Do We Allow Men To Be The Fathers We Ask Them To Be?

September 21, 2012  |  

A couple of weeks ago I, along with the rest of the country, tuned in to watch the Democratic National Convention. In addition to the speeches, peeping what Michelle was wearing and the “surprise” celebrity appearances, there was one other moment that stayed with me. It was the moment where Joe Biden’s son, Joseph Biden III (Beau), nominated his father for the office of Vice President. If you just so happened to miss the moment, know that by the end of the speech when Beau called his father “his hero,” Joe was wiping away tears and so was I.

You may remember that Joe Biden has a particularly special relationship with his sons Beau and Robert. He almost lost the both of them in a car accident that claimed the lives of his wife and one year old daughter. For years, Joe was a politician and single father, raising two boys while balancing a career. He was sworn in as a senator from the side of their hospital beds and as he advanced further in his career, he developed the practice of dropping everything and leaving work when one of his sons called him.

I don’t know Joe Biden’s life or anything; but I’d argue that this tragedy forced him to step up as a father, in ways that would have never happened if this tragedy had never occurred. Which got me thinking about the number of fathers who miss out on being as involved as they could be in their child’s life; not because they’ve made a conscious decision not to be, but because our society is set up in such a way that basically tells a man the crux of being a good father is more about bringing home the proverbial bacon instead of just being there.

At work the other day, my coworker was telling me about a man she knew who had to leave work quite a bit to attend to the needs of his children. This man was married but he took the initiative to leave work for the kids. You would think this would be a non-issue since women, you know, do it all the time; but it was a problem. So much so that his boss eventually confronted him, accusing him of using his kids as an excuse to leave work.

A shame that the thought of a father leaving work for his children is so unbelievable, he’s got to be lying. Men, by society’s standards, just aren’t supposed to be that invested in the rearing of their children.

And I’m not just talking about the men in our society holding on to these beliefs. We women are guilty of this type of thinking too. Many of us followed the very public custody battle between Tameka and Usher Raymond. After the ruling, I was one of the first people claiming that Tameka had to be truly crazy not to be granted custody. But even that sentiment is insulting to fathers. Is it so hard to believe that whether Tameka is crazy or not, Usher, as a man, just might have been the better parent?

I had to check myself. But I know I’m not the only one holding on to these sexiest ideals. There have been times where I’ve seen women dismiss or deride the efforts of a man attempting to care for his own children. She’ll shoo him away with a “That’s not right,” or an“I’ll just do it.” Sure, I’ll admit that mothers have a bit of an advantage caring for their children, considering they lived inside of them for 9 months; but I know from intense observation of new parents, that a lot of initial learning how to raise a child comes from trial and error. Why not give the man, your man, your child’s father [presumably] that same opportunity to learn? There are so many women who wish they had a man to help them out, why not take advantage, not only for yourself but for the bonding it’ll allow him to develop with your child?

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard women scoff after learning that so-so’s husband was a stay at home dad. Would these same women scoff this way at a mother who’d elected to stay at home? Probably not. When it’s a woman we’re more likely to acknowledge the work she has to put in to raise her children; but when it’s a man, surely he’s only a stay at home dad because he’s too lazy to work or completely incompetent as a provider. Now, I know money is important; we all have to eat, but what better way to provide for your children than to be there to make breakfast for them in the morning, to play with them during the day and to tuck them into bed at night? I guarantee you, as the child of a great father, those emotional, psychological provisions are what your child is going to remember, not the heap of toys he/she received for Christmas that one year.

We’re always begging men to step up, complaining about the prevalence of deadbeat, absentee fathers. There are plenty of them; but when there are men who are stepping up, are taking the initiative to care for their children, just like women have been and continue to do, let’s not look down on them or judge them unfairly because of it.

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