Dad’s the man

in AdLib Mom by

Poor Dads. They get a lot of flak.

In pop culture they’re usually depicted burning breakfast and wrecking routines while mom’s away. In reality, most dads I know are much more adept at parenting, but still –boogers run rampant when dad’s in charge, and he generally thinks bread and cheese are the two basic food groups.

Personally, it pains me to watch a dad change a diaper. He’ll use about 30 wipes and never seems able to wrap the whole parcel up in a neat little ball the way (ahem) mom does.

But here’s what else I’ve noticed: surly dads four feet wide and tattooed with snakes smiling proudly as the kid strapped to them in the Baby Bjorn gurgles and spits. Dads at breastfeeding clinics, not looking uncomfortable when the boobs come out. Dads unashamed to be playing beauty parlour. Dads in doctor’s offices holding hands, saying don’t worry, it’s OK to be sad.

Patient, awesome dads

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time outdoors with my dad. Every time we’d return home my mom would examine me carefully, ask me if dad gave me anything weird to eat and say, “Get in and wash your hands right away.” I loved that my dad let me eat unwashed berries straight from the bush and picked frankum off the trees to let me taste it. I learned what to tell mom and what to keep between us.

Dad’s the only one in this house who can wash hair without tears.

For all the things dads do that make moms roll their eyes, there are a thousand other things dads do best. For example, dads come up with the best stories. None of mine involve ancient Egyptian royalty and epic storms and completely fabricated but really believable super-animals.

Dad’s the only one in this house who can wash hair without tears, and he summons playful energy when I can’t muster enough to hold a crayon. Every time I feel myself losing patience, I notice his remarkable composure, his calm voice.

It’s hard to believe that up until around 40 years ago, it was considered deviant for fathers to even attend the births of their children. Nowadays, dad wouldn’t miss it for the world and he often takes a very active role, not just as videographer but as hand-holder, tear-catcher and guardian of the birthplace.

While mothers are the ones who bear the brunt of the physical pain in labour, it’s the dads I feel for. The only pain I could think of worse than that of labour is the feeling of helplessness and worry as you watch someone you love endure that pain for hours upon hours.

When father finally gets to meet the little seed he planted — the little seed he never felt flutter from the inside – he has to sit back and wait, breastlessly hovering like a hawk, until a window of opportunity opens for him to swoop in for a brief moment of usefulness and bonding: getting up a burp, offering a shoulder to nap on.

And the waiting goes on, long after the early days of mom and baby’s lying in. Recently, my little boy started waking up asking for Daddy, not Mommy. “You go downstairs, Mommy, I want to snuggle with Daddy,” he says.

I was crestfallen at first. I whined to my husband, “He doesn’t need me anymore, you’re the fun one now.” My husband reminded me, with gentleness, that he’d been waiting for this day to come since the boy was born.

Fatherhood makes you soft… and sexy

Recent studies have shown that hormonal changes take place in expectant and new fathers as well as mothers, and that a man’s testosterone levels can drop by as much as 33% when his partner is pregnant and in the early days of infancy. It’s remarkable to think that we previously didn’t consider fathers to be biologically set up to become softer with children, to know the scent of their their young, to bond, to love innately.

Simone de Beauvoir argued that historically it was women’s biological burden to birth children; that is what kept her in the domestic sphere while men went out to hunt and wage war, enjoying a sense of individual freedom and the pursuit of activity that made them more desirable. But you could argue that this, in a sense, has historically also been man’s burden: that he has had to miss out on a lot of his kid’s life.

Double the bread and cheese, maybe, but also double the fun and love.

But not so anymore. I’m willing to bet if you surveyed any number of families these days the majority will tell you that dads play not just an active role but an equal role. Furthermore, the number of stay-at-home dads is on the rise: 11% of Canadian families have dad as primary caregiver;  20% of one-parent households are headed by men, and 3% of gay male couples are also dads. Double the bread and cheese, maybe, but also double the fun and love.

As for the desirability factor, I can only offer my own opinion: nothing could be more desirable than a babywearing dad doling out snacks and high-fives in the park.

Things to do with Daddy

Recently, I took my two year old son swimming at the Aquarena, something he’s been doing regularly with his dad since baby No. 2 was born. He took my hand and led me from the baby pool into the next pool and eventually we ended up staring at the deep end, at the big, blue, fast slides.

“Wes go on there, Mommy,” he said, wide-eyed. I knew his dad had taken him down the slide before. I nearly fainted when they came back that day and told me.

“Mommy doesn’t feel comfortable doing that,” I tried to explain, fearing he wouldn’t understand, anticipating a tantrum.

After a pensive moment, he looked at me, smiled and said, “That’s something for me to do with Daddy.”

“Yes,” I said, giving him a big squeeze. “That’s something for you to do with Daddy.”

Cheers to dads, one, two, brown or blue, and cheers to the kind of things dads do.