I have written many blogs on this site touting the awesomeness of fathers. I’ve proved through my blogs here that a dad can be just as capable at parenting as a mom, that moms are not more important than dads and the discrimination dads face is wrong and harmful to families.
On Halloween, however, I discovered how much further fatherhood has to go.
My wife and I attended a pre-school Halloween party for our youngest daughter on the morning of Halloween and then hit all three classrooms for our elementary kids that afternoon. The pre-schoolers sung Halloween songs. The elementary kids paraded around the school and then played games and decorated cookies.
There were lots of moms at these parties.
There weren’t many dads.
At pre-school there were about four other dads besides me. In our son’s kindergarten class there were no other dads. In 3rd grade, there was one other dad in the classroom. In 5th grade there was only one other dad in all 4 classrooms.
It was frightening. I know lots of involved dads in our kids’ schools. Dads often tell me they wish they had opportunities like me to spend more time with their kids. So, where were they?
A lot of the moms at these parties, particularly at the elementary school, were working moms. They didn’t miss out. They found a way to get off work to attend the parties. Not all of them for sure, but a lot more than the dads.
My wife, for example, adjusted her work schedule so she could attend these events. It took some effort, but she did it. Many dads I know could have done the same thing. The fact is; they didn’t.
If we fathers want to demand equal treatment as parents and we want the discrimination against us to stop, then we need to step up and be there for our kids.
I know this is a challenge for working fathers. While most employers offer flexibility in work schedules, both the employer and employees perceive that flexibility to only apply to women. According to a study by the Boston College Center for Work & Family, most fathers believe their employers will not be supportive of them taking time off. Also they found that fathers tend to believe leaving work early for such events will have long-term career consequences.
There also remains a perception that these school parties are something moms would enjoy and dads wouldn’t. As a father who has attended nearly all of them in my 10 years as a parent, I can say that is patently wrong. Sure, it is a little uncomfortable to sometimes be the lone dad with 5 or 10 moms, but you’re there for your son or daughter; to hear her sing the Halloween song she’s been practicing at home for a month or watch your son get wrapped up like a mummy. Those experiences are special moments I enjoy sharing with our children and they enjoy sharing with me.
To be an involved father, you need to be there. Not with words, but with your body and soul. You have to discard the out-dated view of masculinity. You may have to make sacrifices with your career. But that is what it takes to be a truly involved father; the kind of father that is the man his children need him to be.
So I am offering a challenge to all fathers: attend your child’s next holiday party at school. Today, find out when it is, block out that time on your work calendar and go to school on that day. Listen to the holiday songs. Join in on party games. Laugh with your children during the chaos.
Be a man! Be there! Be involved!
I promise you that the sacrifices you may have to make will be worth to you and, more importantly, your children.
Al Watts is an at-home dad of 4 children living in west Omaha and the President of The National At-Home Dad Network. He writes regularly for The Good Men Project and Role/Reboot and is co-editing a book project titled “Dads Behaving Dadly: Chronicles of the Fatherhood Revolution.” Read him Wednesdays on momaha.com.