Recently I got chatting with a nice lady in the queue at the supermarket.
(Because when the highlight of your Friday evening is browsing a frozen food aisle, you’ll talk to everyone.)
As I loaded a giant bag of nappies onto the checkout conveyor, Nice Lady smiled at me.
“Kids?” she asked with a grin.
“Yeah, a little boy.” I replied.
“So, who’s got him now?” she asked.
“Um, he’s at home with his Dad.”
Her grin widened.
“Ohhhh,” she said, giving me the look.
It goes like this:
I’ve tried to learn how to do the look.
But this is what ends up happening:
Then she dropped the whammy:
“Let’s hope everything is under control when you get home!”
Chortle chortle. Wink wink.
It took all my strength not to donk her over the head with a zucchini.
Instead, I nodded and smiled breezily through gritted teeth.
Then and there, it dawned on me.
We need to stop talking about dads like they’re an inept accessory to parenting.
I hear this stuff all the time, and my husband hears it, too.
Like the time we were at the park and our son was dressed in mismatched shoes and a crappy old t-shirt covered in snack stains.
“Looks like Daddy dressed you today!” came a well-meaning comment.
Newsflash: I dressed him. And I did a terrible job, which is the norm. When his dad dresses him, he looks like a Bonds catalogue kid.
“We need to stop talking about dads like they’re an inept accessory to parenting.”
“Is Daddy on babysitting duty today?”
Nope, he’s not a babysitter.
He’s a parent.
He’s outside playing in the backyard, kissing a skinned knee, smearing sunscreen onto a tiny nose and handling another epic “I don’t want sunscreen” meltdown like a boss.
He’s sitting on the toilet with a small person staring at him through a crack in the door.
He’s making forts and train stations and race tracks.
Later on, he’ll be scraping solidified cheese off the floor, hanging tiny shirts on the washing line, Febrezing the wee-scent out of the sofa cushions and scooping poo out of the bathtub.
He will spot a red rash behind our son’s ears and google “possibility of death with red rash behind ears” and quietly convince himself it’s a flesh eating virus.
He will worry and think about our son — all the time.
He will get everything wrong, then right, then wrong, then right.
He will argue with his partner (me) about whose turn it was to buy the pull-ups and we will both wonder why we ever got into this game — and then something great will happen.
Hearts will fill up again.
He’ll read the same Peter Rabbit story for the sixth time in a row (without flinching) and will wrangle four squirming, kicking limbs into clean pyjamas.
He will sit beside his bed, saying the two words he knows will help our son to drift away.
He will go downstairs to tidy up the toys, and he will flop on the sofa with a beer, and he will get up two minutes later when our son wakes and cries.
And he will do it again, and again, until he gives up on the beer altogether.
He will check the locks on the doors and creep into his bedroom to whisper a last goodnight, safe in the knowledge he’s probably going to get 4 hours sleep tonight.
On his way out, he will look into the cot and think to himself:
“Bloody hell, he’s beautiful.”
Alongside all of this, there’s me. Doing exactly the same kind of stuff, every day.
Sure, there are plenty of deadbeat dads in the world. Believe me, I know this for certain. Equally, there are plenty of deadbeat moms.
But the good dads need to be part of our language of parenting.
We only have to look at the smiling faces of mothers with children in magazines, movies, advertising and online to see where the media thinks the parenting-pendulum swings.
Listen to the language we use about parents to know what we’re supposed to think the score is.
Watch how much pressure we put on moms to be the natural-born carers. The ones with the instincts. The ones who know how to do it properly.
Hell, even the bottle of stuff we wash our son with says “Moms prefer.”
What about the dads?
It’s easy to see why it’s often called “Daddy Day Care.”
It’s easy to see why dads rarely get a mention at our ante-natal classes.
It’s easy to see why the good dads — loving, caring, lion-hearted, capable, loyal, instinctive dads — are portrayed as goofy mistake-makers.
It’s easy to see why there’s a popular Instagram hashtag called #dumbstuffdadsdo; but nothing for moms. Because we never do dumb stuff, do we? (cough)
It’s easy to see why people fawn all over a bloke with a baby in a sling, like he’s some sort of rare messiah.
It’s easy to see why most dads get about 5 days paternity leave (if any) when a child is born.
It’s easy to understand why we never hear the term “working father.”
And it’s easy to see why Facebook started a viral trend this week, asking women around the world to share “five reasons why I’m happy to be a mother.” #silentvom
Nothing for the awesome dads.
Because they’re probably all scratching their balls and watching the football, right?
They’re scratching their balls and watching the Teletubbies.