TIME Parenting

Why I Don’t Need to Be a Good Feminist to Be a Good Dad

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Hello Lovely—Getty Images

I may not be a card-carrying member of the movement, but I do care about my daughter's well-being and happiness.

When I wrote a piece refusing to ban bossy, a friend asked why the article was categorized under “feminism.” I told her it was because I’m a feminist now! Or maybe because the piece was antifeminist. (I was, after all, speaking out against Sheryl Sandberg, one of the leading figures of the modern movement.) In reality, I had no idea. I didn’t know on which side of the coin my article fell or if, in general, I could categorize myself as a feminist. But it got me thinking: if I want my daughter to grow up in a world where she is not discriminated against based on her gender, don’t I need to be a feminist?

I admit that I don’t know as much about feminism as I should. I’m certainly not well versed in the movement’s history. Other than fighting for equality of the sexes, I don’t have much of a clue as to what makes a person a card-carrying member of the club. The stereotype of the bra-burning, hairy-armpitted man hater persists, but that breed seems outdated (or at least on the fringe). A number of male celebrities call themselves feminists, participating in the Real Men Campaign and fighting for women’s rights. It may be acceptable (and even trendy) for men to be feminists, but I still didn’t know if I am one.

When my daughter was born, my wife and I dressed her in clothes purchased from both girls’ and boys’ departments. This was less a political statement than a preference for science fiction– and superhero-themed T-shirts. We painted her room green and purple and put robots and aliens on the walls. We avoided all things pink and everything Disney. One day, however, we let her watch Snow White. Why not? It’s a classic. Plus, it’s kind of dark and boring. She probably won’t even like it, we figured. Ha! She was enthralled. We lost her forever.

If I were a feminist, would I have taken that chance? Snow White has to rank pretty low on the scale of positive feminist values. There are two women. One is so obsessed with looks that she’s willing to kill her stepdaughter to remain the “fairest in the land.” The other is sweet, beautiful, highly domesticated and needs to be saved, first by seven shorter-than-average men, and then by one dashing creepy prince (who makes a habit of kissing dead chicks). Maybe the fact that I now view the movie through this prism gives me some feminist cred.

My daughter is a girly girl. Saying that is probably a feminist no-no (calling women chicks probably is too). I just mean that she loves all the crap that is shamelessly marketed to girls her age. Despite what my wife and I tried to foist upon her, she prefers pink and princesses and frilly, sparkly things. She also has a keen sense of gender norms. I can tell her only so many times that there’s no such thing as girl colors and boy colors before I just say, “Well, I guess some girls just like blue better.” The same goes for television characters and various activities that are traditionally associated with one gender or the other. I have only so much fight in me when it comes to my daughter. That chick is stubborn!

It’s possible that not only am I not a feminist but that I am even inadvertently reinforcing gender stereotypes. I was once criticized by a relative for letting my daughter play with a toy vacuum cleaner. It didn’t matter that I stay home with the kids and do nearly all the vacuuming while my wife earns 100% of our family income. This relative was just shocked that I allowed my daughter to play with a symbol of female subjugation. It never occurred to me that giving her toys that were similar to the tools of my trade could be construed as sexist. I still don’t think it is.

I support the feminist movement, or at least many aspects of it. There should be more women in movies talking about things other than which guy is the dreamiest. Girl toys should not have to be pink, though they can be. Though I won’t ban the word bossy, girls should be able to be assertive and take leadership positions (without people thinking they are that other B word). When she’s older, damn right my daughter should earn as much as a man doing the same job. And women should always be free from unwanted sexual advances and not shamed for expressing their sexual desires.

In the future I want all these things for my daughter, but right now I mostly just want her to be happy and to have fun. She’s a kid. That’s her job. If that means buying her the clothes and toys that make feminists cringe, I’ll do it without a second thought. I will, however, make sure she knows that her options are not now, and never will be, limited by her gender. I don’t know if I’m a feminist, but I know that I’ll always fight for my girl.

Lesser blogs at Amateur Idiot/Professional Dad. You can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter (@amateuridiot).

TIME feminism

Dad: I’m Going to Keep Calling My Daughter Bossy

Bossy Child
Getty Images

I'm going to teach Penny the difference between being bossy and being a leader. I'm going to teach my son the same thing.

Sometimes there is a word for a behavior or person that it is so accurate that skirting around it to come up with another descriptor is just dishonest. For a lot of us with 5-year-olds — girls or boys — that word is bossy. When my daughter Penny acts bossy, I’m going to let her know it. No matter what Sheryl Sandberg and Beyoncé say, I am not going to Ban Bossy.

Sometimes my daughter transforms from an adorable delegator to a tiny tyrant. It’s not cute, and it is not acceptable.Penny is one of the leaders in her class and the alpha to her little brother’s omega. Most of the time, my wife and I love it. She’s assertive and she knows what she wants. It cracks us up to see how she can convince Simon, who is 2, to do anything. (She is going to get him in so much trouble down the road.) But sometimes, she crosses a line. She goes from assertive to entitled. She transforms from an adorable delegator to a tiny tyrant. It’s not cute, and it is not acceptable.

The issue being raised in the Ban Bossy campaign alleges that if we call girls bossy often enough, they’ll stop being assertive. They’ll shrink from leadership positions and won’t volunteer in class or speak their mind in or out of school. It would be devastating if that happened to my girl, especially if I was one of the causes. If I thought that was a possibility, I would delete the word from my vocabulary today. But I just don’t see it.

I don’t see the gender difference. Maybe it’s because I’m a man. Maybe it’s because my wife and I have pointed out how bossy Simon gets too. I guess neither of us realized before Ban Bossy that other parents have been admiring the little guy’s leadership ability. (Either he is a precocious tyke or, more likely, that is not actually the case.)

The call to ban bossy comes across as arbitrary. It’s catchy and makes a great hashtag, but is bossy used that often to criticize girls and women? Is the word ever used to describe anyone over the age of 11? It’s just so G-rated! If an adult is bossy, there are much better words to call them. (I don’t think they should be banned either.) If a girl can’t be called bossy, should she be called pushy instead? Of course not, because the message is the same. So how many words are we going to need to ban before this campaign comes to an end?

I’m not saying words don’t matter. They do. I’m not saying that women and girls aren’t demeaned by certain words. They are. But my daughter can, at times, be bossy! And that is not a good thing, regardless of gender.

Penny can’t be a leader if no one will follow her. And no one will follow her if she keeps bossing them around. At a certain point, her friends and even her brother will get sick of it. At a certain point, she will become a bully. As caring and loving parents, my wife and I don’t want to let that happen.

I have seen glimpses of Penny’s potential bullying behavior, and it ain’t pretty. Sometimes it’s overt, like when she literally pushes Simon into doing things. Other times it’s more subtle. For example, one of her friends constantly gets in trouble for saying “boobies” and acting inappropriately around her mother. Penny thinks the whole thing is hilarious (both girls do, really), so she eggs her friend on. It leads to a lot of giggles, but her friend inevitably gets a stern talking to and occasionally has to leave the playdate early.

Being a leader means caring for and empathizing with those you are leading. Being bossy, being a bully, is easier because you only have yourself to think about. In fact, you don’t really have to think at all. You just act for your own immediate self-gratification. As a child, this behavior is understandable, but it is not something that deserves encouragement.

I want my daughter to become the wonderful person that she already is in so many ways. I don’t think I could keep her from growing into a strong woman if I tried. My wife and I want her to speak up and assert herself. We also want her to be respectful and listen to others. She can get so loud, focused and determined that she refuses to consider anyone else’s feelings or opinions. She starts issuing edicts to everyone around her. If it were my son behaving this way, would I pat him on the back and tell him, “Job well done”? No. I would say, “Dude, you’re being bossy. Let’s calm down a little and figure this out together.”

The Ban Bossy campaign got a conversation going, which is awesome … and a little ironic. We need to communicate more, not less. I’m not going to ban the word, but I will think about it whenever I use it. I’m not going to stop calling my daughter bossy. I’m going to teach Penny the difference between being bossy and being a leader. I’m going to teach my son the same thing. If my wife and I have done our job right, Penny will already be showing him the difference.

Lesser blogs at Amateur Idiot/Professional Dad. You can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter (@amateuridiot).

TIME relationships

How an Insensitive Jerk Saved My Marriage

Troels Graugaard—Getty Images

Never ask a woman if she's pregnant—or forget to tell your wife she's beautiful.

“Oh, you’re pregnant again!?” one of my wife’s colleagues (who does not work with her on a daily basis) asked. Upon seeing her reaction, he tried to backtrack. But the damage was done. Allie hid in her office for most of the day and refused to eat even one of the delectable Munchkins sitting, so temptingly, in the kitchen down the hall.

Someone called my wife fat. It made her upset. That makes me upset. When she told me, I wanted to kick that dude’s ass!

Everyone knows: You don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant! EVER!!! Not unless you’re her gynecologist and you see her crowning. And, even then… try to get her to mention it first.

Allie is not fat. Maybe she didn’t lose all of the baby weight from our second child, but she is not fat. She is, however, self-conscious about her weight.

She works long hours, and would rather spend her time off with our kids than at the gym. She did not grow up with the healthiest or most diverse diet, but she tries to eat right. Easier said than done, since she usually just takes a quick lunch at her desk. Allie doesn’t drink alcohol. So when she’s stressed or depressed, she has a tendency to turn to food. (We all have our vices.)

Believe it or not, Allie wanted me to write this article. Not for her, but for our children, especially our little girl and the body-image issues she may have to face as she grows up. Penny is undeniably beautiful, which she hears all the time from strangers and relatives alike. Allie and I are not immune from letting her know pretty she looks, but we also tell her how funny and intelligent she is. We make sure to heap on the praise when she tries something new or really puts effort into accomplishing a goal (especially after she has suffered setbacks). Penny has so many amazing attributes.

I want her to be aware of, appreciate, and improve on everything that makes her unique. I want so many things for her! I want her to have high self-esteem and know that she can get things done when she sticks to them… I want her to feel beautiful all the time, no matter what other people think… I want her to know her jokes are funny, even if no one else is laughing… I want her to be kind, even when no one notices… I would rather she be healthy than thin… I want her to know she is awesome.

As I write this list, I am no longer sure if I’m talking about my daughter or my wife. For Penny, I want these things in the future. For Allie, I want them right now.

This article is probably not the one my wife expected. It is not about our children, it’s about her. And it’s about me.

If Allie’s self-esteem were higher, she would not have given a second thought to what that jerk said. Truth is, he wasn’t trying to be mean. He just said something really, really stupid.

My wife is awesome. (Where do you think our kids get it from?) If she were looking from the outside, she would see it with undeniable clarity. She always finds the best in people, including me. I’ve suffered my own bouts of low self-esteem and depression, and she helped me (continues to help me) battle my demons. It can be difficult to see the best in ourselves, especially when the fog of depression clouds our vision. We all need a little reminding, sometimes.

As her husband and best friend, I was failing my wife. I wasn’t reminding her enough. I wasn’t making her feel special. She was vulnerable (in addition to the weight, she has also had some hair loss), and I wasn’t providing the support she required.

She is still beautiful. But I forgot to tell her, when that is what she needed to hear.

I never said anything to actively insult my wife, but my passivity was more detrimental to her self-esteem than anything anyone could say. It became a downward spiral. Allie would feel bad about her weight or her hair, and I would shrink further from my husbandly responsibilities. I just didn’t feel like dealing with. It was too much for me. I was stressed, too. I wanted my cool, fun wife back! I’m the one with issues. I’m supposed to be able to lean on her… she’s the strong one!

That guy who made the dumb comment about Allie didn’t need a kick in the ass. I did.

Like the Stones said, “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes…you get what you need.” I didn’t want to get into a big fight with Allie. I didn’t even understand how it happened or really what it was about, not at the time anyway. She was upset because I was ignoring her. I had excuses and tried to pretend that her accusations weren’t true. But I knew she was right. I was being inconsiderate, in that I was literally not considering her feelings and needs.

I’m trying to be better.

I’ve seen the changes in her. She’s been smiling more lately. She started exercising. Hell, even her hair has been growing back. I feel like I have my wife again. It’s fantastic! She still gets into occasional funks, but I’m there for her.

All of us could use a little help sometimes. My wife needed me to be there for her, like I’ve needed her so often in the past.

We focus so much of our attention on our children, guiding them to become the people we know they can be. Their personalities and self-esteem, however, are formed in those moments when we’re not looking and they are. Children see, hear, and sense much more than we realize. Our kids need us, and more specifically, need us to be there for each other.

And that dude who asked if my wife was pregnant? Maybe I should thank him for making me understand that I was being an insensitive jerk. But what he needs is to just shut up for a while.

TIME Family

5 Myths About Stay-At-Home Dads

House husband with baby and working mother
Getty Images / Rubberball

The bottom line is that we're just as good as mothers

I think that woman just called me a pedophile.

Let me explain. I was recently part of a panel on The Bethenny Show about stay-at-home dads. The theme of the show, which pitted stay-at-home dads vs. moms, missed the mark. The first audience question—which was more like an outlandish statement than a question—came from a mother who said she would never leave her daughter alone with a dad at a playdate. She was afraid that a man helping her child in the bathroom would not be able to control himself. You know, because we can’t be trusted around a prepubescent vagina. She had seen some bad stuff go down…on Law & Order: SVU.

As crazy as this woman sounded, it made me think: She can’t be the only one who feels this way. Other issues raised by the audience were less controversial, but no less ridiculous, for instance, that a father’s bond cannot be as strong as a mother’s or that dads can not be nurturers. Based on my Bethenny experience, here are five misconceptions about stay-at-home dads:

1. You can’t trust us with your children.

One of my fellow panelists, Doyin Richards, answered the pedophile implication with the retort, “That sounds like a you problem, not a dad problem.” A great line and fantastic for television, and the audience ate it up!

We were not talking about dropping your child off with a stranger, or even with a father you had talked to only a couple times after school. I wouldn’t leave either of my children alone with someone I was not completely comfortable with, man or woman. Furthermore, I wouldn’t leave my children alone with someone they were not completely comfortable with.

The audience member was right about kids sometimes needing the utmost level of trust. She was dead wrong in her belief that dads aren’t deserving of that trust.

2. We can’t have as special a bond with our children as mothers can.

I don’t deny the hard work and heroic efforts women endure during pregnancy and childbirth. I sincerely thank them. They brought us dads the greatest gift in the world. (So stop with the ties; they’re ugly and we don’t like them.) But now those children are ours, just as much as they are yours.

I felt a bond with my children the first time I laid eyes on them, and they knew who I was. My daughter was a daddy’s girl from day one, often to the exclusion of my wife—something that caused tears on more than one occasion. But these things ebb and flow, and mommy is the favorite these days.

3. We are not nurturers.

I am physically unable to pick up my two-year-old son without kissing and hugging (and usually tickling) him.

There are certainly times when he prefers his mommy, but bedtime is dad time. When he knows he’s tired, he crawls into my arms. And when he’s tired but does not know it, I calm his screams and get him to fall asleep far quicker than my wife. I think my scent soothes him. I know his scent soothes me.

Nurturing, it should be said, goes beyond all the hugs and kisses I give my kids. I nurture their spirit, confidence, education, and sense of fun (and sometimes mischief). Anyone who doesn’t think stay-at-home dads nurture has not seen a stay-at-home dad in action.

4. We are trying to be better than moms.

Are dads better stay-at-home parents than moms? What a dumb, meaningless question. But that is what the producers of Bethenny wanted us to argue. Dads are not better than moms. And moms are not better than us. Parenting is not a competition! I don’t work against my wife to raise our children; I work with her. The fact that we parent differently is a benefit to our kids. They get the best of both worlds.

5. We are the only dads you should be paying attention to.

Stay-at-home dads are so hot right now! But we are still in the minority—not only compared to stay-at-home moms but also compared to all the active and involved fathers that go to work (or work from home) every day and are co-parents every night. Why is the media ignoring them?

Stay-at-home dads are at the forefront of the changing image of fathers, but working dads deserve our attention, too. Like working moms, they are trying to have it all and should be lauded for their efforts. It is not being done enough, so I’ll do it here. You guys are defeating the stereotype of the lazy, bumbling dad who doesn’t know his way around a diaper. Keep up the good work, at the office and at home.

Lesser blogs at Amateur Idiot/Professional Dad.

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