Two things have happened recently that have furthered my opinions on what being a father means to me:
I watched The Mask You Live In
I watched men react in droves to a Dads Don’t Babysit t-shirt
Both of these made me realize, not for the first time, that dads can care deeply about their role in the family. Many men took pride I know took pride in making sure those around them understood they don’t babysit their own kids. Many partners also shared the message with those around them.
The two also feel greatly connected to me. For those who have not yet watched The Mask You Live In (you should, it’s on Netflix, go do it and then come back), it deep dives into the world our boys grow up in and the challenges they face in expressing themselves as they want while also competing every day against the expectations of what they should be doing to be masculine. It talks to boys, young men, young women, psychologists, activists, dads and many others about how they felt boxed in by the expectations around them to “be a man.”
The second, the dads don’t babysit shirts, are the result of what happens when boys who have been faced with this kind of challenge their entire life, encounter fatherhood. The sentiment of dad as babysitter is a byproduct of the expectations that a man with children ought to do nothing more than provide for them financially.
This is a phrase used by men and women alike. I don’t think men who say it are trying to understate their contribution to the family, I think they are once again being pushed up against what it means to be masculine. When you have a father who is running for the presidency of one of the most powerful countries in the world talking about dads doing a wife’s work when he changes diapers, it’s hard to not be pushed up against the ideas of masculinity.
We all probably have different ideas on what it means to be masculine. Many of us also probably think we aren’t influenced by what popular culture tells us a man should be. We’re wrong if we think that but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to shift those ideas.
To show dads, and other men, that:
Loving your kids does not make you less of a man.
Changing diapers doesn’t make us less of a man.
Falling asleep in bed with our daughter as she reads us chapter 4 of a My Little Pony book doesn’t make us less of a man.
Crying at what a great performance our son is giving in the supporting role of “swaying grass” in his school play does not make us less of a man.
Saying you’d rather not go out for the night because you want to watch Brave with your daughter for the 10th time and know she gets a little scared when the bear tries to get Merida does not make us less of a man.
Telling your son you were proud of him for taking ten swings at baseball practice and not making contact once does not make us less of a man.
Telling your buddy who just told a sexist joke to stop making sexist jokes does not make us less of a man.
Not being able to fix your toilet when your kid has thrown a Disney princess in it does not make us less of a man.
Saying you’re absolutely going to go out for dinner with your kid because they won a participation medal doesn’t make us less of a man.
Getting super excited to see women star in movies you grew up with like Star Wars and Ghostbusters does not make us less of a man.
Once we start realizing we can do all of these things and still be a man, it becomes much easier to take on the role of dad. And the great thing about being a dad is that you get to make your rules for how to do it. We have every opportunity to set those rules according to what benefits our kids the most.
Dads clean, dads dance, dads hold hands during scary parts of movies, dads brush hair, dads throw footballs, dads talk about sex, dads cry when their kids are sad, dads sometimes scream, dads sometimes need to be alone.
Dads don’t babysit.