It’s interesting to watch and listen to groups of people, especially in terms of male/female relationships. Such was the case this weekend as Youngest helped me run a cub-scout rocket launch – yes, he’s still in elementary school but I trust the kid implicitly to run a launch pad for younger kids (with another father overseeing from the sidelines) – that was attended by scouts, siblings and families. What was striking was the response of multiple fathers when something with the rocket didn’t work properly, whether the fins fell off the rocket pre-launch or it burned on the launch pad. Each of these guys threw Momma under the bus.
Don’t look at me, I helped paint it, You helped glue the fins on.
Hey, you helped build it, not me.
There was a third comment, but I frankly didn’t hear it clearly since I was helping to pack wadding and load engines into the Estes Viking rocket of kids that came to the engine table.
The point was that in each case of malfunction, some father somewhere threw the mother under the bus. It was one of those eyebrow-raising, head-cocking events that left me quietly abashed at the behavior of my father-peers. Understand that there are multiple principles that I’ve come to adopt about dealing with family and kids. The second rule – and I don’t have anywhere near as many as Jethro Gibbs since my memory isn’t that great in the first place – is that I should uphold the mother when I’m dealing with the kids. That doesn’t mean to praise her unstintingly; as the kids grow, there will likely be conversations where you have to help explain why things might have happened a certain way, and you can only hope that the mother returns the favor for you as well. But it does mean that you treat her with the respect that you would hope you would be treated by her in your absence. Or as happened the other day, in your presence. Each of these separate fathers simply sloughed off the blame and threw their mate under the bus so as to avoid embarrassment.
There are several points to consider here. It’s clear that American society is continuing to undergo a significant change in terms of parental gender roles for multiple reasons.
- More young men are reflecting on their own upbringing in the past twenty years and deciding that they’d like to have a greater role in their kids’ lives than their own fathers had in their own childhood.
- More women are taking a much greater role in the workforce, removing them from the home requiring that their mate step up accordingly.
- Job losses and a poor economy – notwithstanding the easy credit addiction of the crackheads on Wall Street causing a new Dow/Nasdaq highs – are keeping more men at home
Despite the fact that men are now doing far more of the grocery shopping and cooking than their predecessors did, there are still some gender roles that the women don’t want to see changed. How do I know? Because more than one mother has commented such to me through the years, especially when it comes to boy-related activities. The divorce rate through the past several decades has been in the vicinity of 50% and more than a few of the fathers fell out of the picture, leaving Mom to have to cover the activities that were historically designed for the men to handle. This involved the handiwork activities such as building with tools as well as camping. They themselves had grown up in a largely intact environment where Dad was around to handle such activities for the boys; they themselves were not terribly exposed to such things. This went as well with the men; a fair portion were raised without the men to demonstrate and teach so that they didn’t have the exposure to the more male-oriented activities and skills. The result is that there’s a significant percentage of a parental generation without the exposure to these male-oriented activities. When it’s just the Mom involved in the parenting, then she has no option but to step up and make the effort for her son.
But what of the Dad? I can speak from experience that any Dad wants to be respected by his kids and in an environment that prizes wise-assery and irreverence, it can seem hard to keep. My own father would never do the outdoor activities with me because of a promise that he made himself after returning from the Korean War – Son, I spent a year sleeping outside with a half-million Chinese trying to kill me so I’ll be goddamned if I ever sleep outside again – yet one of my kids thrives on the outdoor stuff. I’ve got no option but to suck up and try to learn as I go in order to provide such an experience. The same goes for building rockets and pinewood derby cars; outside my realm of experience but something that must be worked through to provide for the child. My wife leaves that to my responsibility with the understanding that while I’m not an expert, I’ll do my best and leave it at that.
The kids aren’t stupid and they’ll figure out sooner than later that Dad isn’t perfect. What matters to them however, isn’t that Dad is the expert on all things male. What matters to them is that Dad is active in their lives and doing everything that he can. If you aren’t familiar with something, then do your research beforehand and if necessary, practice out of their presence. Practice with them and if something doesn’t work right, walk through the problem so that they learn that not everything does go right the first time. Sometimes, it doesn’t go right the second, third or fourth time either but if they don’t see that, they won’t learn otherwise. When it goes right, celebrate. What the kids want is your presence and attention and learning together is something that provides both in spades. If you’re truly not comfortable with something, then tell them why and don’t feel guilty about it. Youngest already knows that I will never take him hunting and not for reasons of conscience. That is an activity for which I can simply not acquire sufficient expertise in time without endangering him or others. But he does know that when his mother and I deem him old enough, we’ll assure that he goes out with another father who is sufficiently competent and experienced to take a young hunter.
Part of the old code of manhood was the ability to suck it up and shoulder your load without complaint or fault-finding. So do your best and shoulder the load. Understand that despite the changing, shifting of the household and workplace roles, there are still some things that your mate expects that you do with the kids. And if, after doing your best, fins fall off and rockets explode on the launch pad, nosecones fail to pop so that the rocket sails with a thwack into wet ground of the parking lot pavement, then that’s simply life. Not to mention that participating in such controlled chaos is honestly cool to experience.
Because things go wrong despite best efforts and the kids aren’t learning much of a lesson with Dad throwing Momma under the bus.