It's 2016 And We Still Treat Dads Like Idiots

Image: iStock

Wife on holiday. Me: alone with child. Five days in, I was feeling pretty proud of myself.

Our three-year-old son: still breathing. He’d eaten five lifetimes of two minute noodles, and more jelly snakes than I dared to count or even think about, but his heart still pumped blood to his brain. I considered this a small victory.

The house wasn’t that bad.

If my wife walked in tomorrow she’d stalk the halls, maybe make a ‘not bad’ face. She might open a few windows, air out the joint, but she wouldn’t be upset.

She’d say, ‘well done Markie, you did good’ and my little heart would swell into a goofball smile.

But my wife was not home. Not yet. She was gone and wouldn’t be back for another two days. Things weren’t bad, but they weren’t great either.

I stood staring at the dishwasher I was supposed to be emptying. A conundrum. A small plate: defiant. A square plate. The kind you might chuck a slice of cake on. A different shape from the rest. All my other plates were round. This one was square.

A staring contest with a square plate.

“Where does this square plate go?” I asked myself. “Where does it live?”

I’ve lived, breathed and shed skin in this house for two long years, but I had no idea. This square plate: an anomaly. A surprise arrival from another dimension. An existential prank.

I have no idea where to put it, so I just leave it there. That square fucking plate. It’s been through the wash cycle five times now. My plan: run that plate through the dishwasher until it disintegrates or somehow vanishes into the ether from whence it came.

Why am I like this?

Why?


Image: Fox

Hi, my name is Mark Serrels. I’m married with two kids. I’m a competent human being. I understand laundry. I know the process. I can cook, clean, take care of myself. I can do things. Promise.

Three years ago, when my wife fell pregnant for the first time, I promised myself I wouldn’t be one of those dads.

‘Buffoon’ Dad.

The dad in every TV commercial you forgot to mute. Spray-and-wipe Dad, detergent Dad, I-can’t-believe-you-just-did-that Dad. Al Bundy Dad. I-stepped-on-the-LEGO-and-forgot-about-the-bath Dad. Made-Weetbix-for-dinner Dad.

Mum, back home from the shops. Just in time with her perfect hair and knowing smile. She tilts her head back, she rolls her eyes.

‘Oh you’.

Buffoon dad. It’s offensive to me. It should be offensive to everyone. Buffoon dad is the product of antiquated ideas about how families should function: men belong in the workplace, women belong at home. Looking after children, going to the shops, polishing kitchen benchtops till they sparkle like *ting*.

It holds us back. It holds us all back.

Buffoon Dad: the reason my wife feels genuine anxiety about her reasonable desire to return to full-time work after giving birth to two children. The reason I feel like I should be working extra hours – away from my kids -- to ‘provide for my family’.

The reason I love the idea of being a stay-at-home Dad but wouldn’t ever truly commit to it. The reason my wife still feels the need to cook, even though she hates it and I love it. The reason I have to clumsily build IKEA furniture even though my wife would do a far better job.

We pretend we’re better than these stereotypes. We pretend we’re beyond them. We’re not. Buffoon Dad is the ghost that howls in the hall and we’re still ensnared in its tendrils.


Image: iStock

“Why am I like this?”

That’s the question I asked myself, as I stared at the square plate I’d just run through the dishwasher for the sixth time.

Why do I still expect praise for doing the things I take for granted in my wife.

“I folded the laundry. LOVE ME.”

“I looked after the children effectively while you spent time with your friends. APPRECIATE ME.”

And my wife plays along. I am a good boy. The world spins on its axis. Buffoon Dad is status quo. Buffoon Dad is normal.

Even the words my wife uses, the words that make me radiate with pride. (“He’s such a good Dad, he helps out so much.”) It’s all part of BUFFOON DAD, because I’m playing against type. I’ve come home from my hard day’s work providing for my family and I still have time to acknowledge the children I have fathered. I have done a smidgeon more than what’s expected of me, by these gender roles that are etched in stone.

Father. Of. The. Year.

We should be better than this, and in some ways we are, but I stand here, 35 years old in the year 2016, looking at this plate. I am buffoon Dad. I don’t know where things live in my own goddamn house.

Two days later my wife will arrive home from her overseas trip, luggage in one hand, duty-free shopping in the other. I am gormless, broken and unshaven. Her hair is luminous and she looks flawless.

She wanders over to the dishwasher, picks up the square dish and, without missing a beat, places it in the cupboard, on the shelf where it belongs, where it had always belonged.

She turns back, with her tilted head and a knowing smile.

“Oh you.”


Comments

    First time dad, daughter is turning 1 at the end of the year (how fast has that gone!!), still in one piece and quite happy.

    My wife and I have done a pretty decent job and had our fair share of ups and downs (only one ambulance trip so far). I have taken on as much as I can do, cooking/cleaning/pick ups from Kindy ect, unfortunately both the wife and I had to go back to full time work but its works.

    The low expectations of Dads have actually given me both a boost at times and also run me flat. Here I am thinking I'm not doing enough after I have cooked dinner for all 3 of us, washed her (daughter not mother), put her to bed (again daughter not mother), prepped bag for kindy the next day and then cleaned up after dinner. I feel bad to sitting down to play some xbox at about 10-11pm when I'm done. Before you ask wife does 12 hours most of the time so I try and step up to the "parenting plate" as much as I can.

    People's views of Dad's not doing enough need to change, there are a lot of great dads out there (unfortunately a lot of bad ones too)

    Just my 2 cents...so far

      I'm the same, although first daughter is only 15 weeks. You do more than I do but I think thats because of the age. My daughter wont settle at night with me so it falls to my wife most of the time.

      It's weird to me that only seemingly now, in our generation its becomes normal for Dad's to not just leave in the morning, come home at night and read the paper in front of the telly without even looking at the kids. Lots of older people from the previous generation see what we are doing as so great, and admirable. I think we are doing what we all think is the right thing to do, and the thing we want to do.

      I want to be a part of my daughter's life as much as her Mother; I know that might not be 100% possible as the reality is I will likely need to be the main income earner. But I'll do my utmost to make sure I help out where I can and raise my child with my wife, and not just her.

    If you love cooking why are you feeding your son two minute noodles and snakes? Only way to stop the buffoon dad stereotype is to stop being one.

    A thoughtful, and amusingly written, piece - but I can't say I agree with your conclusion that you and your wife (and by extension, the rest of us) only fall into such stereotypes because of antiquated ideas about how families are supposed to run.

    As much as many hate to admit it (because it goes against the grain of the very worthwhile push for equality) I think a lot of families end up in these divisions because the respective parties *like* (or at least prefer) some tasks over others. At the risk of generalising (but that is all I can do here), my experience is that men are more likely to like (or dislike less) building IKEA furniture, or clambering up ladders to change lightbulbs, or pushing a mower around a yard or changing a car tyre etc - jobs which the stereotypes say are "mens jobs" even though women could do them.

    And although I certainly won't claim women generally like cleaning (though I have met some that do find it a zen like task), i would say that (again, generally) women gain more enjoyment from a clean house (or more 'disenjoyment' from a dirty one) and want it done in a more particular fashion.

    To be clear, this of course doesn't hold true for everyone - and what we should strive for is the ability for people to choose the set up that works for them. If their preferred set up happens to mirror the "buffoon dad" stereotype, then great. Similarly, if its a neat 50/50 division of every task, then also great.

      50 years ago, my dad taught my mum to cook. My dad is the clean one. I'm the clean one in my household. My brother isn't clean, but his wife is even worse than he is. You're just falling for stereotypes.

      My wife loves doing creative things. She's decided that she wants to be the cook. She hates mowing the lawns and home maintenance. She hates taking the kids out to the park or to sports, so I do those things, even though census refuses to acknowledge that taking the kids out is housework (sneaky, sneaky census who decided to get into gender politics).

      What we are seeing (and not just from you) is stereotyping. It's manipulation. Yep, sure, some dads are dead-beats. Some dads feed their kids 2 minute noodles and snakes (WTF!!), but some mums are just as bad (or far worse than the dad this article). My sister in law is an appalling mum. However, it doesn't tell me anything collectively about females, nor should it. How can you generalise on 1 in every 2 people? However, it doesn't stop the media's rampant stereotyping today. My mind boggles at how bad the media is. It's disgusting. How about someone (other than just me) gets off their ass and looks at news papers from the 70s. I promise you, the feminists will be embarrassed, as will any politically correct twit. I'm still thinking about publishing the masses of photos i've taken to prove my point - ie. that we've taken a quantum leap backwards in egalitarianism.

      I had a long conversation with a community leader today and had a long discussion about stereotypes and the unprecedented sexism of the 2010s - I have never ever seen so much sexism as I have in the last few years, nor anywhere as aggressive and dishonest as it is today. I've decided that enough is enough (although I won't elaborate on my plans yet). Most journalists are refusing to read or follow the sex discrimination act. It's about time that people start doing what's right. Maybe, it's time that the community takes action where the media and government refuses to act. I would love to see some media reps being hauled into court, or even the government's "respect" or Human Rights Australia being reprimanded severely. Goodness knows, these groups need a huge (unprecedented) kick up the ass, or worse - dismissal and public naming and shaming of the people who vocalise such appalling attitudes and values.

      This article is a token article that really contradicts itself. It's about time we have a media representative who is willing to speak intelligently and without prejudice. This article is a good step, but not near enough. When I see at least one journalist (yes, even one) with the courage to speak up and tell the truth, it will be such an unprecedented shock for the 2010s that the nation should throw a party. You never know, I might even keel over and die (which would make some writers at LH very happy, i'm sure).

    yeah, fuck you 2016. im a dad, and proud of it, and i do a good job.

    This article speaks to me as Dad to a 10 month old, but here's the thing about this stereotype Mark... I know SEVERAL friends my age who ARE buffoon dads. Overgrown children, etc, etc. So when Mum's get together, they share these stories - they don't come from nowhere.

    I for one, embrace having a VERY low bar to clear when it comes to competency, and revel in taking on the challenge (and sharing the housekeeping burden) while acknowledging DAILY that my wife is an amazing human to be a stay at home parent.

    Having said that, there is nothing quite so insulting as being lauded a hero just for being a competent father. And if you are a father and have EVER said that you are "babysitting" when you are parenting solo, then screw you and grow up.

      Dads Don't Babysit (It's called "Parenting")
      This one pisses me off no end as well. I can't understand the idea of not wanting to be involved in my daughters life.
      As for split of work, well she has always been a Daddy's girl so from the moment I get home I am basically fielding her. Which works, I play with her or we read some books which gives my wife the space to cook dinner.
      Generally we do a weekly Daddy/Daughter dinner while Mummy goes out. My wife does most of the housekeeping, pretty much all of the cooking (mostly due to her dietary issues) and I do the bathing and playing.

      Part of the issue is that these buffoon dads don't get called out in social circles, or even play up how bad they are for laughs/comradely or whatever the reason that they see it as acceptable.

      And if you are a father and have EVER said that you are "babysitting" when you are parenting solo

      Ok, so i was guilty of that at the start when my wife went back to work 2 days a week, i said i babysat one day a week (no ne. Half jokingly, half naively. I changed my tune, and called it Dad and Daughter day.

      What i hate is all those facebook posts "if you .... then your a mum" that offends me cause it implies that dads don't do squat when the only ones i cant say apply to me are boob, pregnancy and other womans body related ones.

      I do the night shifts when the kids wake up in the middle of the night (when not for a feed) , i cook, do the dishes, change nappies, help with bath time, do most mornings so my wife can sleep in (especially while she breastfeeds the baby multiple times throughout the night) , look after the kids solo so my wife can get away for a bit, to name a few.

      When i take the kids out, an elderly lady will inevitably comment how great it is that i am taking the kids out. My wife constantly tells me "you do so much more than other dads" and i'm always telling her that's not true.

      These days dads do a lot more compared to our fathers, most of whom never changed a nappy or got up at 3am and spend the next 3 hours with them getting them back to sleep (it helps i work from home so i don't have to drive in a sleep deprived state). I hate that i have to defend dads to her and others. I consider what i do to be the norm these days.

      Some dads are dead beats, some dads are buffoons, some dads don't pull their weight. Some mums that are just as bad.

      I don't want the praise and adoration that comes with doing my 'job' as a father and a husband to divide the work fairly and also have a good bond with the kids, while a mother gets nothing, i just want the whole gender stereotype to end.

    I am a dad of three children. And I love being the buffoon dad. I love it that my wife and I have different roles in the house: she does laundry, I mow the lawn. She does the puberty talks, I do the ball sports. My wife is in charge of the house, and I change the oil in the cars, unblock the toilets etc. My job is to be a role model man in the house, not a role model woman. Sure I help with the dishes every now and then, but my primary job is outside, dirty jobs that I like, and my wife doesn't. Buffoon dad? Hell yes!

      I'm not sure what you mean by man. It appears that you are saying the only people who change car oil are men. The only people who play ball sports are men. Is that right? Is there some sort of specific genetic requirement for these things?

      It's good that you know what you like. I really respect that. However, your definition of man is not one I am familiar with. Maybe, it's better to say that you like being outdoors, you like mechanical jobs.

      In this day and age, there should be no excuse for gender based generalisations.

      *sits down with popcorn waiting....

        I'm not sure if this Dan character is stirring the pot? Arts major I assume?

    What used to piss me off to no end was when my daughters were 2-4, walking through the shopping center with my daughters, getting a juice or even picking out some clothes, the looks I'd get from the people in the mall. I wasn't buffoon dad, I was quite clearly pedo dad.

    I was spending time with my daughters, holding their hand like they were going to run off and get lost or stolen, I watched what they did and talked to them instead of staring at facebook and letting them run wild, which made me a full on pedo dad. The look of disgust I would get from people made me hate the experience. Going into the parents room when they needed to use the toilet. Possibly more pervert dad being in a womens feeding sanctuary, but disgust none-the-less.

    One time my daughter was excited she was getting a shirt with a giraffe on the front, she gave me a kiss. An old woman approached me and told me I was being inappropriate, and I lost it. I yelled "She is my daughter and she loves me and can show it if she wants. Its no wonder you're shopping alone, no-one would love an old woman with an attitude like yours." She was probably in her 40s but I'm sure she was self-conscious.

    After that incident, I stopped caring for the looks and the remarks. I will hold onto my girls hand while we walk through the shopping center until she doesn't want to anymore. Especially when people like Dante Arthurs exist in this world.

    Cook, clean, wash, shop, iron as well as all those other choirs expected from a man, my wife has a disability which limits her mobility, I know where that square plate goes, our children have all grown up now and left home, but this knowledge comes to us all eventually, some by necessity, don't worry you will learn.

    when my kid was a baby and my wife went back to work, i worked a couple of days a week, and did the SAHD thing the other time, and did a lot of the nighttime routine while my wife worked long hours. I would try and get out of the house with the boy at least once a day, even if it was just to walk down the to the corner store and back, but the number of patronising smiles and conversations I had with people (usually women) was obviously well-meaning, but pretty patronising. The bar for what is a "good dad" is so goddamn low these days. Telling people that I only worked a couple of days a week so that I could be home for my boy at his young age got the kind of reaction you'd give after telling some people I'd just found the cure for cancer. It got to the point where I hated having to go grocery shopping with the boy because I couldn't bare the staring (also worth noting that I occasionally look like I should be in a motorcycle gang). Yes I'm a bloody good dad, but leave me alone!

    Last edited 09/12/16 7:44 am

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