It’s June and Father’s Day is coming, and if you look at fathers day cards, it is a day dedicated to us, beer guzzling, lazy couch potatoes that do nothing but work on our cars, carelessly make house repairs, disappear for hours to play golf, and neglectfully “babysit” our children while their mom goes grocery shopping.
These are generally supposed to be humorous stereotypes of what we do; however, these stereotypes are rooted in very real perceptions of who a Dad is and what a Dad does. It is these perceptions that very much emphasize the idea of “toxic masculinity” that quite often get attached to the very unnurturing, uncaring behaviour of going to work, making money, and coming home to drink beer on the couch and fall asleep. It’s the archetype of manhood: strong, demanding, problem-solving, competitive, and emotionally-armoured. The irony is that for such a powerful foundation, for us to build on as men, it is definitely fragile. It is a foundation that is prone to collapse because it is realistically unattainable. Perhaps that is why the suicide rate for men is almost 4 times higher than for women. Am I saying that we can end toxic masculinity and male suicide simply by changing the type of Father’s Day card we buy? No; however, all along the gender spectrum exist these little covert acceptances that support the negative stereotypes that we strive to eliminate.
Now perhaps I am sensitive to this, since, in my experience I was frequently exposed to the messages of not being able to look after my children on my own, yet I do think that Dads have a pretty bad reputation. I will be the first to admit that the majority of Dads do things a little bit differently than Moms do, but is that bad? Is it bad that we traditionally are not included in some of the negative mom stereotypes of being “overly coddling”, or perceived as providing less proverbial padding as our children run, jump and climb. Maybe we were just jumping on the “free-range parenting” bandwagon before “free-range parenting” was even a thing.
In a TED Talk, from March 20th, 2020, Attorney Marilyn York discusses her experience as a Men’s rights divorce attorney. She explains that, according to The Centre for Disease Control, children from fatherless homes account for 90% of homeless and runaway children; 71% of high school dropouts and 63% of youth suicides. She also states that “… children with involved fathers have stronger cognitive and motor skills, elevated physical and mental health, become better problem solvers, and are more curious, confident and empathetic.” During times like these we could all use a little more empathy!
I know that, in my experience, when my ex-wife left, due to the negative stereotypes that had been driven into me by certain individuals and society as a whole, I suffered major self-doubt as to whether I would be able to look after my two boys without “Mom”, especially since my youngest has a rare genetic disorder (STXBP1) that leaves him with global developmental delay and seizures. Over the 9 months, that it was just me and the boys, I work with neurologists to get my sons seizures under control, changed diapers, gave regular baths, told bedtime stories, made lunches, coordinated outfits, got the boys to school on time, and most importantly comforted my sons as they came to the realization that their parents would no longer be together. I attended sports practices and games, got them to doctors and dentists appoinments (including coordinating getting orthotics and regular physio appointments for my oldest), and parent teacher meetings. On top of that, I was working full time, working on my Masters, began taking them hiking and started this blog. Do I think I am a superhero for doing all of this? No… I do not. The only thing heroic about this time of my life was the copious amounts of coffee that I consumed. I consider myself a “parent”, no more important, no less.
I had my break-downs, and surprise… I did not lose my masculinity. In fact, I became a lot stronger.
I remember one night that my youngest son was sick. He woke up around midnight and vomited all over his bed, and bedroom carpet. I got out of bed, stripped him, threw him in the tub, stripped his sheets and put them into the washing machine. I put on clean sheets, scrubbed his floor, through down some baking soda to soak up liquid and stench, dried him off and put him back into bed… job well done…. or so I thought. About 45 mins later I was up again, doing the entire routine all over. This time I did not have any clean sheets left and the mattress was drenched. I decided to deal with it all in the morning and moved my son to my bed.
By this time it was about 2:00am and I was exhausted. Every little noise made me jump up. Every gurgle, sigh, sputter, or whimper was a potential round of lasagna filled barf… did I mention that’s what we had for dinner? It makes a wonderful rosé coloured stain. Anyway, after about an hour of restless sleep my son decided it was time for round three, and he was going for the knockout. He sat up and projectile vomit shot across the duvet cover. I attempted to mitigate the situation by trying to get him to the tub, but he shot laser beams of chewed carrot and tomato sauce across the white bedroom carpet, and light grey curtains all the while setting a new distance record. He looked like something out of the exorcist.
put on clean sheets,
start scrubbing carpet and curtains
Yep… in that moment I broke. I completely lost it. I cried, I swore and I hated so many people in that moment. It was 3:00 am and I was done. And while I cried, I scrubbed, I washed sheets, I bathed my son. I cleaned him up, lay him back down in my bed, had a shower, and checked on my other son. He had not woken up the entire time… VICTORY! I lay down and fell asleep knowing that I had been pushed outside of my comfort zone, and I won. Now I know, and.. well you know. (Insert child of the 80’s)
The next day I finished cleaning, washed all the sheets, carpets, curtains and PJs and got ready to do it all again because this is what parents do whether a Mom or a Dad.
The truth is, as a Dad, I have been crapped on (both figuratively and literally) and I am not the only Dad that feels this way. I think the majority of Dads do way more than societal perception gives them credit for. We just do things a little different. This difference; however, has left many Dads doubting their own value as a parent. This is a problem.
I do not want Dad’s to undervalue themselves. In fact I do not want any parents to undervalue themselves. After teaching in and administrating a few alternative school programs, for almost 14 years, I cannot overstate how important the role of parents is. And it really just comes down to showing up and being present.
We need to recognize that the traditional belief of “Mom” being more important than “Dad”, is no longer a truth. It is the role of “parent” that is important. In fact a Mom can have what would be considered traditional Dad characteristics and a Dad can have what would be considered traditional Mom characteristics. And these characteristics can change or show up at different times. Whether you are a “Mom” or a “Dad”, “Step-mom” or “Step-dad”, one of two “Moms” or one of two “Dads”, together or divorced, your role is of “parent”. You are no more or less valuable than any other “parent”. The only important thing is that you step-up, love your children, unconditionally, and play your part in raising good humans. Your part may change, depending on who you are partnered with, or whether you are flying solo, but the end goal is always the same.
The Walking Dad