Thoroughly modern Matthew pops the bubble about dads
It doesn’t take all that much to be a great father
There I was, in a Dis-Chem aisle, buying formula and medicine to help my kid poop. Yes, talking about poop is a completely normal thing for a dad to do. You’ll discuss the poop, you’ll wonder if your child is pooping too much or too little, you’ll keep poop schedules, you’ll compliment your child on lovely poopy logs.
There I was, in the aisle, and an older lady commented about “how nice” it was to see a dad shopping for his child. I ignored it.A similar thing happened over the weekend when I was raiding a Pep store for clothing for my daughter, and commented to a friend that I couldn’t be trusted with a credit card and cute girls’ clothing. A woman chuckled and said it’s “so nice” to hear a dad talk about buying clothing for his kid. Again, I ignored it.
These experiences got me thinking: Is the bar really set this low for dads? Is buying essentials and clothing for your child praiseworthy?
A colleague commented on Twitter the other day: “Fathers can just hold their child’s hand while crossing the street and everyone fawns.” And a column in the online version of the UK’s Metro newspaper describes it like this: “It’s almost as if society thinks so little of them [fathers] that the most simplistic of parenting task merits a pat on the back.”It’s true. I’ve been told I’m a “great dad” because I took my child shopping with me when she was a few weeks old so that her mom could rest. I’ve been complimented for spending nights alone with Alice so my wife could do a sleepover, or so she could go to a show with her friends. I’ve received praise for being the one who takes most of the night shifts and early morning wake-ups, and for taking my kid to the park or for runs on the beach. Things that moms do routinely, without question and without praise – and have been doing for centuries.
The traditional gender roles in society have created a situation where dads get complimented for the littlest things, and moms are expected to do those things and more – just because. I can see why this is the case, though: dads have, traditionally, not been heavily involved in looking after their children; even the littlest thing is a big deal because it’s something that a dad never used to do.My dad, for example, never changed a nappy. He was a great dad, an amazing human and the person I want to emulate as a person and father … but changing a poo nappy was just not something he – and other dads of his generation – did. So if a mom of my dad’s generation sees a dad of my generation doing something as simple as changing a nappy, it looks like a massive deal because of how abnormal it would have been just one generation ago.
It also needs to be said that having a hands-on, active, heavily-involved dad is not a common occurrence in South African society. Research released last year by the Human Sciences Research Council and the SA Institute of Race Relations showed that as many as 60% of South African children have absent fathers. Our country’s history, which saw so many black men having to move away from their homes to work in mines and other industries, is a major factor in this. But men also need to take the blame for not being there for their children.So if a modern dad bucks this trend, he looks like a hero –when all he’s actually doing is being the dad that all dads should be in the first place.
I think it’s time for a revolution, time that us dads change the narrative. I think it’s time that fathers change the way society views what being a good dad is.
And this is how I think we can do it
Dump the “babysitting” tag
You’re not babysitting. You’re looking after your own child. A babysitter is, by definition, someone who looks after a child while the parents are “temporarily away”. You’re not that. You’re a dad. If you stop using the b-word, and you don’t let others use it to describe what you’re doing, the focus begins to shift and a dad looking after his child or children begins to be the norm.
Learn to do the little things
I’ve had to learn to do my little girl’s hair. I have no idea what I’m doing. The first time I did her hair – in a “flowerpot” style on the top of her head – her aunt described my work as Alice “looking like a unicorn”. Hair is not my forte. But I’m the dad of a daughter, so I need to learn.
Dads, we have to start learning to do the little things. The things that we take for granted that Mommy will do. The hair, the outfits, packing the lunch bag, making sure the nappies or formula aren’t running low. The little things that show just how involved we are.
Create one-on-one time
My fondest memories with my dad are playing soccer in the yard with him. I’d be waiting in the driveway for him to get home and he wouldn’t even be out the car before I was harassing and haranguing him to play with me. And he did it without question, even on those kak work days when it was the last thing he wanted to do.
Dads need to spend quality time, one-on-one, with their kids. Find what it is that bonds you. I have dad friends who go surfing with their kids, who play music with their kid (my dad and older brother played music together at restaurants and pubs across the Transkei). Maybe you read your child a book before bed, or sing to them, or bath with them. Whatever it is, that one-on-one time is crucial.
Don’t expect praise
Men are, generally speaking (and I speak for myself here), driven by praise. Want to make me happy in the workplace? Praise me. Want to make me do more around the house? Compliment me. But it shouldn’t be the case. The complimenting is nice, but it shouldn’t be the reason why we do it – especially when it comes to looking after our kids.
Do the things. Change the nappies. Wake up in the middle of the night if your kid cries. Make the bottles. Go shopping. Pick the outfits. If you get praised, that’s amazing, but if you don’t, do them anyway.
Dads with benefits
You’ve heard of mom groups, and mommy bloggers, and mom’s nights out. But we haven’t really got the dad equivalent of these things – and we should have them. Some of the most important things I learned about being a dad came from my friends who have children. It’s nice to know that you’re not the only dad in the world who sometimes just needs a good sleep, or that you aren’t the only dad who dropped your kid by mistake, or swore at them in a fit of frustration, or forgot the nappies at home, or are doing load after load of washing because your kid has puked everywhere. It’s nice to know you’re not alone.
If your dad-friends’ encouragement makes you a better father, and you make your other friends better fathers, and they make their friends better fathers, then us dads can start a revolution. We need to turn what society currently believes makes a “great dad” into the fathering norm. If we can do that, we’ve done our jobs and our kids will be just fine.