This post is for my dad, who maybe didn’t get everything right, but definitely gave the job everything he had.
I’m still not 100% clear why we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but we do. They’re a little heteronormative, and they celebrate a family structure that not everyone has, and I dislike that about them, but we have them. And so, just for today, I’m going to talk about Father’s Day and fathers, just for a minute.
The first thing I want to say is that being a dad is often not the same as being a mom, and that’s a shame. The burdens of child-rearing are too often not split equally between parents, even if both work, even if the mother earns more than the father. There are far fewer stay-at-home dads than there are stay-at-home moms. Men do less of the domestic work than their wives even beyond child-rearing, simply in terms of homemaking. All of that falls under the umbrella of “things feminists wouldn’t mind changing”.
But in the meantime, dads DO play an incredibly important role in their children’s lives. Maybe the most important thing is that they provide a male role model, or more accurately, a model of what being a man is. This is what sons learn to emulate, and what daughters learn to expect.
What this means is that dads who are present in their children’s lives have an incredible amount of power in conveying what it means to be a man and what should be accepted of men. It means that dads have the ability to show their children how a man should talk to and treat a woman, based on how they talk to and treat the mothers of their children. A boy who watches his father treat his mother with love and respect, who watches his dad help clear the dishes at night, is going to internalize that behavior as that which he wants to emulate. It can serve as a counterpoint to messages coming from the outside, which might indicate that it is not necessary to treat a significant other with respect, and because it is his parents, he is more likely to identify with his father’s behavior than, say, raunchy lyrics.
Likewise, girls learn what to expect from guys from watching their moms and dads, and from how their dads treat them. This means that when their fathers treat their mothers with respect, they internalize the idea that men should respect them. This is an idea that fathers are in a position to reinforce throughout their daughters’ lives, as they grow older and start dealing with boys their own age. Fathers are in a position to set the example that their daughters should not accept being hit, for instance, or being called certain names. While mothers are also in a position to convey that through words, a girl who has watched her father treat her mother right throughout her life is more likely to internalize those expectations, and not accept poor treatment.
And coming back to what I said in that first paragraph, about what needs to change: if the young men of my generation adopt a shift towards those behaviors when the time comes-~-towards taking a more active role in their children’s lives, towards helping out more around the house-~-then our children’s generation will begin to see that as normal. That’s how gender roles change. That’s how masculinity can change. Dads are in the unique position to shift our cultural dialogue about what it means to be a man away from shows of power, away from masculinity defined by conquest and control, and towards a concept of masculinity that’s about responsibility and respect. Dads are in this unique position because it is dads who, through their behavior and their conversations, start this dialogue with the next generation.
So that’s my feminist bit. Take a minute today and say thanks to the men who have made a difference in your life-~-even if they’re not a dad. There’s no rule that says everyone has a dad, or that everyone’s dad did a great job, because that just isn’t always the case. But if you do have a dad and he’s been a positive force in your life, take a second to appreciate that. And if you have someone else who stepped up-~-an uncle, a family friend, whomever-~-take a minute for them too. It takes all types.
Happy Father’s Day.