Being a Dad in a Mom’s World

Friday, June 15, 2012

By Mark Chekal-Bain

I’ll never forget walking around town with my then newborn son while home on paternity leave.
“He needs a hat,” the postalwoman said on an 80 degree day.

“You need to burp him more,” another woman after he finished a bottle.

“Don’t hold the baby too long, he needs to learn to be independent,” said our female social worker.

“How nice of you to give Mom a break,” stated a random grandmother on the street.

“You sure you are up for this without mom?” exclaimed a flight attendant on the plane to Los Angeles.

It seemed at the time that every woman I encountered felt I was completely incompetent and unable to care for my son. In fact, considering our son is being raised by two dads, it is amazing he has almost made it to his 8th birthday alive!

Ever since becoming a parent, I’ve been amazed by how so many people, even in progressive California, fail to value the contribution of fathers in raising children. It feels like on one hand we criticize men for not playing an active role in the life of children, yet policies and American culture undervalue the role of 21st century men in childrearing.

Sadly, both my husband and I had to argue with our employers to be granted family leave that was equal to that of our female co-workers.

I still recall our son’s first Mothers’ Day in preschool.  The class made handprints in clay with a hook to hang them on the wall. For Fathers’ Day, nothing.  Unfortunately, this continued into elementary school.  In Kindergarten, yet another creative and beautiful present for the moms.  For Fathers’ Day, nothing.

On immunization records, our pediatrician’s office was stumped because the records only ask for the name of the mom, not the dad.  Even the boutique Oakland children’s clothing store only had space for the mom’s name on the frequent buyer card application.

Every Mother’s Day, I am painfully aware of all the attention mom’s get… free trips from radio stations, stories of super moms on the local news, brunches all over town, flowers, balloons… On Fathers’ Day, we are lucky if the local grocery chain store has a discount on beer.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many amazing moms out there.  I was raised by one who happened to be a single mom for many years.  But if we want men to play an equal role in childrearing, we need to start treating them as equal.  Perhaps we should look at the country of Sweden where men who don’t take paternity leave are frowned upon and equal responsibility for childrearing is the norm. 

In the meantime, although I may not get the recognition as a parent I would if I were a woman, there is a lot that I do get.

The smile and cheery “good morning”  I get every day at  6:30 am
The hug when I am about to leave after volunteering in the 1st grade classroom
The snuggle and crocodile tears when my son is sick or injured
The proud feeling when he masters a new math or reading skill
The joy when he has accomplished a new athletic ability
The “I love you” every night before bed

That’s all the validation I need.

Originally from suburban Detroit, Mark and his husband, Jon, live in San Francisco East Bay.  They fostered then adopted their now 7 year-old son since he was a 3 weeks old.  In addition to FT+ job of parenting, Mark works for the state of California.