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“Is He a Good Father?” Um, No. It’s Called Parenting

Good Fathers

When you’re a female separating from your male spouse, one of the first questions you get asked by friends and acquaintances is: “Is he at least a good father?” What people really want to know is, even if my ex wasn’t the best partner if he’s at least a good father, that would make my divorce and new life easier, right?

That question baffles me. Is he a good father?

I don’t know how to answer this question exactly. I mean, in this day and age, what makes a “good father?” Is there some sort of checklist that’s going around and I’m the village idiot who doesn’t know about it?

Should I be sending my child’s father a bouquet of flowers because he filled out the camp swim form that I forwarded to him? Should I be thanking him profusely for taking them to the doctor, if I can’t get out of work?

Why do we still give so much credit to fathers for being parents? Why do we give so much credit to fathers for doing what a parent should be doing anyway?

I’ll admit, I’ve been guilty of giving dads way too much credit too. Almost every evening, I watch one of my married male neighbours push a stroller with his newborn around the block. My immediate reaction is always, “Wow. He’s such a good dad.” But then I remember that his wife is at home, looking after their two other children, both under the age of five. I immediately feel stupid for thinking what a great a dad he is.  Walking his child around the block doesn’t make him a good dad. It makes him…a parent.

Why was I giving this father a pat on the back, at least in my head, as if he had done something extraordinary? He took his child for a walk? Wow! Amazing! 

Yet, when I see the mother of the same baby pushing the stroller, I don’t think, ‘What a good mother!’ I don’t think anything really, except, ‘There’s a mother pushing her baby in a stroller. Cute!’ So, yes, I am guilty too.

Is my son’s father a good dad, because he bathes him? I don’t know. Shouldn’t he be bathing him? Is my son’s father a good father because he makes sure his son is wearing sunscreen? I don’t know. Shouldn’t he be making sure his son is wearing sunscreen? Is he a good dad for reading a book to our son before bed? I don’t know. Shouldn’t he be reading to his son before bed?

A lot of people don’t seem to realize that it’s 2018 and that, no, dads should not be celebrated for changing a diaper or doing drop off or pick up or for putting on sunscreen. No, they should not be getting a gold star because they took their child shoe shopping. And, yet, they are. So, no, I don’t know how to answer the question when it comes to my children’s fathers, “Are they good dads?” because what they’re really doing is just what mothers have been doing for generations. It’s called parenting.

Is he a good father? Well, he’s a good parent.

So, when I’m asked if my ex is a good father, I sort of stumble over the answer. I’m never going to say he’s a bad father. He’s not that at all. But I’m not going to glorify him either by saying he’s an amazing father because he takes his kid to the dentist either.

What are people asking this question basing it on?

Getting our son to the camp bus on time? Showing up to watch him play soccer? Taking him to the park?  Sure, then my ex is a “good father.” But let’s not get crazy. In today’s day and age, shouldn’t this just be called being a parent? I don’t get a gold sticker or told how amazing a mom I am for reading to my child or going to the dentist. No one tells me what an amazing mom I am for kicking around a soccer ball with my kid.

Even during the last school year, when I would sometimes drop off my son, the teachers would tell me that it’s just adorable to see my son’s father drop him off. I highly doubt the teacher was telling my ex how cute it was to see me drop off my son.

So why do we get all excited when we see a solo father in Costco shopping for groceries while dealing with their kid’s tantrum as if they just landed on the moon? How do we answer, in today’s age, whether someone is a good father or not? What’s the criteria based on?

Luckily, I’m not the only one perplexed by fathers who get too much credit for doing what I consider the basics when it comes to parenting.

One mother writes in this relatable post, “My Husband Gets Too Much Credit for Being a Good Dad,” about how she realized as soon as she became a mother, sexism is alive and well in the land of parenting. She writes, “It started just days after our first son was born when my dad told me, ‘Josh is a really big help with the baby, isn’t he?’”

She goes on to write, “I was sleep deprived and hormonal and went on a slight rampage. He’s helping me?! How about I helped him by growing his damn child in my uterus for 9+ months, then having major surgery to remove the kid from my uterus, and now keeping the kid alive with nothing but my own body fluids!”

I completely get her frustrations. My daughter’s father is still being praised, almost 15 years later, for being the first to change my daughter’s diaper, meanwhile I could barely move after my C-Section.

Why should she be made to feel lucky because her husband helped soothe their newborn baby, changed a diaper or burped him?

Like me, she too, faces these sorts of comments from people in our own generation. She, too, doesn’t know how to respond and she’s still happily married. She writes, “More recently, an acquaintance found out where we lived and said, “Oh, I know that house! Your husband is such a good dad!” She went on to say how she always sees him in the yard playing with the kids and can tell just how much he likes being a dad.

This writer awkwardly responded, “Yes, he is a good dad! We both like our kids a lot!”

When we lived together, my son’s father would take over many of the ‘gender stereotypical roles.’ Like grocery shopping and making meals. (But let’s also not get crazy here either. We had the help of a Nanny.) He often looked for credit, for things that typically used to fall under the ‘mother-only-category,’ like filling out forms. Listen, no parent likes filling out forms. And, also, people seem to think that single dads have it harder, but that’s another story.

So when people ask, “Is he a good father?” I just want to press and ask, “What’s your definition of a good father?”

Or maybe, my answer should simply be, “He’s a parent,” and leave it at that.

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