“Daddy! I got pooooopies….!”
The sun streams in through our bedroom window. “Daaaaaaadeeeeeee” we hear again. “He’s calling for you,” I say to my husband as we both try to shake the cobwebs off. It’s six a.m. and it’s wake up time. I watch, gratefully, as my husband rolls out of bed and gets his best poopy face on. I listen to the chatter of my youngest son and his father as this less-than-glorious daily task of parenthood is efficiently dispensed. The division of labour in our house does not follow stereotypical lines. Daddy is the laundry master, for one example. My husband spends many nights when I’m at work, making supper, kissing boo boos, bathing the boys and reading stories before bed.
Father’s Day is coming and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the important men in our children’s lives. Not just dads in the traditional sense, but all of the male role models (granddads, uncles, teachers, friends, community leaders) that we interact with regularly. All of these people play an important role in shaping how our children understand gender roles, probably to a greater extent than we realize. A recent study actually linked girls’ future career aspirations with whether they saw their fathers helping out with household chores. Girls and boys’ understanding of what it is to be male affects how they conduct themselves and how they interact with others. I am thankful every day for the positive male role models our boys have. On a daily basis, they see examples of gentle, loving, attentive and caring men. Along with being fun and silly, Daddy is also a soft place to land when things don’t go right.
Fatherhood is at an interesting place in time these days. With “Mommy Culture” all over social media and the Internet, it can feel a bit like the voice of modern day dads is lost in all the noise. When our own parents were growing up, there was a consistent message from the media and community about what it was to be a father, to be a “man.” These traditional gender roles have fallen away. Within our own circle of friends, we know dads who are staying at home, who take paternity leave, or who are single fathers. Society has been very focused on trying to tap into girls’ potential during the last 30 years (something which I myself have benefitted from), but maybe it’s time to start taping into an underappreciated potential for boys to adopt non-traditional roles as well. Men can be caregivers. Men can be sensitive. Men can be creative. Men can be kind.
We can’t rely on the media to teach our children about gender. A pet peeve of my husband’s is the absolute dearth of positive portrayals of fathers on TV. When was the last time you saw a father change a diaper, perform household chores or act as the primary caregiver on television? More often than not, “family-oriented” shows portray Dad as the bumbling, goofy punch line to family life, while Mom is the competent voice of reason. At least this is better than the alternative stereotypical male on TV, powerful/violent tough guy. Videogames? I can’t even go there. What does this teach our sons and daughters?
As I wrote this, the tragic events in Moncton unfolded. During the coming weeks, our Maritime community will try to make sense of such a senseless act. It certainly reminds all of us to cherish each day, to take nothing for granted, to remember those precious everyday moments of parenthood, like early morning wake-up calls. This Father’s Day, turn off the television, personal electronic devices, and video game consoles. Find the positive male role models in your life, in your children’s life, and thank them, better yet, spend time with them. The world has enough angry young men. Let’s start trying to show our boys a different way. Men’s strength doesn’t come from the size of their muscles, pay cheque, or weapon, it comes from the size of their heart.
Dr. Jan Sommers lives in the Truro Area and is the proud mother of two young boys.