“Good Morning America” often disappoints. I watch the local Channel 9 news in the morning, and, if I’m too late, I end up catching GMA and usually feel the worse for it. This morning, for instance, I set my elliptical machine at the gym for 20 minutes (it was a warm up before weight lifting) and I let GMA wash over me—celebrity gossip, “amusing banter” between the show personalities, light, fluffy, no-news-here background morning TV stuff.
Sigh. Is nothing actually happening in the world?
Anyway, one short segment did catch my attention, even if it is just GMA fluff. A blogger who calls himself “Daddy Doin’ Work” posted a photo of himself, one child in a baby carrier on his chest, while he fixed the hair of a second, older, daughter.
And the photo went viral, and the comments rolled in. Most, I take it from GMA and from reading a related Huffington Post article, of the reaction was positive, but there were a few naysayers, including some rude, racist comments such as assuming he must have illegitimate children because he’s black.
Whoa, internet. Let’s hold on a minute. Some of my reactions:
- Any picture haters out there, racist or not, get over it. The man wasn’t doing anything extraordinary; he was simply a father taking care of his daughters. A parent being a parent.
- Any picture lovers out there, man or woman, get over it. The man wasn’t doing anything extraordinary; he was simply a father taking care of his daughters. A parent being a parent.
I’ll put myself more in the second category, because it is a cute picture. It’s just a bit sad to me that anybody would think what he’s doing is worthy of extensive comment. So, of course, I will …
True, biology dictates that women bear a baby for around 40 weeks. But then the child is born. I’m old fashioned enough to think that raising a child is best as a two-person operation—and I have had lots of experience. I can’t say I was an ideal parent. I made plenty of mistakes, and did and said things I am not proud of.
But, at least I went into the business of being a parent, in the 1980s, with what I think is the correct and only healthy attitude: My job was to do my best to take care of my kids. Part of that job means having a healthy relationship with their mother, true. But, no, while I agree part of a dad’s job is to love his children’s mother, it doesn’t at all end there.
If the child is hurt or sick or has a soiled diaper or needs feeding or needs a bath or a story or a hug or some playtime—well, that’s not a mom’s job. Nor is it a dad’s job. These all are parenting jobs.
I remember reading Bob Greene’s 1984 book about his daughter’s first year, a book called “Good Morning, Merry Sunshine.” It was a pleasant enough read, except Greene said (and this is a very approximate paraphrase of something I read decades ago) at one point that comforting or caring for his daughter was something his wife was simply better at. I remember there being a subtext, at least to me, that the ladies are simply able to comfort the crying or heal the booboo or whatever better by some gender magic.
And I wanted to gag.
What ripe BS. OK, true, not all parents, or grandparents, are equal in all things. If your wife breastfeeds, as mine did, there’s an aspect of baby care that necessarily involves the person with functioning mammary glands. And true, when a grandchildren has an ouch, he or she will often prefer a hug from grandma rather than grandpa.
But, if grandma is not around, grandpa does the hugging. And even when she is around, he does some of the diaper changing.
Parenting may not always be 50-50, and sometimes that’s just a reality of how people live their lives. If, in a household, a man works and a woman stays at home, that’s going to have a huge impact on the relationship that the man has with his children. But, they are still his children. When he’s home, he owes them the best parenting he can provide. And, sometimes, the shoe is on the other foot. There is no law of the universe that says it’s always the dad who works and the mom who stays home.
So guys, man up. Or dad up. If your daughter or son needs a parent, be the parent. What does that mean?
- Do what needs to be done to meet the child’s immediate needs. Whether bathing, diaper changing, feeding or whatever, know your child and your home well enough to know where the baby wipes are kept and how to use them.
- Be emotionally present for your children and spouse. Form a healthy family “culture” where the kids sense, at a young age, that they are wanted and loved.
- Forget being perfect. You won’t be. Being your best doesn’t make you super human, and to err is human. It’s not a guy thing, however.
- Learn from your experience. Observe others, see what they do, seek advice, watch your spouse, pick up new skills as needed. Want your hair braided? Check. What a French braid? Well, if you have my wife do it, it will sure look a lot neater, but yes, I know what a French braid is and I can make one.
- Take the good with the bad. Parenting isn’t all honey and unicorns. Even “good” kids, and I would say I’ve been blessed to have generally happy and contented children and grandchildren, have bad times and bad days. There will be crying. There will be meltdowns. There will be sleep deprivation. If the genetic or environmental lottery runs the wrong way, you might face conditions—colic, for instance—that greatly increase the bad:good ratio. I guess my best advice on dealing with the “bad,” at least were babies are concerned, is that whatever is going on today won’t necessarily be going on tomorrow. The good news is that babies change quickly. (The bad news is that not all changes are improvements, but still, at least the problems of tomorrow won’t be the same as the ones today).
So, good on you, Daddy Doin’. I hate the cutesy title of your blog, by the way, but I agree with your general attitude—being a Daddy is mostly just being a caring adult human who has children. Such a person is known as a “parent,” and it’s not a gender specific role. Your picture is cute, but shouldn’t have caused any ruckus because it just shows a dad fixing hair, as he should.
Bonus: Under the “learn from your experience” and share advice idea, here is a parenting or grand parenting tip for you guys out there whose hearts are in the right place but who don’t know how to make a braid in a daughter’s (or son’s) head of hair. How to braid:
- Brush the hair out. With the fingers of your left hand, divide the combed hair into three roughly equal strands. Hold the right two of the strands between fingers of your right hand, but not between consecutive fingers—have an empty spot between your two middle fingers. The far left strand should be in your left hand.
- Cross the middle strand with the strand in the left hand. Now, what was the far left strand is the new middle strand. Take the far right strand, and cross the new middle strand–what was far right is now the middle strand. Take the far left strand and cross what is now the middle strand. Then right. Then left. Then right. Then left, etc. until you reach the end of the hair—when you have an inch and half or so left, tie the strands together with a hair tie.
I’m sure a few seconds of Google research can find better directions with illustrations. Or you can just watch how your wife or sister or best friend Joe does it. Trust me, braiding is not hard. And to do two braids, you just simply divide the hair into two equal strands and then individually divide each strand into 3 and proceed.
French braiding means you start with three strands at the top of the head, and work your way back, adding a bit of hair to each strand before you cross over the head. It’s a bit tougher. And, if you never get the hang of it, so what? If you can braid, and you can, you can be a good dad.
Frankly, I’ll admit, even if you cannot braid, even if you can only do a pony tail, as long as you’re willing to, you can get by. You can person up. You can be a dad.