Don't Call Him 'Mr. Mom'
When strangers see a dad and his kids at the grocery store, library, park, or pool, they make a remark like, "Oh, you're babysitting today." My husband developed a standard response: "No, I'm being Dad." He was gracious, but it was puzzling and offensive to think caring for one's own children could be called babysitting.
Trevor was an at-home dad from the time our oldest was 9 months old to the day our youngest started kindergarten. We opted for this arrangement more than a decade ago, when at-home dads comprised 1.6 percent of all stay-at-home parents in the U.S. In 2011, that percentage had risen to 3.4 percent. That's 176,000 at-home dads raising more than 332,000 children.
While their ranks are growing, dads still make up a very small percentage of at-home parents. This exacerbates a problem many at-home parents face: loneliness. While women have groups, both formal and informal, to help them combat isolation and support one another, men find few companions who can relate to their everyday experiences. One father, quoted in Wall Street Journal, said "when he took his kids to public parks, 'moms would talk over me as if I was not even there.' "
My husband got the cold shoulder from moms at the park, but was fortunate to make friends with another at-home dad who lived a few houses away. They spent a lot of time together, working on home improvement projects while the girls played together. Some men have a harder time.
In addition to excluding them, it's ironic that women often show dads the same kind of—I suppose the right term is maternalistic—attitudes and behaviors our paternalistic brothers sometimes show in the workplace and elsewhere. We laugh over ironic images of men in domestic situations, like Porn for New Moms, mixing desire with mocking. Yes, they're funny, but only because of our assumptions about men. Would they be funny if they were pictures of women doing the same thing? Would we find them funny if they depicted hapless women in traditionally male roles? We patronize dads as they care for little ones, saying things like, "Isn't that cute?" and "Here, let me help you with that diaper." We fuss over them the same way powerful and insecure men might be tempted to fuss over women when they're changing tires or using slide rules.
As those condescending attitudes become less acceptable when aimed at us, we must drop them when they're turned the other way. Women had to fight to prove they could do what men had been doing for so long. Men shouldn't have to prove they can be skilled parents. This means more than just showing confidence that dads can do what moms can do—we need to affirm that it's okay (good!) for dads to be dads.