A few months ago I took Little Bear in for her 9 month check-in by myself. Previously, Little Bear’s mama and I had taken her in to her doctor appointments together. The nurse doing Little Bear’s basic measurements commented that it’s rare to see a dad bringing a kid in alone. A check out person at the store started a conversation with me while Little Bear and I were grocery shopping, and upon finding out that I am a part stay at home dad, part student, part worker, exclaimed that I am making such a sacrifice for my family. Apparently it’s just marvelous that I am willing to stay home and willing to not work full time. We’re at a restaurant and Little Bear needs a new diaper, as babies do, while we were walking back to the restroom a woman leans over and tells me it’s so unique to see a father taking such interest in parenting.
These incidents are only a handful in the strange phenomena I sometimes notice when I’m out with Little Bear. I get smiles and greetings, and people (frequently people I perceive to be women) strike up conversation with me. Overall, the impression I’ve gotten is that a dad with a baby is sometimes as magical as a unicorn. I shouldn’t be surprised. As a transmasculine person, I have certainly already experienced the benefits in male privilege in places where previously I was read as female. Being a white guy with a cute baby just rakes in heteronormative bonus points.
I have to tell you, sometimes these experiences make me feel like I’m Super Dad. All the social rewards, even if they are just in the forms of smiles and short comments, sometimes go to my head. “I am amazing,” I think, “it is so impressive that I am such a great father!”
However, the fact that I am a dad taking care of his kid shouldn’t make me special. Being a dad shouldn’t mean that it’s above and beyond for me to change my kid’s diaper. It shouldn’t be unusual that I take her to a pediatrician appointment. I shouldn’t be getting extra rewards when I am doing what moms are socially expected to do.
I rarely get critiqued on my parenting by strangers, but I know that this also sometimes happens to masculine-presenting parents and caretakers. When it happens, it feels like a slap in the face. Surprisingly enough, I probably do know the best ways to soothe my kid when she’s crying. That men aren’t as perceived as competent at care-taking is just another facet of the gendered division of labor enforced by heteronormative, patriarchal norms. It’s a little exaggerated, but sometimes it seems that society sees me as above and beyond incredible for meeting my child’s basic needs, or so clueless that I should hand over my kid to someone else who hasn’t been wiping her ass for 14 months. I do want to be a fabulous dad, but not because there’s a low social hurdle.
In the meantime, Little Bear and I are going to keep taking walks, going to the store, visiting the library, and living our life. We’re going to try to not let compliments go to my head. What about you?If you are a parent or a caretaker, how have you noticed gender affecting how you are perceived in public when you are with kids? If you’re not a parent or caretaker, have you noticed any differences in how folks of different genders with kids are treated?