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What Makes a Good Dad in the 21st Century?

A local dad reflects on what it is to be a “hands-on parent”

Published on: March 02, 2020

Dad-and-kid-cleaning

My wife recently made a very good point. She told me she hears “hands-on dad” all the time, but we’ve never heard someone say, “She’s a real hands-on mom.”  The obvious reason for this is that moms are always in the thick of it.  They’re expected to be hands-on.  

I love spending time with my kids. I also live in a community where I see lots of dads biking their kids to the park or walking them to the school bus stop.  It’s clear that dads are a lot more present in their kids’ lives these days than in generations past. But being a dad is not just about being available for the fun stuff. Being a dad means being a parent, and there’s a whole lot of other things that come with being a parent that many dads could do better.  

Think about all those little tasks that moms usually do. Chaperoning the school field trip or running an activity table for a classroom holiday party?  All these tasks take time and effort. As dads, we can do these tasks, too. By stepping up and sharing the burden, we get to spend some valuable time with the kids. Our partners might get a bit of a break, too. 

I'd encourage all dads to take their kids to dental appointments and to their annual check-up at the pediatrician's.  By taking on this duty, we hear firsthand what is going on with our child’s development.  Not only will this give us more insight into our kids’ health and changing bodies, but it will also show our kids that we’re there for the nitty-gritty stuff, and not just the trips to the park.  

According to a study by the University of Alberta, women who work full-time still do the vast majority of household chores. That needs to change, and dads are the people who can help fix this gender disparity. By getting more involved with the housework, we are setting an example and showing the kids that we are all equal. So, grab a rag or a mop or better yet a toilet brush (talk about a thankless task) and get cracking.  

It’s about more than chores though: Moms tend to take on a lot of the social and emotional duties of parenting. Moms are far more likely to know the names of their kids’ classmates, as well as keep tabs on all the emotional stuff that’s going on at school.  So much of a child’s emotional development consequently falls on the mothers, and it’s a heavy load to bear.  

Of course, some families are lucky enough to have a stay-at-home parent, and a lot of this work naturally falls on the person who is home more.  While that’s completely understandable, it doesn’t give the working parent carte blanche to avoid all the grunt work. 

As a dad, I am happy to be spending more time with my kids than fathers of past generations, but I really think we need to set the bar higher. Instead of comparing what we do to what our dads or grandfathers did, let's compare what we do to what our partners do. It’s time to step up if we want to be known as a “hands-on parent.”  

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