The stages of progressive dadhood: an incomplete guide to awareness

Friday, February 17th, 2017

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Before becoming a dad, I did not know much about being a dad. What I knew was that my dad was a good one. I knew he brought me to lots of sports practices. But what was the practical stuff a dad could do from day one? If I did not have a memory of my dad from day one, who could I turn to, where were the dadding manuals?

Being a dad, like being a mom, is mostly a fly by the seat of your pants adventure. From day one, yes, but also pretty much every other day after that.

For the generations to come after me, I have started this list of some of the stages of fatherhood, as experienced (obviously) by every single father in the world in this exact order and with these exact sentiments.

Dads, study it, be it, add to it, and yell about how wrong I am in my assessment of these stages.

You are trying to support a partner in pregnancy and have no idea what to do

I’m generalizing sure, but boys aren’t socialized to grow up to become dads. Maybe sports heroes or firefighters or business magnates, but not dads. Boys who nurture dolls are the exception not the rule and boys are expected to get dirty and explore, not stay home and tidy the living room. In fact, many of the things dads come to realize as being especially important when raising kids—things like showing emotion, being empathetic, watching Disney movies with female heroes, are things that are frowned upon embracing if you are a young boy.

Oh my god, the stuff we are taught as boys is, is…crap

Correct. Horrible, stupid, awful crap. It isn’t even individual parents who set out to do this, it’s what we see in commercials, novels, movies, magazines. It is everywhere. Hope you enjoyed this stage and that you got there quickly so you could stop thinking this way.

hi my name is daddy

Your baby is born, you still do not know exactly what to do

You hear a lot about maternal instinct and you know that a human just did an amazing thing bringing a child into the world. You read something about moms not rolling over onto their kids when they sleep because of some kind of mom/kid magic. What the hell does that mean for you though? Do you need to sleep on the very small sliver at the edge of the bed for your kid to be safe? You will find out soon that you only get a sliver of bed with kids no matter what so the point is moot. You know what though? Get involved right damn now. Get your dad instincts firing. You can hold a baby, you can snuggle a baby and, you can change a diaper. You can support a breastfeeding partner and you can wash a three-week-old’s hair. And you can cry the whole way through because raising kids is hard, you won’t get to sleep a lot, and crying is a great thing for dads to do.

Picture of daddy and favourite girls

You see your first “OMG I wish I could sleep like my husband” meme

You don’t get sleep so you are not sure what this is all about. Why are all these people commenting that that’s how is is in their home too? What do you mean when mom leaves the house dad makes a huge mess? I am the one who vacuums, changes the kitty litter, does the dishes! How dare these belittle my contributions!

This is not the long game fight. Look, it is important to remember that dads must be engaged in the house and also that dads already are engaged in the house. It is wonderful if you are. It is also important to remember that this is not universally the case. No, it is not universally the case with moms either. I know that. Do these images make me angry? They do. And, I don’t think they do much in terms of making progress for more engaged men. But I also know now that doing the dishes, vacuuming floors, and wiping toilets isn’t all there is to household chores. You’ll learn about emotional labour and I hope you’ll believe it. You can make the same case here—I already do this! And I hope that’s the case. I’m certainly trying to. And I also hope you’ll continue talking to your partner about how you can work together to make sure the balance of work being done in the house is always equal and (somewhat) enjoyable.

You get praised for brushing your daughter’s hair

This gig is great right?! All you did was go out in public with your daughter to pick up some groceries and three different people said “what a great daddy.” What did you even do? You remember putting hair in a ponytail, but it couldn’t be that. Did you do magic? That would be cool. You remember that you were wearing nail polish, but that was something you just did for fun. These are also thing your partner often does and she’s never been stopped and told “what a great mommy.” Oh, right, this is back to that men are lazy parents idea, isn’t it? It is! You are not exceptional for engaging in the lives of your kids. Feel free to tell people that when they congratulate you on basic childcare tasks. You don’t need to be a jerk about it, but learning someone up isn’t a mean thing to do.

Dad spinning with daughter in a snow white dress

You realize that men can indeed raise daughters

I am generalizing again but I bet many men, upon telling someone that they are expecting to become a parent, has been asked “do you hope it is a boy?” Maybe people have been even more stupidly bold. Maybe they have said “for your sake, I hope it is a boy.” Your whole life you have been learning what it is like to be a boy and you cannot imagine how you, a man, would be able to raise a girl. There are so many different body parts. Girls are delicate, aren’t they? They are not. And different body parts are not the things that make kids difficult to raise. We are the ones who decided girls were delicate. You find out early on that girls are tougher than you. Girls are more resilient than you. Girls are awesome. Try to be more like your girl.

I have a son, I don’t need to worry about this. Phew.

LOL. Remember that stage where you didn’t know a whole lot of what was expected of you as a dad beyond changing a tire (you have never done this) and working all day long and then coming home and drinking a beer in your undershirt (you don’t have undershirts)? You will raise your boys the same way you would raise your girls. To teach them they are strong and smart but also empathetic and privileged. You will teach them to understand what “no” means when coming from another human and also what it means when they say it themselves. And thank god you’ll teach them that all of these things matter to them right now. Not when they have a daughter themselves. They will not have to “imagine that was your sister or mother or cousin,” because they will know that some things are wrong because they happen to people. And most importantly, they will learn about privilege and that we don’t all get treated the same way. And they will make sure to acknowledge this and speak up about it.

in a rocking chair with kid

You spend many hours thinking about how much you suck at parenting

Oh wow does this ever suck because you just yelled at your kid because they couldn’t get ready in the five minutes you thought they should be able to get ready in. They often take a long time. You often feel frustrated and you swore in the car. You also gave them cheesies for dinner two nights in a row. It has been three days since you bathed your kids. There are no shortages of opportunities for you to convince yourself you suck at parenting. Shocking truth: we all suck at parenting. “Wait, but that dad on Facebook built a batmobile for his child who is in a wheelchair. That guy cannot be bad at parenting.” I bet that guy knows all the swear words. Or he has used Netlfix as a kid-sitter. We all do it, hang in there.

Your young daughter has sexist comments directed at her

You didn’t know it was this bad. Only, you did, you just didn’t know you did. A tricky stage because we need to call ourselves out for not really getting how the world works. There is no other way to address this. Women tell men how bad things are all the time. They tell us they fight harassment and sexist policies every day. This is truly knowledge that is out in the public sphere. You did know how bad it was, you were just able to ignore it because it did not affect you personally. Now it does and now you acknowledge it. This is a pretty great step because now you at least understand why that picture of all those politicians signing that bill about abortion access were white men—because this is how the world operates. And it will continue to do so if you continue to think it doesn’t happen. But we won’t do that any more! Yay!

Book of girl power

Okay, okay, seriously, this is fucked up, why do people think it’s okay to treat boys and girls differently?

Yeah, this part is weird. Like, there is no way this is new in the world so why didn’t we have any idea? Why do some of the dads around me think rape jokes are funny? Why do they use the word retarded? What the fuck is going on here? Well, they do it because we sit back and let them. Look, if you think it is messed up, you have got to say something. Right now you start thinking to yourself, “oh my god do I need to tell my friends they are assholes when they make those jokes?” Yes! Or maybe you have nicer language to use. But dammit you are a dad who wants to change things. You understand you need to change things too. You can’t just say “my daughter is rad!” and then sit back and watch people continue to make shit statements and decisions about women.

That’s it, I’ve done it, I’m a great dad

This is incredibly possible. You do a lot of good things with your kids and that is pretty goddamn awesome. Keep learning though. Keep educating yourself on what it means to be a man in our current landscape. Challenge what that means too. Don’t sit back and watch unless you are doing that to learn from groups who can teach you. Don’t speak over those groups and don’t speak for those groups. Challenge those like you. Keep getting better.

One response to “The stages of progressive dadhood: an incomplete guide to awareness”

  1. daniel says:

    Wait until you get to the stage where you want to kill your kids. Then you get to the stage where you understand how if you did you would be alright because other parents have been there. I’m looking at you tween years. Then you get to the stage where you have cell phones and social media and the whole process starts over from the beginning.

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