Recently, the marvelous Courtney penned a gorgeously scathing piece that lambasted companies like American Greetings and their attempts to perpetuate the “woe is mom” trope, which for inexplicable reasons is determined to reduce women to but one facet of their complicated lives.
It’s something that I’ve often spoken to my own wife about, and we have gotten endless glee from reading its examples on delightful sites like STFU Parents and Mommyish. Because my wife is, like Courtney, a spectacular mom. She’s also a spectacular scientist, doctor, knitter, wife, daughter, cousin, friend, cook, debater, student, teacher, camper, etc. I’m guessing she probably has a pretty good right cross too, but I’ve never tried to prove it.
But I’m not here to reiterate Courtney’s piece, but rather to talk about the other side of that coin, the side that plagues me as a father and as a man. To illustrate my concerns, I give you the trailer for “Moms’ Night Out”:
Now, allow me to use the great Chris Rock to illustrate my counterpoint:
Movies like this make me seethe with rage, because while I find the cliche of the mom as unappreciated, exhausted hardest-working-human-in-the-galaxy to be tiresome, I find the cliche of the useless, untrustworthy, hapless dad to be equally tiresome. I absolutely acknowledge that there are likely more stay-at-home moms than dads, and that as a society it may well be that in many — perhaps most — families, the primary parenting responsibility is shouldered by mothers. But this is not the way it should be, and films like this, and ads like the ones Court mentioned, and this entire sub-genre of sob-politics, all contribute to those stereotypes and reinforce our existing antiquated gender norms.
Look, parenthood should be a partnership, to the best of your ability. My kid is two, and at that age there’s sometimes an inevitable motherly dependence, but you do your part as best you can. Our situation is a little different — we work opposite shifts, so we each spend a sizable portion of the day with the boy by himself, but even if we both worked straight 9-5’s, we’d still each do our best. That’s what you do as parents — you try to find balance, you each pull your weight, and you do it as a family. None of us deserves a medal for this stuff. All you’re doing is being a parent. You’re not curing cancer or discovering new solar systems.
But never once has my wife had to tell me to make sure that he eats, and never once have I lost my kid, or any of the other stupid shenanigans that movie/TV/commercial dads do. This is the case with me, and it’s the case with most of the dads I know. And yet we will continue to deal with that weird stereotype that diminishes both women and men, that women are born to be mothers, and that men are at best barely competent at being fathers. I’m often out with my son by myself, I cannot count the number of times where I’ve encountered people who tell me how nice I’m being for giving my wife a break.
Giving. My wife. A break. Because fathers clearly wouldn’t otherwise be out with their kids, and moms certainly aren’t allowed a life away from their child. Look, I’m not giving her a break and I am sure as goddamn hell not babysitting, because YOU CAN’T BABYSIT YOUR OWN CHILD YOU DUMB BASTARDS. I’m parenting, like my wife does, like we all do, and to reduce it to anything else is to make it all to easy for families to backslide back into another century and smother us in our own stupid stereotypes.
This nonsense that once a woman becomes a mom, she can’t be anything but a mom is preposterous and reductive and insulting and demeaning to women — mothers or not — everywhere. And similarly, the idea that men can just bumble along, fuck around, and generally act like assholes without responsibility once they become dads is just as insidious and insulting and dangerous. Mothers are not wondrous moon goddesses whose existences revolve around raising their child, and men should never be treated as heroes just because they made it through an afternoon without their child catching fire.
Be a parent, and be a good one, and be other things as well. So yes, I am a dad, just like I’m a husband, a manager, a writer, a reader, a brother, a son, a cousin, a gamer, a rider, and a few other things, too. You want a pithy slogan or a movie tagline? Here you go:
Everything that you do is who you are. Anyone who tries to tell you that you’re just one thing or that you’re not good enough to be another is trying to sell you something, and you should tell them to kindly go fuck themselves with a hedge trimmer.