ blurb

      Thanks for stopping by and for sharing perspective. I’ve watched the awkwardness as well. 

      One dad at a time. 

    • Lilly O’Handley


       Not awkward for me but for them” VERY astute observation. Sorry for your experience, but also glad for your experience (if you  know what I mean)!

  • Kathleen Brown

    I don’t have kids, nor am I married, but most of my friends are married and have young children. All the dads are wonderful and equally involved in taking care of the kids. In most cases both parents work. However, even in this day and age, when the moms are having a “girls night” or simply out sans kids, they will sometimes be asked “oh is your husband babysitting?” WTF, they are his kids. He’s not “baby-sitting,” he’s their dad! 

    • http://twitter.com/L2Buffoons Letters To Buffoons

      This one drives me bonkers as well! I always say, “No, he’s parenting.” I’m extremely grateful for all that my husband does, and my dad recently told me he wished he could have been more like my husband when I was a kid, which I thought was pretty sweet.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/VID4WMNEOIUL6QMUL2XFOOOO2I Janet

    I truly don’t get the uproar and have to admit that I relate more to the mom in the article.  My husband is a car salesman and his schedule consists of 12+ hour days.  He’s not a workaholic and he doesn’t choose those hours, they just Are.  He gets Sundays and the occasional Thursday off.  He is as good a father as he can be in the hours he gets to see them.  

    I am amazed by his ability to walk in the door at 9pm and go straight into his bedtime routine with them.  But let’s be honest.  He knows those kids almost as well as I do, but he knows nothing of our daily schedule.  He knows the “best friends”, but he doesn’t know all the friends, and he sure as heck doesn’t know the other parents that I spend most of my time chatting with on the sidelines of all the activities.  I *do* leave him lists, and i *do* text him directions whenever I am away and he’s in charge.  Half the time I rearrange the schedule so he’s not harried and hectic.  And he almost always forgets *something*.  He can’t help it; he hasn’t had the same practice that I’ve had.  Another commenter said that we see things through the filter of our own experiences.  So I guess that’s why I really don’t get what the hostility is about.  I think that most of the spouses of the SAH parents in my group (because there ARE some dads in there) would be in the same boat that my husband is in.  Means well, loves his kids, is as involved as he CAN be, but is still a bit clueless.  I don’t feel like that demeans him or insults him.  It just is.  Frankly I’m more offended by the commenter who said that she’s not going to give her husband credit for not being an a$$hole.  It has to be one or the other?  I don’t think it’s that black and white.  

    • http://blurbomat.com/wordpress/ blurb

      Everybody has a unique situation. Point is, men are portrayed a certain way in the media. It’s not helping. I’m not going to get Norma Rae, but I think enough is enough. This is a conversation worth having.

      There isn’t a single right or a single wrong. Fathers who stay at home are not the morons portrayed in commercials, movies and TV shows. Without fail, every single man I’ve met who has stayed at home with his kids is sharp, smart and on it. All I’m really asking for is that the fathers who aren’t morons get some stories about them. 

      This isn’t outrage. This is a reminder that things need to change in a lot of ways.

  • cluelesscarolinagirl

    Okay, I’ll admit it–I’m fifty freaking three years old and my first memory is of my daddy kissing my foot while changing my diaper.   Involved dads have been around for a long, long time.  My dad earned two masters and a PhD,  could and did close our garage in for a crafts shop for Mom, put in a fence, shot breathtaking photographs, fiddled with his car (EVERYBODY fiddled with their cars back then ’cause they didn’t work too well)…I miss him.  

  • PandoraHasABox

    I really hate the trope of the “incompetent and clueless father.”  I do know some men like that.  One proudly admits that he never changed a diaper for any of his kids.  He’s also been married and divorced three times.

    However, most fathers I know, especially in my generation, are active and involved.  While my husband might never arrange a play-date for our kids (nor would I expect him to), I will never be able to thank him enough for taking over the night duties for our son when my back went out.  He was four months old, twenty-four pounds, and I could not lift him from his crib at 2am.  My husband not only lifted that chunk EVERY NIGHT FOR EIGHT MONTHS, he then went to work every day and managed a large financial portfolio.  He was my hero.  And still is.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/YOQFWOS7BUXZBKLF23H7YJ2ULY LadyBoyd

    I would have to say that in my opinion an involved dad is not one who necessarily does the car pool or whatever, but who is, as mentioned above, “involved” in his children’s lives. Even if that is only on weekends and an occasional evening because of his workload, it still is, in my opinion, equal parenting. Of course the exception is the Dad who pops in on the weekend and knows nothing about what’s going on in the lives of his kids. However, I know several dads, including my sister’s husband, who puts in 80-100 hours a week at work, sometimes not even making it home to sleep in his own bed and he still finds time to figure out what his kids are up to, talk to them, spend quality time with them on the weekends, and when they were infants, getting up in the middle of the night to help with feedings and diapering. Its all about the attitude as much as the actual TIME….

  • Lilly O’Handley

    Everybody Loves Raymond, right? I think there’s safety in the stereotypes. I am 40 and most men I know see watching their kids as a rarity and they even call it “babysitting.” On the converse, I see most of their wives treating them less as a parent and more as an older child they “have to deal with.”  

  • David Wattenbarger

    My wife and I both work at home, we both spend tons of time with our child, and it is awesome.  But she handles more of the baby’s daily logistics than I do, and I manage more of the household “business”.  She’s planning a work trip out of the country, and it frankly does have me a little anxious – not that I don’t think I can handle more of the baby stuff for those days, just that it represents a shift from the normal routine.

    The NYT piece didn’t outrage me, even though I didn’t see it as speaking to my exact situation.

    • http://blurbomat.com/wordpress/ blurb

      You will be just fine! The first night is the worst. After that? much easier.

  • cluelesscarolinagirl

    A lot of it is personalities, I think.  Most people love their kids.  Some people have to work insane hours, especially in this economy, and the last two years before my company imploded-I was the one who worked the 70 hours.  They feel closer to my husband because sadly I couldn’t be there enough.  It was the luck of the draw.  His company gave him a sweet parachute and he has worked p/t since 2004.   They run to him first.

    But I am the Great Oz behind the throne.  I schedule their dental appointments.  I check their homework. I filled out the paperwork for the special magnet school that I found sitting on husband’s desk.   And got my child in.  I noticed a problem in reading and found a place that is helping one of my kids catch up.

    It will all come out in the wash I think.  The key is respect.  Respect the parents who HAVE to put in the hours.  Respect the ones who are lugging them to the soccer game or violin lessons.   

  • Shea Goff

    I heard recently that the new political rhetoric includes “women are special”. This makes me wince, turn away and say, Please, no. Just equal, not special. 

    In the same sense I think many single or stay at home Dads can have the same reaction to being considered “special” for simply being a naturally decent parent. In the end, of course, it doesn’t matter what society thinks or what labels are put upon us fair or not. Surely it has to be the relationship any of us have with our child because in the end we as individuals can only be responsible and in control of ourselves.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1339945285 Geneva Zhao

    Of course dads can solo parent — I know several excellent, involved dads who do. And of course dads can equally parent. But those dads who’ve never changed a diaper, the ones who refer to childcare as babysitting, the ones who expect their wives to stay home from work when the kids are sick, the ones who show up for a few hours on Sunday afternoon and have never made a lunch or been to a conference or school program, who pay child support erratically or not at all, who don’t call their kids except on birthdays or don’t call them at all — those dads are common too. Men get more cultural reinforcement for putting other things (like work) first and less cultural opprobrium if they put kids second — or last. That doesn’t lots of excellent dads don’t exist (or no neglectful moms do). It just means that lots more moms than dads are fighting to get their kids’ father to see the kid/take care of the kid/buy shoes for the kid/listen to the kid, or even more unfortunately, are wondering if the father’s minimal and erratic involvement is even worth the confusion and frustration it provokes.

    Jon, not everyone is really aware of their needs and limitations when they have a family. Lots of people, men and women, think they’re more willing to manage conflict/change diapers/give up their personal space than they are. And lots of people don’t plan to have a family so deliberately, but respond to a situation (birth control failing, family pressure, peer pressure, a spouse’s wish) hoping they can step up and make it work. [As Bitch, Ph.D writes, having children is not the choice, but the default. Not having children -- that's the "choice."] And lots of people fail. Sometimes they stay married, like those fathers in the NYT article, and just go light on the parenting. Sometimes they disappear. Sometimes they get divorced and take the old standby every-other-weekend and think that’s plenty. And sometimes they get angry, get mean, and then bail, and that’s why my kids are in therapy. Do I think that means that no dads are engaged and competent? Of course not. Do I think it’s not true that times are changing and lots of dads aren’t as involved, if not more so, than some moms? Of course not. But NPR’s “might be” still doesn’t equal “probably is” or “is equally likely to.” Not by the numbers, anyway.

  • http://twitter.com/loisopal Lorraine Jackson

    I think part of the problem is the inclination among wives to become mothers to their husbands. I see so many of my girlfriends doing this, where in the chaos of their home after dinner they’re yelling at the kids to pick up this or that, and yelling at her husband to fix such and such. I think that as more men step up to the plate to take responsibility in the home, we will hopefully see less and less of that as parents feel like partners and equal masters in the domain.  (It’s that exact icky mothering mentality that makes me hate shows like the aforementioned Raymond. Give me a break!)

    In fact, I think it’s what makes single dads such great dads. Yes you may have your moments of panic that everyone has raising kids, but it’s yours and yours alone to wrangle, and not that dread of fulfilling another person’s expectation for you as a parent.

    Was this a useless tangent? Probably. :)

  • policydebater1999

    I hate the age-old image of father as bumbling incompetent. Open any Berenstain Bears book, and you’ll see Papa Bear making a fool of himself on every page while wise Mama Bear gently corrects him in front of the kids. It’s awful.

    I also hate feeling crappy about our situation, which is that my husband works such long hours that the kids never see him during the day. They only see him on weekends, except for an occasional lucky night when he’s home in time for 7:30 bedtime. He is a tremendous father, totally capable, smart, competent, sweet, loving, but he’s just unable to be around and can’t manage the household, not because he’s stupid, but because he’s not here. I honestly am so jealous of all of you who talk about your lives as equal co-parents. I am trying to get my PhD part-time and raise my family almost entirely on my own with no family nearby or other outside help except the one time every other week the neighbor kid comes over for 1.5 hours so I can clean the bathrooms. I love my life, don’t get me wrong, but I’m an over-educated, left-of-center, very independent woman who somehow wound up with the lion’s share of the child rearing, and I sometimes feel very envious of all of you who have equal partners in raising your kids.

  • http://profiles.google.com/storysofar Ann-Marie Hazlett

    my husband straight up can’t do it, and it’s frankly a burden to me if I need to ever go anywhere for any reason at all.  i’m a SAHM of 3 boys, we joke that i’m a single mom but honestly doing it all by myself is like watching a size 10 woman try to fit into a size 2 pair of jeans.  I am hoping, and praying, more Dads take on their role as a true ‘family man’ which means knowing what the family does and making it happen!  it’s easy to let someone be ‘better at it’ .. no one can replace your job as a Dad, so yes, kudos to the men who embrace being caregivers.

    • http://blurbomat.com/wordpress/ blurb

      This is why I shared.

  • http://twitter.com/maureenbu08 Maureen Nietzschmann

    My response is one of a child who’s been raised by both a mother and father separately. I was adopted as an infant (and a twin) by people who wanted desperately to have a family. Married but living apart, both my mom and dad took an active role in my upbringing. Yes, I lived with my mom five days a week. She stayed home with me and my sister from babies to college. My dad wasn’t involved in doing homework or taking us to play dates. I wouldn’t consider myself ‘daddy’s little girl’ by any means. But he fixed every boo-boo, answered the phone when I needed him to, and provided every sort of financial and emotional support any of us ever needed. And now, as I flounder about as a semi-adult, my dad has taken me in, encourages me to pursue a master’s degree, and never ever makes me feel guilty for using his money to get a bachelor’s degree or for wasting years not using it. He works a million hours a week but remembers what I like at the grocery store, meets me for lunch, and reminds me of doctor’s appointments or to do my taxes.  My upbringing was unconventional and strange, but I would never consider my dad as anything but hands on. Both of my parents are intelligent and hard-working people who have sacrificed more than I’ll ever know so that my twin and I would grow into decent human beings. For me, I celebrate them both as towing the line when it was and is needed.

  • Tina McDaniel

    I am a single mom to four kids ranging in age from 11 to 19. Each day I am thankful to spend time