Sexism and fatherhood

By Published On: March 6th, 2014

I recently was walking through a department store while holding […]

sitting on couchI recently was walking through a department store while holding my baby. As usual, we made faces at one another, shared some high fives, and mumbled back and forth at one another. We smiled often. For anyone that has ever held a child, this should sound typical. People play with their babies. This happens.
As I walked, a middle aged woman stopped me and said “you’re such a good dad.” Being completely full of myself, I smiled and said “thank you.” I refrained from asking her to write reference letters or to call my current employer, only because I already compliment myself daily at work and make everyone aware of my awesomeness. Still, the comment struck me as awkward.
As I walked away, I contemplated the fact that a stranger had deemed me a good father after watching me smile at my child. I was initially flattered, then slightly insulted by her low expectations, and later irritated by the lack of praise my wife receives on a daily basis. I certainly appreciate what the kind woman said, and hold no ill-will, but found the comment reflective of our society’s propensity to expect less from fathers. Was she praising me for spending time with my child? Smiling at my child? Not letting my child play with glass?
The feelings evoked from this interaction led me to think deeply about the seeming lack of respect and praise heaped upon mothers on a daily basis. I specify “seeming” lack of respect in order to acknowledge that this is only based on my observations over my brief tenure as a parent. Some mothers and fathers are honored and valued for the incredible work they do, and others are not.
We struggle to remember that parenthood is difficult work, regardless of the title.  I just seem to come across more people that are willing to pin a medal on my scrawny frame for doing absolutely nothing, while letting my wife juggle a baby, seven grocery bags, and a box of teaching supplies without offering her a word of encouragement (or a hand). While our small part of the world continues to become fluid and open minded in regard to gender roles in the home, people continue to adjust expectations. Still, these changes do not explain why comments like these are constantly made in my presence. Dad Bloggers are often writing about this phenomenon (and writing quite well, might I add). People praise dads who smile at babies, but occasionally fail to offer those same words to mothers.
This occurrence will continue to happen, and I will continue to nod and say thank you. I will also try to heap that praise on my ridiculously cool wife, who everyone apparently just expects to be awesome. Don’t worry, world. She is.