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Why do some dads today behave as if they are only temporary substitutes for mom when they are in charge of their kids? It's like they act as if they are seat fillers on an awards show... you know, those individuals hired to fill the seats of the actors and musicians who get up during the broadcast for a bathroom or a smoke break. The seat filler’s job is to keep the audience looking full when seen on television. Nothing more than that is expected from them. And since these human place holders are not the ones with the recognized talent and luminous spirits, they promptly exit the scene when the real deal returns with no further obligation or responsibility.
The seat filler version of a dad is one who acts less like a parent, and more like a babysitter. Yes, he is also good enough to fill in for the “real deal” (aka mom) for an hour or two; but surely he’s not equally matched in ability and expertise when it comes to actually caring for and nurturing his children!
Or is he?
Is this really all dads are meant to be for their kids? Or is this just how some see themselves? Or more importantly, is this how their spouse, our society, or a combination of both perceive them to be? In our modern world, dads are so often viewed, portrayed and treated like they are incompetent fools, hopelessly incapable of handling kids and their abundant needs and demands. Unfortunately, many dads have bought into it and subsequently behave within this limited perspective. In their minds, they aren't Mom, so why even try to be?
This is not only unfair to dads, but it's unfair to their kids.
In the not so distant past, fathers were held up to higher standards and defined a bit differently: Head of the Household. Breadwinner. Family Provider. Strict Disciplinarian. Honorable Patriarch. Respectable fathers were the "big guns" that came out when the oh-so-fragile and nurturing mothers weren't cutting it in the punishment department. Most often, Dad was not expected to “fill in” for Mom because he had his own defined position and responsibilities - those that were clearly set and rarely interchangeable with hers.
And although I think these labels and assumed roles were, and still are, restrictive and suppressive; it could be argued that back then, men as fathers were given significantly more respect by their partners, and by society as a whole, than they are collectively given today.
In this circumstance, what’s a modern day dad to do?
I believe today’s fathers have the unique opportunity to define themselves in a much broader scope, no longer accepting their spouse’s or society’s ruling on their perceived capacity or commitment level or letting those perceptions guide how they approach being a dad. As their varied roles, and our collective attitudes toward those roles, broaden and evolve, dads are breaking free from old definitions and claiming new ones of their own making: Nurturer. Supporter. Caregiver. Encourager. Protector. Anchor.
So I say to babysitting dads everywhere, please... DON'T BE A SEAT FILLER FOR ANYONE. Don't settle for just "watching" your kids. Seize your power to define your own role in the lives of your children and don't allow others to define or limit who you are, or can be, for them. And to the moms that treat dads like they don’t know what they are doing, please… STOP. Have faith. Support these men in meeting their full potential and allow them the freedom to become the amazing dads they were meant to be.
No, it is not the easy road. And it's definitely not the path of least resistance. Mindful and aware parenting will challenge you with issues and moments that no babysitter wants to face; yet it will provide you with occasions and memories that every dad hopes to experience. Not to mention it will be the most rewarding and life changing path you could ever choose to take.
So jump in the trenches! Get involved in the lives of your children, be vital to them, and parent them... with intention, awareness, presence, and love.
Your kids deserve it. And so do you.