Sunday, May 13, 2012

World's Greatest Dad

World’s Greatest Dad

This week, the cover of a news magazine (which I won’t refer to by name because I don’t want to reward it’s salacious photo with even more attention) made me wonder:

Do dads judge each other? 

We know that there is an oppressive motherculture of judgment, which most mothers I know have been on one end of (or the other…or both).   And I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t participated in it myself.  I think we do it—I do it—to feel better about the choices I’m making as a parent.  But really, it’s little more than a form of relational bullying:  be more like me so I can feel good about myself.   It’s mean girls grown up:

Mean Mommies. 

Moms-judging-moms appears to cut across cultures (when I was in Russia the babushki—grandmothers—would thinking nothing of chastising a perfect stranger for not putting a hat on her child), ethnicity, socioeconomic status. 

But does it cut across gender?

Not being an authority on the subject, I decided to interview a few dads.   Just two actually, of a very similar demographic, so what I learned by no means representative of the population at large (nor can I generalize it to all men).  But what they said was interesting nonetheless.

They gave me permission to use their names—Kevin (my husband) and Tim (my friend Nancy’s husband). 

Both men said, without hesitation, that they do not judge, nor do they feel the judgment of other dads.  So, of course I had to press them, “You mean you never think to yourself, ‘I would NEVER do that, or I can’t believe he just did THAT, or I wouldn’t do it that way.”  Tim was thoughtful.  He admitted that before he had kids, he occasionally looked at other parents and had those thoughts, but now that he was a parent himself, he realized he was in no position to judge other dads. 

I really admired this.  I was also a little bit jealous.

Kevin mused that such behavior would violate The Code of Men (male social norms).  “Men don’t compete that way,” he said, referring to the more subtle relational aggression that females engage in.  “They do it through sports or at work—they establish hierarchies.” 

Perhaps women are behind all those World’s Greatest Dad t-shirts and mugs.  Maybe men aren’t looking for that distinction. 

I have to talk to more men about this. 

Then I got to thinking about the changing role of dad’s in our society.  How, once upon a time, dads were pretty far removed from the task of parenting.  They provided.  They protected.  They punished.  But they didn’t necessarily bathe and feed and clothe and handle they myriad of tasks associated with raising a child.  But as equity between men and women grows, so have their roles in parenting.  As Tim put it, he is far more involved with his children than his father was with him.  Or his father’s father was with his dad.  Each successive generation has become more hands-on. 

Will then, men eventually evolve to judge one another?  That’s not quite right.  I don’t mean to imply that relational aggression is more evolved than more overt forms.  But will men, as they become more invested in the role, start to care more about what others think about their parenting choices?  Will our social gender norms change over time? 

Or is the act of dads-judging-dads too countercultural to ever happen?  Could there something about inter-parent relations mothers could stand to learn from their male counterparts? 

Well dads, if you, in fact, don’t judge each other (and the jury’s still out on that one)—what do you have to offer the moms of the world?  How do we extinguish the madness, stoked by the media and our insecurities?

I would really like to know. 


Melissa B said...

Melissa here. I want to clarify a point I made (or didn’t make but alluded to in a very flippant manner), as a friend raised this issue off-blog. When I used the word “salacious” in referring to a certain news magazine’s cover this week, I did not mean to imply that there is anything salacious about the breastfeeding relationship. I was an extended breastfeeder myself (over two years), and consider breastfeeding to have been one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Rather, I was referring to the intent of the photographer and the editors of the magazine. Yes, I maintain that there is something salacious about this image, meant to shock our American Puritanical sense of nudity. My rationale: 1) It took some reading—not the image which made me wonder, “what is this about?”—to figure out that the article was about attachment parenting. 2) This was an American, not an International cover. In the European edition of this magazine, the cover image was of Francois Hollande. You know, France’s new PRESIDENT. 3) The mother and child are not depicted in a natural breastfeeding position—the photographer admits as much, saying he wanted to accentuate the height of the child. In fact, the images INSIDE the magazine are more representative of what it looks like to breastfeed an older child.

I am sorry if I offended any extended breastfeeders with this comment. I AM being judgmental, but of the magazine trying to sell copies and stir up controversy, not of you.

All this being said, I do struggle immensely with my own pop-up judgmental thoughts about other things—particularly around food. I saw a young girl—maybe six, having a piece of French toast floating in maple syrup and drinking a Coca Cola yesterday, and it did trigger a judgmental thought. I’m not sure what this means about me, but I figure the only way to address it is to talk about it. Or in my case, to write about it.

Maria said...

Regarding your words about dads I can say, without a doubt, that my husband judges other dads. I have seen him do it on numerous occasions. I have pointed it out to him and he never fully admits to it, saying he isn't judging but "noticing". I don't see the difference. If noticing or judging helps him or other dads to see the right from wrong ways to parent, maybe it isn't such a bad thing.