It was a handsome morning and I was enjoying a park bench sit down at the Auckland waterfront, coffee in hand, my little boy beside me polishing off his fluffy with a plastic spoon. Just a bit magic really. Then some ‘friendly’ old lady, overdressed for both temperature and occasion, walks past and comments “ooohhhh breakfast with Dad”. I respond something lame like ‘yeah’ or ‘nice one’. Then I think….
Ok, so you’re just being friendly old lady and I realise it was still wartime rations and the wireless when you were popping out kids, but no, this isn’t breakfast with Dad.
Breakfast with Dad was at about an hour ago, when I’d rather have been asleep dreaming about sleeping. But we just call it ‘breakfast’, and it wasn’t a chocolate sprinkled fluffy, it involved fruit, dairy and wholegrains. Some of it even got eaten. Following that I cleaned my boy up, applied some sunscreen and then wrestled his slippery butt to the ground to put on shorts and shoes.
Then, during the car ride he mysteriously became unable to keep hold of his toy digger, dropping it repeatedly, and following up with severe whinging before I contorted my arm around into the rear footwell to retrieve it for him. Then I weathered a mini-tantrum when his fluffy arrived with a solitary marshmallow, before finally sitting him down on this beachside bench. So, no, friendly old lady this isn’t exactly “breakfast with Dad”.
I know you’re thinking that I shouldn’t be such a sensitive little petal, and that it was just a friendly comment. And you’re right, in isolation, it’s nothing really. But it’s not in isolation, Dads get hit with these lightweight jabbing comments all the time. “Is dad babysitting today?” “Are you giving mum a break?” “It must be fun being out with your daddy?” It’s not just the words either, it’s the tone and the look that accompanies them. It seems that some women over a certain age are incapable of processing the concept that a man can be a primary carer for a young child – and a capable one at that.
When I’m out with my boy and things are going fine, we fly under the radar. But come tantrum time, or any moment where I’m struggling for control, all I see are wry-smiling female faces. It’s a smile that says “hey, good try but… you’re just a Dad.”
Maybe it’s a male thing, and it doesn’t bug me to have my dad efforts played down, just don’t patronize my abilities. My nappy game is strong, I’m well-tuned into my boy’s emotions, his tiredness and hunger levels. I know when he’s gonna poo even before he does. I like to think I can do everything any mother can do, and then throw my toddler ten foot high in the air.
So what are us highly capable and hard-working dads gonna do about it? Well, nothing. Take it on the chin like we already do. What can we do, really? Cuss out some old lady on the street in front of our kid for saying “breakfast with Dad?” Biff a fluffy at her? Maybe cry out in frustration. Nah, we’re not going to do any of those things. We’ll continue playing the inept support character role and just be glad that we’ll never need to push a baby out through our genitals. But deep down we know what we really want – and it’s simple:
As parents we don’t want our abilities undermined and as fathers we want our specific challenges and skills recognised.
Easy right? Nah, not really. Unfortunately, perceptions like this take decades to change, especially from those who have lived through a different era of gender roles and expectations. So until all the world’s friendly old ladies have transcended to the big Gin Rummy game in the sky, us dads are still gonna hear this crap. But through what we achieve right now as Dads, when our sons become fathers, they won’t have to hear it.