Calling All Dads

There has been a considerable amount of outrage lately throughout the dad community, particularly the dad blogging community, over a label. In its “Who’s Minding the Kids?” report, the U.S. Census Bureau refers to stay-at-home dads as “child care,” even though those dads are obviously the primary care providers in the family. Essentially, babysitters. The report also lists moms as the “designated parent” if both a mom and dad exist in the household, or in single-parent homes. But dads, stay-at-home dads in particular, are not happy.

Of course, moms have been the traditional primary caregiver pretty much since the beginning of time. Over the past decade or so, a small shift has occurred and more dads are staying home with the kids. Still, we dads have a long way to go before we catch up in the child-care street-cred department.

But that’s not stopping involved dads from circulating a petition to put us on equal footing with moms when dads are the “designated parent.”  I signed the petition in solidarity with the dads I know and admire. Dads who stay at home and take care of the family. Or Dads who, like me, work but are active participants in the lives of their children.

I do, however, have news for all of these irritated dads, myself included: we are not the problem. In fact, I think we may be in the minority. The truth is, a lot of dads are fine with being called the babysitter. They call themselves that. And if their wives or girlfriends or whomever happen to need them to watch the brood for a finite amount of time, they roll their eyes, sigh deeply and grin and bear it. Again, THEY call it babysitting.

I recently took a day off from work to get our house in order – literally – after we returned from a Disney vacation. I performed the normal duties a stay-at-home parent might tackle any day. Meal preparation, school drop-off, food shopping, laundry, house cleaning. And it made me realize: I’d be damned if I’m the babysitter today. I shared my feelings with my Facebook community and was surprised that a lot of the moms who commented said I was the exception, not the rule. That not all dads are active and involved. That the men in their office constantly refer to spending time with their kids, without their wife, as “babysitting.” Some moms even said they don’t trust the dads with more than the basics, and for good reason.

A light bulb went on inside my head. Let’s face it: there are tons of guys out there who still pull the old ball-and-chain routine when referring to their significant others. There are too many guys out there who don’t cook, do laundry or give the kids a bath. There are even guys out there who would rather have a guys’ night out instead of a family movie night.

And those are the guys the Census report reflects. And no petition will change things until these guys get out of the dark ages, throw on an apron every now and then, roll up their sleeves and get some Play-Doh under their fingernails.

I am fortunate. I see involved dads every day in my life. Family members and friends. At work. At my daughter’s school. At dance class. But until the vocal minority becomes the majority, until these guys recognize being a father and being a dad are two totally different things, we will all be considered the babysitter. And you know what? Big deal.

Let’s drop the righteous indignation. Let’s realize who we’re really talking about. Let’s stop demanding respect from a government bureaucracy who decided on a silly label based on a survey of a measly 35,000 households. The only people I need respect from is my family. My wife and my little girl. And as long as they call me husband and dad, everyone else can call me whatever the hell they want.