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5 Outdated Phrases that Downplay a Modern Dad's Role

This article will piss some people off. Most notably, it may anger moms who only read the headline and assume I'm trying to diminish their parenting role. I'm not; I promise. I have an immeasurable amount of respect for the physical and mental toll that childbirth and child care have on women's bodies and minds, both pre and post-delivery. But what I've noticed is that a divide exists, and it's in the way we talk about moms and dads, whether privately in our homes or on social media. Despite the progress that's been made, fathers are typically portrayed as stumbling, un-nurturing fools who are unfit to care for a child without extensive help.

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For the record, I get it. The "dummy dad" is an easily identifiable, entertaining character. And by character, I actually do mean character. There's nothing funny about a father who's got his life together, so comedy films and TV shows tend to portray dads as forgetful, irresponsible, and downright lazy buffoons. In my personal experience in real life, I've known this to be the exception rather than the rule.

Like any injustice, it manifests itself most prominently in language. We use many phrases that, intentionally or not, marginalize dads and ignore the progression of their role over the past few decades, such as:

"Daddy daycare"

It's not overtly malicious. None of these expressions are, really. But when you break it down, it's clearly an insult. When the father is left in charge of the kids, you'll often hear that it's "daddy daycare" time. Meaning, the children won't get any true guidance, care, or attention. The term "daycare" suggests that dad is just a placeholder until mom returns.

"Mommy brain"

I suppose this phrase doesn't directly insult fathers, but I'm including it because it represents an overall pattern in our language to empathize with the plight of the mother, but not the father. You never, ever hear "daddy brain" used to excuse a man's lack of focus; although, I assure you, many of us were up for hours the night before with a crying baby.

"Have you changed any diapers?"

When my first son was 1 month old, I was asked by an older female relative if I'd changed any diapers yet. I stared at her in amazement for several seconds. Had I changed any diapers? At that point, probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 50-55. It never occurred to me that guys didn't do that sort of thing. That's when I realized, gender roles have changed a great deal since the 1950s, but many still haven't shaken the norms of their childhood.

"There's no love like a mother's love."

Let me be clear that I would never discredit the bond that a child has with the human they grew inside of for nine months. When my own mother died, it changed me irrevocably. But do I really feel that the love she had for me was in any way stronger than the love of my father? No, I don't. And to put the love my wife has for our children in a separate league than my own love for them is misguided, and frankly, insulting.

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"Dad bod"

We're out of shape, sluggish, and not getting enough exercise to maintain a healthy body weight. And somehow, this became a joke? And, to be clear, if "mom bod" was ever uttered, you know there'd be furious backlash, a protest, and a social media campaign targeting its abolition from our lexicon.

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I'm sure some people have created the narrative in their heads that I was somehow disparaging mothers with this piece of writing. But truly, I'm just a father of three who works endlessly hard at being an active, caring dad for my children, just as their mother does. I give baths. I lose sleep—a lot of it. I'm frequently torn between the duties of my career and those of my household. And more than anything, I aim to strike a healthy balance between what my wife is putting into our family and what I contribute.

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When I watch how some older males act around babies, I often roll my eyes. Many of them actually do seem inept and incapable of caring for a child the way a woman would. But then I remember the language around which they were raised:

"That's for girls."

"Cleaning is a woman's work."

Here's hoping that, as years go by, we surround ourselves with more inclusive language that empowers us and less of the kind that divides.

Joe DeProspero can be reached via email at or on Twitter.