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Invisible dad...hero dad

An interesting thing I noticed shortly after becoming a mother is that the way our culture here in the US works for parents is thus:

Mom does parent work = doing her job. Mark = meets expectations

Dad does parent work = above and beyond call of duty. Mark = exceeds expectations

My first encounter with this was at the the wonderful miss-it-like-crazy-cakes Montessori school Patience attended in Massachusetts. When I dropped off Patience the marvelous teachers were so friendly, so nice, "Hi Mrs. Pippert! Hi Patience! So glad to see you!" Then they waved goodbye to me, "Have a nice day!"

When my husband did the same---and trust me, he did it just as I did it, no extra fanfare, no bribery cupcakes for teachers, etc.---he got gushed over. "Oh Mr. Pippert, it's so good to see you! You're such a great dad! Patience is so lucky to have a father as involved as you!"

It was the same thing when we went to the school together. So I saw it first hand. The teachers gushed to my husband, gushed to me about my husband, and so forth. At first, it was nice. I agreed. Totally. But got a little irritating.

Did anyone think my husband was lucky to have me? That Patience was lucky to have me?

Or was being a good mom simply expected of me?

It made me a family with two dads, is it the same thing? One "meets expectations" dad, and one "exceeds expectations" dad?

Or is it only a thing with women? My husband and I split the kid duty pretty much right down the middle, so his appearance wasn't rare or new. The enthusiasm for it was an interesting phemomenon.

The trend continued in other ways: Gymboree class, Kindermusik class, and best of

Both of us kept working, albeit on slightly staggered and flexible schedules. We were both committed to the parenting gig 100%, both of us. Not a dominant parent and a back-up parent: two parents. And we were willing to make a lot of compromises and sacrifices for this. It was the method of parenting we both preferred for us. (So that's us, not you, case you felt some sort of passive-aggressive judgment.)

My husband got the big positive at the preschool, and the big negative at his work.

That's the second lesson we learned. I learned that maternity has a rarely mentioned side-effect post-partum: depressed career. Unfortunately, so does paternity, unless it is a man who is not a Dad so much as a Man who happens to have a wife and child at home.

When it comes to work, the formula is thus:

Mom does parent work = doing her job. Understood as necessary and tolerated at work, but taken into consideration by disgruntled colleagues who perceive themselves as "carrying more work unfairly" and "how come she gets to leave it's not fair" and at promotion and review time. Mark on review = job loyalty score falls

Dad does parent work = not doing his work job

I was lucky to have a nice boss who was both understanding and flexible. My work is easy to measure: I either produce a book on time, or I don't. That simple. The quality is easy to measure too: either the book is great and sells well, or it doesn't. As long as I was available to my authors (and since most have day jobs, they were ecstatic that I was suddenly willing, post-partum, to work in the evenings with them rather than restricting the time to 8-5), got my work done, and had books that sold well...we were fine.

Colleagues aren't always as understanding.

Bosses and colleagues of men appear are often even less understanding.

For example, one time I had a big important meeting, and we'd gone to the trouble of flying the author to our location, instead of doing the usual phone conference. I could not miss it.

Patience needed to see the doctor. No coin flip necessary. It was Dad's turn.

When he spoke to his boss to arrange for the time off (which he would use as sick or vacation time or make up with make up more likely in his job), his boss---knowing I had my own full-time job---said, "Don't you have a wife for this kind of thing?"

I kid you not.

We know we're supposed to have family values and support families and be understanding of the modern dad's role. Many workplaces pay lip service to this, some even have pretty decent supportive policies. But in our experience, when push comes to shove, parents pay a price for parenting, and the cost isn't the same for both, neither is the payment.

Luckily, my husband's current workplace is actually understanding and supportive of the family, more so than some of his past ones.

However, that doesn't make everything golden.

Lawyer Mama wrote a piece about the mommy career penalty I mentioned earlier. One of the big sandtraps is extracurricular activities, such as Saturday golf games and happy hour. Parents often opt out of the activities in order to go home and spend time with their families. Dads are more likely to opt in than moms, but still aren't likely to opt in as often as childless or single people.

Believe it or not, these optional activities aren't as optional as they sound. They are actually considered in career development, or colleague relationships.

After reading Lawyer Mama's article, I asked my husband, "Do you get criticized for missing off work time events, like happy hour?"

"Sometimes, yeah," he said, "Depends on the person. Some people just go, have fun, don't worry about who is there or who isn't. But some people do a mental roll call and have a grand time harshing absentee people later."

One of the harshest harshers he ever met was a dad, who liked to check and see which married men or fathers weren't attending these get-togethers. The next workday he'd spend the day calling everyone's attention to the "whipped" and "domesticated" man who chose to "run home" rather than "party."

"Do you think attendance at these social things is considered by your boss, for reviews or promotions?" I asked.

"Not at this job, no, but it can be, it has been," he told me.

I had always considered the ramifications I faced by missing get-togethers, but hadn't thought that men suffered a similar penalty.

Although neither my husband nor I are currently in a job that builds around socialization like happy hours or golf games, many jobs do. This is an old model of workplace relationship development, left over from the past, and probably really prominent in some careers.

In the past, the workplace schedule was not like it is now. The average work day has increased 7.9% since 1960. I imagine the average vacation time has shortened too. Additionally, more families have two working parents. I've written before about the workplace expectations of the modern family, and how the current workday can be a burden.

However, work and school aren't the only places our gender inequities and parenting roles come into play. They come into play in leisure activities, too.

When a parent stays home, it is usually the mother. However, increasingly it is the father. Or, with telecommute options available, the father is more able to participate.

In my neighborhood, there are quite a few active dads, stay at home dads, or at home and flexible schedule dads. However, all of the organized groups are for women, for moms. Now and again one of the dads will come along, and we often try to organize events that encourage dads to join in the activities. I don't hear disgruntlement from dads, but I do hear my husband---who commutes to the city and isn't home as much as he wishes---express the desire for a way to meet other dads, have some fun groups and outings like I have.

He also likes to have an organized activity with the kids. Last year it was gymnastics, although at Patience's level that doesn't include interaction. This year he wanted to do Indian Princesses, which is a nice father-daughter activity, but we found Girl Scouts instead. When we went to sign-up, Jon came, of course, because Girl Scouts is much more his thing than mine.

He loves camping, hiking, biking, exploring, and is, believe it or not, much better at crafts than I am. Must be the architecture degree.

Girl Scouts accommodates dads, the lady assured us at sign-up. They have a special name for them: Do-Dad.

"We even had one dad come along to the camping leadership training," she told us encouragingly.

One. dad.

Despite her words, it was clearly still more comfortable and natural for her to speak to me. Each thing was clearly more geared for moms, despite accommodation for dads. Despite the welcome and the space, it clearly really still is a mom thing.

Each time my husband goes to be involved, he gets the same gushing approval. The same welcome. At first, I thought it was a statement about dads and involvement (or perceived lack thereof). At first, I thought it was solely a statement about dads exceeding the call of duty.

With time, I've grown to understand that just as workplaces puts words to paper about family values, so does society at large. But words to paper isn't actual, real. And accommodating isn't the same as equal role and part. It doesn't provide the same comfort level, or feel of welcome and at home, in place. It can make a dad feel like a bit of an interloper into a gaggle of moms.

It can be uncomfortable being a man in a woman's world. All jokes aside, it can be. It can get tiresome always having a bit of a mountain to climb in order to participate in activities with your kids, always feeling a tad awkward, slightly out of place or element.

My husband has the same commitment to parenting he began with, but with each passing year, we find one more new or more more tougher obstacle for him to overcome.

Patience and Persistence are lucky to have him as a father. I am lucky too---or not so much, as I knew he was a good guy when I married him.

But with time, we've moved from the equal share parenting partners to more traditional roles: evening and weekend dad back up parent and primary caretaker mom. In part, it's because I am staying at home with the kids, now, and my husband has a long commute to a demanding job. Our roles have changed.

But he wants a role in the kids' lives that is more than just their father. He wants to be dad...Girl Scout dad, soccer dad, fun memory of special times dad.

There isn't any one solution. Our culture needs to do more than pay lip service to family values. When possible, all organizations needs to equally support parents parenting. Currently, organizations are putting the right words to paper to support families, and dads. Traditionally exclusively female groups are opening up to men, just as males groups did for women. These are steps in the right direction. However, let's take it the next step beyond words to broader action. I think more men are going to have to be pioneers, tough it out, make the space theirs, too.

This will make it more than simply an accommodation for dads.

You might lose your "exceeds expectations" mark for just being there, but wouldn't it be grand if the standard were set so that this was simply "meets expectations?" I look forward to the time when all the things so many dads like my husband want to do, and do do, are simply ordinary rather than extraordinary.

I will still appreciate it, for the record.

Note 1: Tomorrow is Hump Day. Remember to do your Hmm! Click here to read the instructions for this week.

Note 2: Breastfeeding is under attack again. As a mom who had the best set-up EVER for breastfeeding with both kids, one time working and one time not, I am super sensitive about the plight many women and the act of breastfeeding face. I could rant your eyeballs out on this issue, oh could I ever, but instead I'll make sure you are reading the relevant bloggers who have already done so very, very eloquently (and I'll be glad to link more if you let me know):

Lawyer Mama

PunditMom at DC Metro Moms


David at It's Not a Lecture

Mojo of a Mama (READ THIS's totally what I think about it)


Velveteen Mind (With links to more posts and information, including Sara at Suburban Oblivion)



It's a BABY eating from the BREAST. That's what they're FOR. If you have a problem with it, it's YOUR problem. Quit making it mine. Seriously, grow the eff up, Bill Maher.

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
Also blogging at:
Using My Words
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crazymumma said…
Don't even get me started on the mom dad work equation. It is all so irritating and I had always hoped we were far beyond all that. But sadly we are not.

Too often we are the guts and they get teh glory. For the same damn things we do without even thinking about it.
Julie @ Letter9 said…
My husband, so far, is a dad more than a man who happens to have a wife and child at home. I appreciate this, but I also need it. I'm a strong, capable woman and of course, like other strong, capable women will handle what I have to handle. But honestly, I need a partner in this parenting gig. It's tough stuff and not only do I appreciate Brian's involvement, I really require it. I would not have made it through the first few weeks if he hadn't had state-funded paternity leave, for example.

However, we've been talking lately about moving and, thus, taking a new job. And while moving makes me happy (back home!), the prospect of a new job terrifies me. Because really, how many jobs will Brian be able to find, as a lawyer requiring a certain income to cover his astronomical law school loans, that will allow him the freedom to come to mid-afternoon doctors' appointments? How many jobs will he be able to find that will allow him to come home early when I call him crying because the baby won't sleep and I have lost all semblance of patience?

If he has to take a "normal" law job, like with a firm or whatever, I will have a harder time, but I also know that he will, too. Last night he nearly didn't make it home before Evan went to bed at 6:30 and I thought he was going to cry. He needs his baby time and I'm afraid of how unhappy he will be if he takes a job that doesn't afford that time.
Tere said…
Julie, I too have often thought of that equation and think you describe it well. I think it leads to all kinds of societal generalizations that are total bullshit to me, such as when you have a dad who drops the kid off and is SO fawned over that he thinks that one act makes him a real, fair partner. Ugh.

Anyway, as a career woman, I have felt some pricks of the consequences of my choosing to be more a mom and less a career girl. Frankly, I don't care. Ben has not yet felt it, but we have both chosen to be proactive and make it clear (wherever it applies) that we are parents first and everything else second, and you can kiss our butts if you disagree. Seems a bit of a strong approach, but we've learned we have to be that way to get the message across.

Maybe as Max grows and other kids follow, this will grow even more complicated. But we're strong in our commitment to conscious parenting, so we know we'll figure it out...
Lawyer Mama said…
Fabulous post, lady! (And I don't just say that because you linked to me twice - thank you!)

I've seen the same thing. If T takes the kids to the grocery store he is routinely assaulted by people who MUST tell him what a fantastic father, husband, man, etc... That's only happened to me, uh, ... yeah, um, that's NEVER happened to me! At Big H's pre-school he is the ONLY dad signed up for any of the volunteer party slots. He's truly an equal parenting partner and I love it, but sometimes it's annoying as hell that rose petals are constantly tossed at his feet for doing his job.

T also sees the disparity at work. This comment "Don't you have a wife for this kind of thing?" I can't tell you how many times he's heard that. I literally can't tell you b/c T has stopped telling me. Every time I heard it would send me into a rant for several days. But it's true. Me doing "mom" stuff is tolerated and expected by my office. Him? Not so much. That disparity only puts even more pressure on women who work outside the home. And it hurts men who really truly want to be involved in their childrens' lives.

Great post. Just a wonderful post, Julie.

OH & other Julie - There are law firms (and corporations) out there that allow some balance and still allow you to service the loan debt. I'm at one. But I had to leave DC to find it.
Catherine said…
I KNOW! What's up with that? I've told a few friends that this has been the biggest shock and adjustment for me in having a baby, period. Bar none. More than the sleepless nights, more than no time to myself, more than losing the other parts of my identity. The fact that people so frequently come up to me and tell me I'm soooooo lucky to have a husband who's involved and he's such a good dad because he's changed a diaper and knows how to give a bottle.

And, to be honest, I am lucky. Lots of women raise babies with no husband, or horrible husbands. But...

I totally agree with you.

And you've already heard my breastfeeding stories. :)

Wow. I knew this kind of thing went on, but that quote from your husband's boss about having a wife for that kind of thing made me sick to my stomach. We have similar problems and I don't work more than five hours a week. I can't imagine what's going to happen if I start to work more.
b*babbler said…
A wonderful, articulate post.

Thank you.
Christine said…
wonderful post!

yeah my husband was considered at once amazing and weird for volunteering in my daughters kindergarten class last year. it was annoying as hell. and someone at his work once made a comment like" doesn't Christine watch the kids?" when he said he wanted to stay home with the family instead of play pool. yuck.

and don't get me started ont he boob thing! Bill Mahr is an idiot.
I was lucky. When my kids were born my company gave me 2 weeks paid paternity leave. That was unprecedented at the time (16 years ago). However, even today I rarely hear about other dads getting this kind of time off. Too bad.
Kyla said…
I know. You leave the kids with your husband and suddenly it is "babysitting", but when you watch them all day, well, it is just a normal day! :)

I'd say we are equal parenting partners when he is not at work, if it happens during his work hours and I can handle it on my own, I do. In the last year of the KayTar-drama, he has taken off work for only two appointments and to take us to and from the hospital. That is all. But KayTar IS my full time job, so I don't mind. But at home, we do divvy up the duties and share the load.

There is a great divide in what society claims to support and what it actually does. Like in Parents magazine (parents! not MOTHERS!) there is one page dedicated to dads. One page, in a magazine entitled Parents. That seems to be by and large the approach to dads, they are a lovely accessory to motherhood.
Bea said…
The workplace depicted in the novel I Don't Know How She Does It is one where men who take on parenting duties are not subjected to the same scrutiny as women: when a woman has children, everyone goes on the alert to see if she's going to lose her edge, move to the mommy-track, so she has to work harder than ever just to prove she's not letting the baby slow her down. At the same time, a man who leaves a meeting to attend his kid's soccer game is viewed benevolently as a really great dad.

I can see how that might be the case in some workplaces, but I'm sure the double standard can go in the other direction as well, where parental leaves and earlier departures are expected and, to a certain extent, tolerated in female employees but not in men. (It sucks for women either way, of course - if the dad is not allowed to leave work at a decent hour, it's the mom who has to pick up the slack.)

Perhaps it depends upon the level of pressure in the work environment. Really high-pressure workplaces want total dedication from their employees, while medium-pressure jobs might cut some slack for female employees while still maintaining the sexist double standard.
Girlplustwo said…
Julie, this was a terrific post. i have experienced so much of this, J getting accolades for doing what I am "supposed to do". it's ridiculous, really (not from him, he gets it, thankfully)
Ally said…
Julie, you put into words so eloquently just how I've felt about many of these issues. Specifically, I feel the same way when people gush over my husband's involvement with our children. On the one hand, I think, yes, it is great that he's such a good dad, so involved. On the other hand, I think, why should he get such high marks for simply doing what he should be doing? The comment "you're so lucky to have him" from my Grandmother about puts me over the top, depending on the day and my mood.

Your observations about the various marks and penalties in the workplace for men/women are spot on.

"Don't you have a wife for this sort of thing?" Unbelievable! Yet not.
Arkie Mama said…

Yeah, all that.

And, my two cents --

I love the way that when children fall ill at daycare, teachers will place umpteen calls to Mom before even thinking to call Dad.
Anonymous said…
THis is very true. Unfortunately, you are expected to be in several places at one time (including the volunteering you mentioned in an earlier post). And men are expected to skew that in one direction, while women are expected to skew it in the other. How sucky.
Anonymous said…
Julie, I hear you. This is something that my husband and I grapple with constantly. Luckily, we both work in very family oriented workplaces where tending to your children's childhoods is rather the norm. Plus, his boss just had a baby, so this year has even gotten easier for him.

Anyway, it is rather an interesting thing - this gushing over the husband when he pitches in. That and how women are considered "softer" for leaving work to tend to the kids.

My husband's job is not as labor intensive as mine. He is 9-5 without much after hours face time. My job can hit me at any time, often causing me to stay late and work for hours at home. So, my husband ends up doing most of the early leaving and doctor runs, etc. He puts in more parent time than me, that is for sure. Still, with each sick day we both struggle over who is going to take the heat at the job.

I guess we are lucky in many ways. Still, it gets me a tad peeved when he gets kudos for picking her up and I get sneers for being five minutes late!! As if I was getting my hair done or something.
S said…
Oh YES. And YES. And YES again.

I have experienced the EXACT SAME THING at J.'s Montessori.

painted maypole said…
great post. I also hate how so many people call it "babysitting" when my husband is home with MQ. He is not BABYSITTING. He is a parent, at home caring for his child. I was also thinking just this morning about how my father used to take time off to go on field trips and help out in my classroom, and how cool I (and the other kids) thought that was. It is slightly more common now, but obviously not much!
Unknown said…
I just want you to know that I think both your girls are lucky to have a mom like you. They really are.
Unknown said…
You know it's funny. With my older children the dad involvement is as you described, but with my daughter, dad involvement is the normal expectation.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for this post. I often think about the disparity between the expectations for moms and dads. I work full-time (now I'm on maternity leave, but am planning on returning after it is up) and even though my husband is highly involved, I still feel like I do more housework/childcare than him. When men do these things, they expect to be thanked. And no one thinks to thank the mothers. It is expected of them.

I'm starting to be more careful when I talk about things my husband does. I try not to say things like, "He is such a big help." Or "He's babysitting today." That implies that the sole responsibility for all housework and childcare is mine and that it is not a partnership, which is what we are working towards making it. A fair partnership.

Wow! Sorry for hijacking your comments. I just really enjoyed this post. And thanks for mentioning the Bill Maher fiasco. I wrote a post about it myself. The link is -
Anonymous said…
I like your writing, and the subject matter resonates with me. I'm number two at work to two number ones, so I don't get much flack, but sometimes my being an active dad is not appreciated by the number ones.
Yep. I agree. I used to laugh at how much credit my husband would get if he took a kid to the market. And friends will call and say, "I saw your husband at the park with the kids, you are so lucky he's so involved"

Lucky, my ass, he IS their father, why shouldn't he take them to the park and be perfectly capable of it?
Magpie said…
Oh man, oh man.

When we put the kid in daycare, I was the one that shifted my work hours from 10-6 to 9-4 so that I could pick her up. Note the loss of an hour in the work day there. My boss was grumpy, but acceded, though he still frowns a bit when I RUN out the door at four. Husband change hours? NO.

Next year, with kindergarten, I don't know what I'll do. I'm thinking of quitting altogether and piecing together freelance work.

However, we've never had the gushing at school over the Dad that you've had.


i've written, in the past, about the nursing/pumping thing...
Mad said…
Yes. I agree with everything you have said here. B/c of this, my husband and I are being pushed into more traditional roles as well. The one thing I would add to this equation is the function of the child in it all. My daughter CHOSE me as her primary (sole) parent and no amount of relationship equity can change the fact that she herself has forced roles upon us.

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