This past Mother’s Day when my five year-old daughter, Luna suggested that we take mom out to breakfast we headed to our local IHOP only to be met with a line of other families with the same plan stretching out the front door. Luna wondered why the pancake house was more crowded than usual and my wife explained that “For many of the moms here Mother’s Day is the only day that they don’t have to cook for everyone and do all the dishes.” Luna responded with a puzzled look on her face, “That’s not how it works at our house, Dad does most of the cooking.”
I was really struck by Luna’s comment and my wife and I both smiled and gave each other a loving glance. In that moment I knew that this was one area that I was really succeeding as a father – I wasn’t just challenging traditional gender roles, but more importantly I was modeling partnership and cooperation within my relationship with my daughter’s mother.
We all know that fathers play an important role in the healthy development of both daughters and sons. But we often take for granted how important it is to be a positive gender role model. When kids look to their fathers they see a model for how they believe men are supposed to act and treat others. Even non-violent fathers can do tremendous harm to their kids if they raise them with sexist beliefs or attitudes.
Becoming a feminist father basically means that as a male parent you strive to treat all people equally—first and foremost your children’s mother. You don’t have to look too hard to find examples of misogyny and sexism throughout our culture, some of which you might feel powerless to address, but there’s one thing you can do— don’t allow it in your home. Share the chores with mom, validate her perspective, treat her with respect, and show the kids that you are both equal partners. Both sons and daughters will thrive in this environment and it will set the stage for them to value and seek out healthy relationships with both men and women when they grow up.
While all fathers face the challenge of raising a son or a daughter or in many cases both, feminist fathers are able to see beyond the duality of nature and set their sights on raising human beings. Boys and girls are different, and in some cases they do have different needs, but when we come to realize that gender is a cultural construct we also come to understand that in most cases boys and girls are more alike than different and have essentially the same basic needs. All kids need both roots and wings to realize their full potential. When we force kids into rigid gender stereotypes we limit their capacity for growth.
With Mother’s Day behind us, I’m now looking forward to Father’s Day and the rituals that my family has created as a means of celebrating. But between now and then I’d like encourage other dads to remain mindful of your relationship with your children’s mother and your role as a positive male role model. Talk to your kids about gender roles and what it means to be in a fair and equitable relationship. If you’re not in a relationship with your kids’ mom and there’s still some drama there – take the high road and find a way to compliment her in front of them. It can be as simple as telling your kid, “I love the way you laugh—you have your mother’s laugh. That laugh could light up a whole room.”