One last note in defense of the hapless dad

for Brooklyn Paper
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Paging through magazines in the dentist’s waiting room I was reminded that still, in the big, wide world, moms are parents and dads are, well, just dads.

For all the changes during the past 20 years in the amount of time men spend participating in family life and caring for their children, the assumptions we make about who the real parent is in a family remains intractably the same — the mom.

I was reminded of this when a new nurse started at my daughter’s school who initially called my wife, even when my number’s listed first on all the info sheets, only to find out that I’m the one who can pick up my daughter or make the doctor’s appointment or provide any necessary medical information.

When my girls were little, women felt justified, even compelled, to tell me that my kids should be wearing hats, or a sweater, or would intervene if I had a crying toddler in a grocery store aisle because, clearly, I needed help. That was more than a decade ago, when fathers in office garb dropped off their children in the mornings, but almost none were at pick up or the playground after school. Today I see more men hovering outside in the afternoon, participating in the informal parenting circles that are setting up play dates, coordinating upcoming weekend activities, and swapping useful information that parents rely on.

Expectations on fathers have certainly shifted. Today it would be unthinkable that a dad couldn’t change his infant’s diaper, and, at least in Brooklyn, it’s accepted that two men raising children together are creating as caring and vital a family as any other.

Still, the tropes used when discussing dads remain stagnant — the hapless dad, the coach, the oblivious dad. Books by and for fathers mostly fall into either humorous and sweet memoirs or pep talks to men about why dads are important to their children.

I must admit to occasionally using people’s assumptions for my benefit, like making the sheepish, I’m-just-a-dumb-dad face to get my kids into a bathroom or to smooth over some poor behavior in public. It usually worked, eliciting sympathetic looks at my children, as if they were facing a lifetime of disadvantage because their father was caring for them.

I’m ready to give this up and it is time we all overcome any remaining resistance to the idea that dads are parents too. There are some dinosaurs out there, but men that can’t give up the dream of having a “Leave It To Beaver” life, statistics show their extinction is near.

The number of stay-at-home dads reached 2 million or more in 2012. Fathers certainly coach their children’s soccer teams but we also cook a decent meal and manage the kids and the home when spouses travel for work or fun. Us men have proven very adaptable to changes in our homes and workplaces, mostly thriving as our family roles expand.

It is time for the rest of the world to catch up, for dads to open a parenting magazine and know that it is for us as much as for the moms who might be in the waiting room next.

This concludes my run in the Brooklyn Paper. I’d like to add a big thank you to my editors, Gersh Kuntzman (who hired me) and Vince DiMiceli (who kept me around) for the opportunity to add a dad’s voice to the parentsphere, and, of course, to you for reading.

Posted 3:09 am, May 26, 2016
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Reasonable discourse

Wanda from ParkSlope says:
I agree, women are all awful sexists! Someone should tell them to keep their big mouths shut.
May 26, 2016, 10:10 am
Sean F from Bensonhurst says:
Scott, sorry to see you go. I've enjoyed your columns.

I became an at-home dad in 2003, when I started my own business out of the house. It was not very time consuming (most of my contacts are overseas, so 9-5 wasn't very busy for me), so I spent a lot of time being involved in the kids' school and after-school activities. At the time, I was the only Dad waiting to pick up, or helping with bake sales and other activities, but the Moms never looked at me as though I didn't belong there, or as if I was hapless. That may be a function of the community where my kids went to grammar school, and where my family has been part of the community for three generations.

But, yeah, being a Dad who is on the frontlines (rather than doing after-work drivebys to show I know best) was mildly challenging, but very rewarding. Keep up the good work - parenting never truly ends.
May 26, 2016, 1:23 pm
steve from downtown says:
Thanks Scott for the years of great writing . As you leave the Paper, I too will be moving from DT Bklyn. I had enough of NYC. Too expensive, too rude, and a horrible place to bring up children. I disagreed with you over the years on a number of issues, mainly on your more laissez faire approach to your girls' choice of college, dorms and related issues of drugs and sex. I feel a parent should set standards for their family, even if contravenes societal "norms". They might not listen, but at you tried. Nevertheless, as a father of daughters myself, I enjoyed your narrative. I wish you well, and hope your girls don't get tatted, pierced, or premarital-pregnant. I know you love them more than yourself, as I do mine.
May 28, 2016, 11:26 pm

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