E-mail today from a correspondent who suggests that on the basis of what I wrote yesterday, I consider myself better than the “so-called deadbeat” dads that I imagine others seeing me as because I’m out alone with my kid in the middle of the afternoon — i.e., unemployed and/or seeing their children through court-ordered visitation. So, just make to make sure we’re all absolutely clear on this one, and that there are no mixed signals whatsoever:
Duh. You’re damn right that I think I’m a better dad than that.
I mean, really. This one’s a no-brainer. On one hand, you have a guy who works hard and makes a good living for his family and stayed at home to care for his child while his wife worked outside of the home and/or went to college (that’d be me). On the other hand, you have a dad who can’t or won’t hold a job and desultorily sees his kids when the court makes him (the theoretical deadbeat of the previous column). Okay, now pretend you’re a kid. Pick one. Even implying these scenarios is in some way equivalent seems to require one to drink deeply from a very special brand of stupidity.
I’m certainly not saying being unemployed automatically drops you into the “bad dad” camp. Unemployment is often a temporary situation, hopefully correctable, although if you make a habit out of being unemployed because you just can’t live by the man’s rules, that’s never any good. Likewise, having to live with visitation when one is divorced is no fun, but if you do it and don’t make it seem like a chore, good on you. Making it a grim, joyless experience does definitely make you a bad dad, however. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. You simply suck.
(And of course we all know of dads who don’t bother to hold up their end of visitation, or who don’t think to drop a child support check in the mail like they’re supposed to. These gentlemen need to meet the service end of my shovel.)
Moreover, I am absolutely judgmental when it comes to parenting, and particularly when it comes to being a dad. Being a parent is hard work, and it often means making hard choices. If you can’t or won’t make those choices, you get a markdown in my book. It’s pretty simple. You can be a great parent and raise a rotten kid, and vice-versa; it’s important to remember that kids are people too, and some of them will confound your expectations no matter what you do. Be that as it may, every parent should be expected to lay the table, as it were, for their child, to do what they can to provide their children the tools they need for life. If you can’t or won’t do that, you’ve got a problem as a parent.
I feel pretty good about myself as a father. I’m not perfect, which is a statement that should be understood as a given for any dad. Anyway, perfect dads are creepy. But I lay the table. My work tends to my family’s financial needs. My wife and I are mindful of our relationship, not simply for ourselves, but because we know enough to know that a solid marriage is the cornerstone of a solid family. I cherish my daughter for the remarkable human being she is at the moment, and for everything she can become. I love helping her learn about the world and her place in it; I love being a part of her play. Even when she utterly drives me up the friggin’ wall — which is often, she is three — I simply can’t imagine not having her in my life every day; I can’t imagine not being willing to break my own back to do for her. Here’s the thing, however: I’m not doing anything special. It’s what’s in the job description. It’s what dads are supposed to do.
I am a very good father (so far). I am better than many fathers I have known, although I am pleased to say that I look around me every day and see other fathers who are doing equally well in their responsibilities as a parent. I work hard every day to continue to be a good father. I’ll work hard at it every day until they shove me into the ground.
I don’t deserve a medal for being a good father; it’s what I’m supposed to be. But if you think I don’t recognize that I do a good job at it, and a better job than many others are doing, you’re nuts. If you don’t think I’m proud of that fact, you’re high. If you think I shouldn’t think I’m better than a dad who won’t do as I do for my family and my child, well, here’s my ass. Feel free to bite it.