Is Your Kid’s School Stuck In The Gender Box?

I’ve recently become unemployed. I gave up what had essentially been my dream job as a fatherhood practitioner and anti-violence educator so that my wife could pursue an opportunity to advance her career. That move brought us to San Diego, California and although I miss the great projects and people that I left in Colorado I am excited for our family’s new adventures here in California.

Unemployment has afforded me the luxury of helping to ease the transition for my seven-year-old daughter, Luna. After hitting the beach for daily body boarding sessions for our first week out here, it finally came time for Luna to go back to school. She was really nervous about a new school, in a new town and I wanted to be as involved as possible at her school to be supportive.

When we went to the school office to register her I was excited to find that the school had a Watch DOGS program to encourage father involvement. Watch DOGS (Dads Of Great Students) is a father involvement initiative created by the National Center for Fathering and organizes fathers and father figures in order to provide positive male role models for students and to enhance school security.

The school receptionist put me in touch with another father that coordinated the Watch DOGS program and after dropping Luna off at her classroom I met up with him and the other Watch DOGS fathers on the playground. They explained to me the role they play at the school: fix things, build things, and man the grill and hold a haunted house at the Fall Festival.

Bummer!

Ok, so not so much of a bummer about the haunted house. I liked that one. But I was surprised at how “in the box” the volunteer opportunities for dads were in regards to traditional gender roles. Unless its a computer, trust me you don’t want me to fix any of your stuff, and if you want something built square or level or basically not shitty looking, I’m not your guy. I also can’t cook steak or hamburgers very well. As a reformed vegetarian I still can’t figure out how to effectively cook meat. Mostly I just burn it because it still kind of grosses me out that meat is dead animals.

Plan B.

I went directly to Luna’s teacher before class the next morning and asked if there was anything I could do in the classroom to help. She couldn’t think of anything and seemed surprised that I asked. She took my number down and told me she’d call me if anything came up. Then I got a call from my wife. She was on her way out to the desert to take well readings for her hydrology job and had gotten a call from the school regarding a medical form that needed to be updated for Luna.

On my way out I stopped by the office to take care of this. I relayed the message from my wife to the receptionist and she called over the school nurse. The nurse found the appropriate form and explained to me that all my wife needed to do was to stop into the office some time and sign it.

I looked at her kind of dumbfounded and asked, “Can’t I just sign it right now?”

She looked up at me, confused as if I had been speaking in an alien tongue.

“You’re her dad?”

“Yes.”

“Her biological parent.”

“Yes.”

“Well I guess I don’t see a reason why a dad can’t sign the form?” she quipped to the receptionist, shrugging her shoulders.

As I signed the form I took out my phone to check the date. The nurse looked at me. I rock a purple and teal colored iPhone case.

“Is that your wife’s phone?’

“No, no it’s mine.”

“That’s just surprising because I have the same one and I just thought the colors were, well you know…”

“Totally awesome, because they’re the colors of both domestic violence and sexual assault awareness!”

“Uh, yeah, um…I guess I didn’t know that.”

I signed the form and walked out to my car, not sure if I should laugh or cry.

Are we really still that behind the times and that entrenched in traditional gender parenting roles that we don’t think a father can take the responsibility to sign a simple medical form?

Is this more a reflection of an educational institution that has failed to evolve in their thinking or is it it more a reflection of how we as men are still stuck in the box or choosing to remain in the box?

Does a purple cell phone cover really make a statement about my manhood?

As dads and as men we need to challenge these stereotypes and be willing to go out of our comfort zones to show that when dads get involved at school it shouldn’t be limited to building things or grilling or coaching sports teams or playing the protector on the playground. It should be to involve the whole of our being and celebrate all of our unique gifts and talents, even our nurturing sides. From teaching reading skills, to running math drills, to volunteering in the art room, to chaperoning field trips, to cutting out construction paper stars for the bulletin board, to making decisions about our child’s best interest, dads are capable of so much more.

More importantly as fathers we should be questioning what our kids are taught about gender in school. Traditional gender roles put unnecessary and hindering limits on our kids’ ability to follow their true path of growth. Traditional gender roles can dictate everything from how space on the playground is claimed to how school funds are spent to who has status, worth, and capacity.

One thing is for certain. Getting involved at school is a great opportunity for dads to make a difference in their kids’ lives and positively impact the school community. As for me, I’m going to keep challenging the status quo.

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