Some of the most frequent comments I receive about my blog are not in response to my postings but rather, my tagline: “You are NOT the father, you’re a dad”. People want to know, like one person put it, “What’s up with that?” Although I am planning a post on that very subject, the difference between being a Father and a Dad, let me take some time to actually address what I mean in the context of today’s post.
First off, my tagline is homage – a shout out if you will – to all my daytime talk show junkies out there (you know who you are). Fans of the Maury Povich show, or MoPo, are all too familiar with his seemingly endless supply of paternity test taking themed shows and his now infamous saying “You ARE (and seemingly less rare) or ARE NOT the Father” – which usually results in hysterics and hilarity all rolled into one!
Seriously though, the tagline is really meant to provoke thought and instigate conversation on what it means to be a “modern” Dad in juxtaposition to the old school model of being a “Father” – my argument being, that the definition of what it means to be a Parent needs to be turned on its head and modernized to reflect the needs of today’s children. That being said, it’s clear to me that we have by no means “arrived”. There is still a lot of work to do to break down stereotypes, redefine gender roles and just change plain old-school thinking, in order to get to a point where we are parenting to our full potential.
I was hired by a rather large company, to work on a rather ambitious project, where I quickly made a name for myself and rose up through the ranks to a senior position. At about the half-way point of this project, I was also finalizing the plans for the birth of my daughter – it was a really crazy and hectic time. I had a variety of meetings arranged to ensure that things flowed smoothly during my leave of absence but the most important meeting I had was with the Vice President of my department. The intent of this meeting was so that I could brief the VP on the plans I had established during my leave and to give him an overall sense of the state of where things are in the department. During the course of our conversation, he wanted to confirm exactly how much time I planned to take for leave. Initially I was puzzled because up to this point, I pretty well established the fact that I was going to take the maximum time provided by company regulations and state law. Also, being a Father himself, I was sure the VP was aware of the time that was provided to new parents. But, in the spirit of confirmation, I informed the VP that I would be taking the maximum six weeks of paternity leave and because of the timing, I also planned to tack on my annual vacation time for a total of eight weeks – no big deal right? WRONG, the look I received was nothing short of anger and bewilderment, with a sprinkle of disgust, all wrapped up neatly with a bow and delivered right to my front door! Verbatim, and I couldn’t make this up, even if I tried, the VP says to me in a tone I can only describe as intimidating, “You really need 8 weeks?!? Isn’t your wife the one having the baby? Why do you need 8 weeks!
To say that this comment was a shock to me would be the understatement of the day. Without going through all the particulars of the rest of the conversation, suffice it to say the VP took the viewpoint that two weeks was an appropriate amount of time for leave, like he did for all his kids – for which I sorely disagreed (I took the 8 weeks anyway). Although this was some time ago and the economy was different and things HAVE changed, we still have a long way to go. Today, I do believe there is more sensitivity around the changing of gender roles as more Dads take a primary role in maintaining the household however, the offensive, border line illegal behavior I experienced, has now been replaced with passive aggressiveness or eye rolling – my how far we have come.
My hope for the future, in this utopia that currently only exists in my head, is that I experience a day when having to leave early to take care of my sick daughter, or not having after work drinks because I might miss bath time – is applauded or better yet, met with no reaction at all – in other words, this behavior becomes second nature to us all. Alas, as I come crashing back to earth, I realize that this is not reality for most of us. It seems like we need to still toe that line between being an involved Dad (awwww, how cute) but not letting it interfere with the “bottom line” (Bob seems distracted).
But it dawned on me, change needs to come from within! For all you Dads out there that feel like I do, we need to be the catalyst of that kind of change. We need to remain steadfast in our defiance of the stereotypical norms of being a Father and be confident that although our actions and behavior may not be popular or political, we have a higher calling – our children – and that, in part, is what it means to be a Dad.
Let me know what you have encountered and how you plan to the change!