Earlier today (well, technically yesterday, if the clock isn’t lying to me), Nugget and I did something new, in a familiar place. We went to one of our local zoos, and she took part in a toddler class to help kids get to know more about the animals. We’ve been getting her into more activities overall, partially because we want her to get some more socialization time to counter all of the time she spends at home with me, and partially because we know that she’s a total sponge right now, and we want her to soak up as much information as possible. These reasons are why I took her to a family reading session at the library (which didn’t work out at all), and why we started her with some music classes (which she loves, and has definitely made friends, at least with one little boy). Given her love of the zoo, it was just the next logical step.
Now, during the class, everything was pretty awesome. Nugget got to see an owl (which delighted her to no end), and she got to pet a snake (which she wouldn’t stop talking about). She played games, and danced to music. She spent time with other kids of about her age, and she got to wander around the inside of the zoo for a bit afterwards. All in all, as far as Nugget was concerned, it was a good day.
I stress that it was a good day for Nugget. It was actually a pretty good day for me. With one simple exception.
I was outright complimented for dressing my daughter well. Because, you see, I’m a dad, and apparently that’s just super hard for dad’s to do.
To be clear, this comment was not directed in any way at Nugget. She wasn’t praised for being cute. Throughout the class, she was given compliments for how well she played, how much fun she was having, for her attention and gentleness towards the animals, and for being a good listener. You know, the things that she actually has control over, and the things that any child, boy or girl, should get positive attention for long before they get complimented for being cute. So there wasn’t any sort of stereotypical “good job relying on your looks, kid” type of mentality going on. No, the comment was directed specifically at me, and it was also clearly meant as a joke; a shot across the bow towards other fathers who may not have a fashion designer wife and a simple recognition of complimentary colors and style.
When the comment came across, I actually shrugged it off, and might have even laughed a bit. After all, again, it wasn’t about Nugget being pretty and not needing to work hard to learn. It was about the fact that it was pretty clear I put some thought into her clothes, as opposed to grabbing random items in the dark, possibly while also heavily intoxicated or sleepwalking. I even made some jokes about it on my social media accounts, which lead to a bit of conversation, but nothing too dire.
But I’ll admit that it’s been lurking in the back of my mind. And it’s been there for a couple of reasons.
First off, who cares how a child is dressed, and who picked out those clothes? I mean, Nugget could decide she was going to wear a Batman t-shirt with a Deadpool tutu, and I wouldn’t say a thing (well, okay, I AM a pretty big nerd, so I might talk to her about crossing major comic company lines). It just so happens that today, because she was attending a “feathered friends” class, I put her into a dress with flamingos on it (I’ve talked before about how we tried not to gender her clothes, and how she’s made it clear that she wanted to dress in “girl” things). If a child is happy and engaged, it shouldn’t matter at all what they’re wearing. Especially not when they’re toddlers, and you can still catch them before they start getting obsessed with “looking right”.
The second reason this stuck with me is that it buys into the typical stereotype that dads, for the most part, are absolute morons. I used to joke with a friend who’s also a father that we got immediate credit for actually seeming like we enjoyed our child’s company, but it isn’t that far from the truth. And yes, dads also get extra grief at times for being around, because we’re not the norm. There has to be a reason why we’re staying home with our kids, and it clearly can’t be just that we want to stay home with our kids (spoiler alert: for a fair number of us, that’s EXACTLY why we stay home, and it’s freaking awesome). But there is a heavy stereotype that dads don’t know what the heck they’re doing, unless you’re talking about technology. Give us electronics, and we’ll totally understand how to do everything (while those poor, hapless wives can’t manage to turn on the television, and believe that their smartphones are also the TV remotes, because LOL, right?), but the minute that we’re dealing with things like cooking, or cleaning, or wanting to be actively involved with our children? Oh boy… we’re just around for fun, and the kids will outsmart us. This mentality shows up in commercials, television shows, and movies. A dad is awesome to be around, as long as you don’t need him to be a parent. Really, we’re just overgrown children who are friends to our kids, or extreme disciplinarians. But active parts of their lives, who are competent in how we’re raising them and taking care of the house and maybe even making dinner? That’s just too much.
I’m not saying that dads get it worse than others. I’m not even saying that dads get it anywhere near to the same level as other groups. What I’m saying is that we need to put a lot of these stereotypes to bed. It’s beyond time that we stopped using these easy crutches in day-to-day life, or in the creative arts. Women can literally do just about anything they choose. So can men. And neither gender gets the ownership of all of the intelligence related to certain tasks.
Besides, if you’re trying to embody stereotypes instead of break them, you’re closing yourself off to some truly fantastic opportunities.