My husband turns mean and defensive when people say things to him like, "Oh can I hold baby? Is it okay with her mother?" or "Can you ask your wife if I can give her a cookie?"
"I'm her father! Why can't you ask me?" he'll demand, face beat red and nostrils flaring. He can't understand why he's never looked at as the one in charge or responsible for making decisions on our daughter's behalf. I always try to remind him that this new gender role reversal is a culture change and most people don't get it. This doesn't make him feel better as we find ourselves frustrated at the numerous articles that talk about the new role of dads. We don't understand how things are supposedly changing to look more like our current family dynamic, yet never see it happening on a daily basis.
The more I think about this and the more I talk to other women, I begin to wonder if our country and culture is setting up men to fail at fatherhood. Most companies don't offer paternity leave or if they do its unpaid. I've heard that some men who do have the benefit, don't take it because of office cultures. They are made to feel effeminate for doing so or they are passed up for promotions or raises. My husband was doing work on his phone while at my side the day after our daughter was born. No one considered that maybe he too was going through a very emotional time even though he didn't have an epidural.
In America men still get paid on average more than women. This makes it impossible in some households for men not to work. There are also significantly more men in blue collar jobs that actually discriminate against women doing the same kind of work. When compared to certain industries, these jobs pay more than white collar jobs. Its not a surprise that men are then still expected to be the primary breadwinners. And when they are working long hours and too tired to get up in the middle of the night with a fussy baby, this continues to make moms the primary caretakers.
Now granted men can't breastfeed and its a woman's choice to do so. But I remember being pregnant and having information forced down my throat by baby sites and people offering unsolicited advice about the nutritional value of breast milk. I had nurses tell me its "my choice" to nurse or not but basically that formula "wasn't good" and give me complex stares when I'd say "but my husband wants to be involved in feedings." I felt pressure to be the one person responsible for giving my kid nutrition, be it nursing or pumping. Hadn't I done that for nine months? Weren't my husband and I supposed to be a team after the baby was born? We made the decision that formula was the way to go, giving the both of us equal time to rest, feed, and bond with our daughter.
Aside from these bigger problems, there are small things that affect dads in their own communities. A recent trip to the store with my squirmy toddler and bad back had onlookers probably thinking my husband was a dead beat as I wrestled her into the bathroom. Truth was we didn't have a choice. He would've changed her himself had the men's room been equipped with a changing station. But as is the case in many places, it wasn't.
Staying at home with your child I understand hinders social interaction for a lot of parents. There are a ton of mother's groups aptly named so, but little or no dad groups. Many mom groups are dubbed "open" but just the name makes men feel intimidated to join. A local pre-school advertises having a "Parent of the Day" program where a parent serves as class helper. Though the woman on the phone referred to this as "Mom of the Day." Just because mothers are the majority of the participants in these activities, doesn't mean all of them are or that they should be.
I don't think my father changed one diaper of mine when I was a child. Back then it was never questioned. Now we know better. Being a father means getting your fair share of poop diapers and shirts filled with spit up. It doesn't mean waiting on the side until the kid is old enough to play catch. A father's influence on his child is one that no daycare or other family member can replace. I love the bond that my husband and daughter have. I am confident that she will perform better in school, in a job, have healthy friendships, and have the expectation that men should be nurturing and kind. This is the first relationship with a man she will have and she will understand what it is like to feel safe and loved. That she should always feel this way. And I am aware that there are many things he will teach her or pass down to her that I just can't. Things that are only a father's place to do so.
Maybe her generation won't face these issues. Maybe one day in the future no one will be so surprised when fathers actually do things. All I know is that we are never going to change the current culture if we lower our expectations. If we keep saying we are looking forward to "stay at home dads" or "fathers as primary caretakers" as being the norm and take no action to make it a reality. Because for all the fathers out there who don't care, there plenty of fathers who do. Men like my husband who feel despite anything else they have ever done, their whole reason for living has never mattered more than after becoming a dad.