“Mother knows best,” they say. “Trust your maternal instincts,” they […]
“Mother knows best,” they say. “Trust your maternal instincts,” they tell mothers. But what are the witty sound bites of baby care for fathers? How about this little gem: “Please don’t break the baby.” Some fathers have even heard, “Oh, you’re still here?”
Judging by the way fathers are portrayed in mainstream media, it would seem that American culture shares a unanimous opinion about a father’s ability to care for children. We are bumbling idiots like Homer Simpson. We are selfish and listless couch potatoes like Al Bundy. Or, worse yet, we are simply absent like the fathers of nearly one-third of America’s children, if this statistic is to be trusted.
So, what place does the active, involved, caring, invested father have in our cultural narrative of fatherhood? If there is one, I have only been able to spot glimpses of it in kids movies like The Incredibles and How To Train Your Dragon. In general, I don’t think our cultural perception of fathers has a category for a caring and invested father. Consequently, there are many fathers out there who feel like the black sheep of the fatherhood pen. I know, because I’m one of them.
We give each other nods of recognition on the playground. We check out each other’s minivans. We even have our own version of play dates (but we don’t call them that). I would say that we have a secret handshake, but that would be too obvious. Why all the clandestine behavior? Because we are subversive, and when you’re subversive, you’re dangerous. To be more frank, our culture is hostile to us. We feel derided, attacked, put down and discouraged at every turn. There is a tidal current in our culture, and we are swimming against it.
The only time I ever received affirmation by someone who wasn’t a fellow black sheep was at the birth of our twins. We had a boy and a girl lying on the bed, and the midwife asked me which one we should take care of first. My gut said that we should tend to the boy, so that was my answer. The midwife later told me that it was good that I listened to my instincts. She said that boys tend to be more fragile at birth, and she also thought we should tend to him. I cannot express how encouraged I felt in that moment when a childbirth expert affirmed my fatherly intuition. Up until that moment, I didn’t even think I had any fatherly intuition because I had never heard anyone acknowledge that such a thing even exists.
I’ve held on to that encouragement ever since. I proceed with confidence as I pick up our little guy, hold him, bounce him, burp him, clean him, play with him, etc. The confidence wasn’t there at first. It came over time as I realized that I’m not an idiot or a good-for-nothing, as the popular media would have me believe. On the contrary, fathers actually do have valid intuition, and it is best when it works in cohesion with mother’s intuition to provide a well-rounded parenting environment where children know they are loved, valued and cared for by a capable and unified mother/father team.