When a dad manages to mix formula without turning the kitchen into a scene from Scarface, there’s a ticker-tape parade. As he’s pushed through the city streets in an oversize umbrella stroller, in-laws and relatives throw rice cereal and cheer his name. Meanwhile, moms are expected to excel at all times and in all areas. We collectively scratch our heads if we see a new mom struggle to mix formula or set up a playard. (Is it squeeze, lift and snap, or lift, snap and squeeze?) It’s like a woodchuck struggling to chuck wood or Dr. Seuss using spellcheck—it’s not how the world is meant to be.
We know this storyline all too well: When the class clown gets an A, we say hip hip hooray. When the valedictorian gets a B, we wonder why her performance level is dropping. This helps explain a recent study from the Pew Research Center. More than 20 percent of those polled say today’s dads are doing a better job than fathers did 20 or 30 years ago. However, only 9 percent say moms are doing a better job than their predecessors two and three decades prior. And of all the demographics polled, the biggest fans of today’s dads are married, working moms. That’s not too hard to believe: They are married to us, after all.
But guys, this is not a reason to celebrate, so I suggest you take down the “nanny nanny boo boo stick your head in doo doo” banner and pay attention. It’s always moms who take the public drubbing for a parenting decision, be it right or wrong. The military mom in Virginia who fought the naval medical center over her daughter’s vaccination schedule. The Chicago mom who was thrown out of a store for breastfeeding; shortly thereafter, the store was picketed by a bunch of breastfeeding moms (lactivists?). When was the last time you read a headline saying, “Local Dad Arrested for Picketing Restaurant that Doesn’t Serve Children”? Everyone knows you’re more likely to get criticized for doing something the wrong way than for doing nothing at all. And since dads have quietly accepted the role of second-string player, of vice president, of Garfunkel, we consistently let moms stand front and center and take the brunt of society’s heckling.
Why is this? Why aren’t we calling for the ball when there are two seconds left on the clock? Because we’re afraid of screwing up.
A lot of dads suffer from Ming vase syndrome (MVS), a fear of breaking or damaging his newborn. I suffered from MVS. Pulling a little arm through a blanket sleeper felt like cutting the green wire on a ticking explosive. Over time, I learned that not only would my son Jackson stay in one piece, he was a sturdy stunt baby who often turned our childproofing efforts into an impromptu game titled Can You Keep Me Alive?
It’s time us dads stopped worrying, took a few risks, and dared to screw up. Failure is the opportunity to do things again, only better.
And let’s not forget that popularity does not equal success. (see: real housewife, bankrupt; solo album, Heidi Montag; rehab, celebrity). So forget about the ticker tape parades. Fathers cannot truly succeed until we’re the ones getting slammed. The morning I see the headline “Local Dad Chastised for Breastfeeding in Public,” I’ll know we’ve officially arrived.