Today I had a brief Twitter back-and-forth with a friend, in which I expressed my frustration with the Father’s Day rhetoric and a lack of interest in perfunctorily lauding my own dad’s, shall we say, lackluster performance in the parenting arena. My friend disapproved of the sentiment. His take was essentially–hey, it could be worse, think about all of the people out there who don’t even have fathers. This is a common argument, and while I can generally appreciate where it’s coming from, it also reinforces one hell of a low standard for what fatherhood is about. The push to praise fathers just for being more or less present–‘social promotion’ for parents, if you will–is in some ways a slap in the face to the men who truly are invested and actively involved in their children’s lives–the ones who are actually good dads.
Serendipitously, not long after this conversation I came upon a Slate interview with Louis C.K., which makes my point pretty nicely:
Slate: In an episode from the first season of Louie, a single mom your character meets at a PTA meeting tells you, “Just by showing up, you’re father of the year.” Do you think you have more freedom to talk about being a dad because there are fewer expectations placed on fathers in general?
Louis C.K.: It’s funny—in life, those roles have all changed. There’s a lot of fathers who take care of their kids, there’s a lot of mothers who have careers. But in culture, those roles are still the same. When I take my kids out for dinner or lunch, people smile at us. A waitress said to my kids the other day, “Isn’t that nice that you’re getting to have a little lunch with your daddy?” And I was insulted by it, because I’m like, I’m fucking taking them to lunch, and then I’m taking them home, and then I’m feeding them and doing their homework with them and putting them to bed. She’s like, Oh, this is special time with daddy. Well, no, this is boring time with daddy, the same as everything.
If I do something for my kids, I get a medal, because most fathers don’t. If a mother makes a tremendous effort for her kids and does incredible things, no one gives a shit, because she’s a mom, and that’s what she’s supposed to do. It’s like giving a bus driver a medal for driving straight ahead. Nobody’s interested. And that’s really not fair, but it is the way it is.
The phenomenon described in the interviewer’s question and the last paragraph of the response has been made many times by many women, obviously from a slightly different perspective; it’s a valid and frustrating point, but not really what I’m responding to. What’s caught my eye here is how offensive the low-bar treatment is to a single dad raising two daughters. Any schmuck can do the fun stuff. He’s (rightfully) upset about the lack of recognition for taking on the boring, never-ending, soul-crushing aspects of childrearing, which comes from the assumption that he wouldn’t be involved in that stuff anyway. Handing out gold stars for showing up reinforces the notion that he doesn’t have to be to make the grade, and that’s good for nobody.
ETA: Some interesting comments on a related post at Naptime Writing.