It’s 2016. Why Do We Still See Involved Dads as Novelty Items?

Yes, I'm an involved dad, but wearing your baby is normal and common
Yes, I’m an involved dad, but wearing your baby is normal and common

It’s 2016. Good dads aren’t rare – most dads are highly involved with their children. Involved dads should not be seen as novelty items.

Two quick stories about something that annoys me. (Apologies in advance for crankiness, especially as I know those I’m reacting to are 100% well-intentioned).

1. Last week, a mom blogger asked a facebook group of guys who attended the recent Dad 2.0 Summit to send her pictures of them carrying their babies in a sling or Bjorn-like carrier. She wanted to highlight involved fatherhood in a photo-essay, as a way to demonstrate that there are great dads out there. Many dads from the group were happy to contribute. After all, who doesn’t like cute dad and kid pictures?

While this mom-blogger had good intentions, something about this request didn’t sit well with me. So I posited this question to the group:

Your intentions are great. But I wonder why we still think involved fatherhood is such a novelty that we need photo essays like this. After all, the vast majority of dads are highly involved and we don’t really deserve special praise for doing so.

I mean, dads are parents. What is so special about holding our kids? Everyone does it. I’m not sure why we need another “hey look there ARE involved dads out there” piece in the mommy media. It’s 2016, involved dads are everywhere. It’s completely common. Involved dads are the norm.

2. A few days earlier, I was contacted by a radio show focused on parenting. After we arranged for my appearance, the producer asked me if I could refer them to some other dads who may be interested in being on the show, explaining that they were eager to “get a dad’s perspective on parenting.”

As before, this request struck me as odd. Why would having a “dad’s perspective” be sufficiently novel or compelling to be highlighted on a radio show? After all, half of all parents are dads and most of us do a great job. Dads being parents and having opinions about parenthood isn’t exactly newsworthy. The way I see it, we need to stop treating involved dads as novelty items.

As with the blogger in the first story, I know the producer’s question was well intentioned. So I tried to gently explain that involved fatherhood isn’t some oddity. Involved dads are the norm. Instead, I asked if there were specific areas of expertise they were looking for in a guest. This helped nudged her away from the notion that simply talking to a dad about parenting was somehow newsworthy.

Apologies again for being cranky about those with good intentions. But as I wrote for Time almost 2 years ago:

I’m no hero, no “superdad.” I’m just one of the millions of dads who are putting in the work to provide for their families, to balance their careers with their spouses’ and, most importantly, to be a loving, involved father.

I think the increased attention being paid to dads is great. And I am very grateful for the women who are promoting fatherhood in the media.

But it seems that much of this “dads are parents too” coverage treats involved dads as rarities that were just recently discovered and need to be shown to a disbelieving public. But the fact is, good dads aren’t rare – most dads are highly involved with their children. It’s completely normal. It’s 2016. Involved dads should not be seen as novelty items.

What do you think about how many still see involved dads as rarities? Let’s discuss in the comments.

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5 thoughts on “It’s 2016. Why Do We Still See Involved Dads as Novelty Items?

  1. I agree completely. It is time to move forward. From a gender equity/feminist perspective, I think the next logical step in this area of research is not to look at “hey dads *are* involved!” as you very rightly point out, but what kinds of involvement, and what kinds of motivation to be involved, are most likely to facilitate or promote gender equity.

    Also, is critiquing long work hours helpful? (probably yes). Or looking at the ways fathers are involved and the level of responsibility shared by mums and dads also helpful?

    • This is fantastic!

      I see so many more men more publicly expressing their desires for rich family lives along with their careers. I’m still surprised how far behind others are in recognizing this.

      Incidentally, I’ve written a few working-dad-centric pieces at HBR.org that might be of interest to your audiences.

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