Earlier this week, I found myself standing in front of a display of greeting cards, trying to find the perfect Father’s Day card for my dad. I wanted something that said, “Here, Dad, I spent time thinking about you and looking for the right card that made me think of you,” but CVS didn’t have that card in stock. Not for my dad, at least. There were cards about golf, cards about grilling, cards about fixing things around the house, cards about handing all parenting duties off to Mom, but none of these made me think of my dad. It’s an issue I’ve faced year after year: greeting card companies make cards about “things dads do,” but my dad doesn’t do those things. And they don’t really make cards for dads like mine. For dads who play Candyland with their daughters instead of golf with their buddies. For dads who fix scraped knees and broken hearts instead of leaky faucets. For dads who would never need a “dad proof” baby onesie (this actually exists) because they are completely committed to sharing the parenting duties and playing an active role in their children’s lives.
Corny jokes notwithstanding, my dad has always defied stereotypes of fatherhood. He doesn’t fit any of the “dad tropes” you might see in pop culture. He’s not some absentee workaholic with no time for his kids; in fact, he was a stay-at-home dad for much of my childhood, and has never missed a graduation, a chorus concert, or any important event in his daughters’ lives. He’s not a gruff, hypermasculine patriarch who has trouble showing affection for his kids; he’s a kind, nurturing caregiver who has always made my sister and me feel safe and loved. He’s definitely not an inept, bumbling oaf who has no idea how to take care of his kids and just makes more work for his wife; he’s actually a very competent parent who did a great job of raising his girls. I mean, he’s the dad of two girls, so there were certain “girl” things he didn’t come into parenthood knowing, like how to do our hair, but he always learned how. And sure, there was a learning curve, and yes, I definitely went off to kindergarten with some very lopsided ponytails, but the important thing is that he learned. He learned because he loves his daughters, and he loves my mom, and he really cares about being a good dad.
I may not have appreciated it when I was growing up, but my sister and I pretty much won the dad lottery. Our dad read us Winnie the Pooh, with different voices for all of the characters. He played with us, even when we wanted to play Pretty Pretty Princess. He packed our lunches, helped us with our homework, took us to get our hair cut, and picked us up from dance class. He coached my fourth grade basketball team and tutored my sister for her bat mitzvah. He did all of these things for us and never once acted like he was special or deserved some sort of award or recognition for being a dad who did these things. He did all of these things for us because, even if pop culture and greeting card companies don’t see it, those things are all part of being a dad.
But here’s the thing: as wonderful as my dad is, he’s not the only dad in the world like him. It’s 2017, and plenty of dads are changing diapers, cooking dinners, braiding hair, reading bedtime stories, and driving soccer practice carpool. So maybe it’s time to change the way we think about dads and fatherhood. Maybe it’s time to stop joking that dads have no idea how to take care of babies. Maybe it’s time to stop saying that dads who look after their kids are “babysitting.” Maybe it’s time to start seeing dads as active, competent, loving caregivers who play an important role in their children’s lives. Maybe it’s time to start making Father’s Day cards that actually reflect all the wonderful little things dads do every day.