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Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Speech (shelved)

"When you disparage, demean, trivialize, mock, or patronize the parenting of fathers, whether from afar or in the very act of their parenting, you are resuscitating the stilling world of damaged gender role stereotyping that ought to vanish into history. Ma'am, respect male parents as parents, refrain from the cheap humour made available by our cultural immersion in sitcom fatherhood, or in exchange you must not only accept the diminished role you will see fathers take in the lives of their children, with all of the attendant costs associated with that absence, but you must also remain silent in the face of those workplace jokes about your "emotional" nature. Because that is the world you are endorsing. Is it worth it? Is it right?"


A lot of the world can be contained in, and expressed by, an inflection.

Erin climbed the jungle gym reserved for 5-12 year olds with her usual derring-do, and I followed close behind. She charged past the two emaciated adult forms at the top on her way to the 10-foot slide. If they weren't at a park at the top of a jungle gym I might have taken them for a starving homeless couple. But given our geography, the time of day, and the presence of three miniature versions of themselves I hastily concluded that they were yippies (hippies who owe their yuppie income to the organic food/alt. lifestyle pop culture movement rooted in the Bay Area).

Erin crouched and moved her legs into position to begin her ride down to her smiling mother's open, encouraging arms. A small ridge at the top of the slide impeded a smooth transition from a crouching position to a seated one, and Erin started moving forward with her feet slightly beneath her as her shoes caught this ridge. Her awkward pose quickly turned into a more elegant but less slide-appropriate kneeling position, which in turn transformed into a full belly-flop as she gained momentum traveling down the ten feet to the bottom. Her mother caught her in case her inertia would have carried her face-first off the end of the slide onto the wood chips carpeting the ground.

Unnerved by her unanticipated Olympic Skeleton qualifier and poked in the face a little while being rescued at high speed Erin expressed her discontent with some pathetic wails as her mother consoled her.

And from the yippie mom standing next to me at the top of the jungle gym came a startling "Da-ad." It was a mixture of disapproval and humour, both an assignment of blame and an attempt to soften the blow with a joke. I was supposed to be in on the "da-ad", and recognize my role as the bumbling, unaware male who was incautious and slightly incompetent; I was supposed to be an enlightened token of a ridiculous stereotype: a sitcom dad who was aware of the nature of the sitcom and who was invested in the success of the show.

I was embarrassed that I hadn't seen Erin catch her foot on the top of the slide in time to stop her from tumbling. I was embarrassed as a parent. But it wasn't until I heard "Da-ad" that I realized I was supposed to be embarrassed because I was a father. That is, it wasn't the fact that Erin had tumbled and I hadn't caught her that was of concern; nor was it the fact that as a parent I had given her the headway to take on her own challenges; it was the fact that I was a father and, per stereotype, the expectations for me were lower and I had met them. And having met them I could be boxed up and delivered back to my wife, her surrogate-in-momhood at the top of the slide having done her part.

I am more embarrassed at my response than I was at Erin's fall. I slipped all-too-easily into the role of a sitcom dad. Instead of letting myself show any distress at all that my daughter had just gone face first down a slide and might not feel that great about it I let the "Da-ad" admonition corral my genuine feelings and I offered up a sterilized model to the world. Or I let it goad me into being unfeeling so that it wouldn't look like I cared what the yippie had to say, so that I wouldn't let her win. I'm not sure which is the truth. But I let Emily do the comforting while I grinned a defeated rictus grin from the top of the slide and asked Erin if she wanted to go again while she sobbed on her mother's shoulder.

I seethed. I seethed at this woman's ignorant inflection. I seethed at my own response. I seethed at the playground equipment designer who had included a tripping ridge at the top of the slide. I seethed out of irrational embarrassment and out of righteous indignation. And while I seethed I wrote a speech in my head.

I never did deliver it. I decided that I was reading a lot into an inflection and that maybe with the benefit of the doubt "Da-ad" might have simply been the interjection of a friendly do-gooder park parent; maybe she would have offered an equally disapproving but humourous "Mo-om" if Emily had been the one at the top of the stairs. And while this might mean that she deserved some kind of reply I only had the one speech written. So I shelved it.

And Erin climbed the stairs and slid down the slide for 5-12 year olds over and over again while the yippie kids played around her.


Astrogirl426 said...

The trick is, stay up until 2:30am (EST) and you'll get the first spot in the Comments.

You inspired me to think, and that thinking became a blog post. You can read more here:

I've linked back to your blog as well. Thanks for the provocative thoughts.

Samurai Beetle said...

I'm aggravated at the yuppie for having the nerve to criticize you! The nerve of total strangers to openly criticize is mind boggling. Otherwise, it sounds like a nice family outing.

Twenty Four At Heart said...

Yes it is 2:30 a.m. here in wonderful Orange County. And yes, I am up with a sky rocketing fever, how fun is that?

I apologize for my unclever comment ... but, um, SICK. And I just wanted to say .... Aren't you glad you aren't married to HER??

SciFi Dad said...


Seriously, that's all I've got to add.

Fucking judgmental know it all.

OK, maybe that too.

(I'd add more, but then it'd just be offensive.)

ChurchPunkMom said...

ugh.. i am seething as well. i can't stand how people diminish the value of fathers, and men in general, in our society. ridiculous.

if it makes you feel any better.. i totally gave you a Manward! (see my blog)

Ali said...

i think i'm most disturbed by the fact that she called you "dad" ;)

heather said...

While I'm not a parent yet, I still admire the ire that brings your to post this because it can be found in so many every-day situations. And you may not have said the words right then, but you did put them out into the world here and we read them and think about them and pass them along. So it matters.

Loralee Choate said...

What a renob.

I figured that the 7th grade taunt of Boner spelled backward was really the only fitting term for such a trivial, juvenile asshat.

Sarah Morgan said...

Absolutely true, and an unconscious prejudice a lot of us probably have on some level. Good on you for taking the time to really think about this and share it with us... and make us think about our reactions in the future too!

(Um, unrelatedly, but also, everybody who looks at my Hot Blogger Calendars thinks you're the hottest guy. That might be sexist and prejudiced too, but I thought you would sorta like it this time.)

Michelle said...

UGH! How awful. I hate the comments we PARENTS get from others. It's absolutely insulting. From the other side, this weekend I went out alone and I can't TELL you how many times I got the question "So, where's Peanut?"
1. I'm here.
2. H isn't.
And there's the ever popular, "Oh, isn't that nice, H is babysitting." I've said it once (on my blog) and I'll say it again: It's not babysitting if it's YOUR KID.
Disgusting. All of it. And children fall all the time, ridge or no. It's a part of life, she wasn't in real danger and there's nothing dad OR mom could do about that. It was an accident.

Jerri Ann said...

awwwww poor dad! No really. I could hear myself saying Da-ad just like that. I'll have to watch myself lest you catch me. I think my husband is just accustom to my snarky rude self.

OH and don't forget about my 12 Days of Christmas Give Aways

Mom~E~Centric (

Mom is Teaching (

Education Uncensored (

Momo Fali said...

Clearly, you should've given that Mom a shove down the slide.

MadWoman said...

I'm sure that many an observer has likely thought to offer the same sort of admonition to Hotty Hubby, and I'm not entirely sure that he would be able to keep his mouth shut if that were the case. In fact, I would hope he'd say something.

Sadly, I have been guilty of the same thing as the yippie woman..though only in the direction of my husband or my own father.

"She would never have fallen 8 feet off the slide ladder if MOM had been there....silly daddy"

I would never dare to do the same to a stranger. How utterly inappropriate! What a cow.

Sarah said...

Y'know, I live in a land of judgey moms (I'm not a native, I just live in their land), and so I can see them saying that to any of the moms just as soon as to the dads. And while that doesn't make your experience any less annoying, it brings to mind the whole topic of: People are TOO judgemental over matters that don't concern them.

Accidents happen and as long as you weren't being negligent, people need to practice a bit of STFU.

Miss Grace said...

She might have said "mo-om."

I call yippies trustafarians. Santa Cruz is rife with them.

ame i. said...

Reeely, though, Da-ad, not only did your magical intuition to sense all sources of danger fail, you didn't fly down to the end of the slide at the speed of light to catch her. Hell, you could have solved the global warming problem on the way! ;}
My late-hubby went with me to the dentist once, as did our then 7 week old daughter-the first. D1 started to cry and the hygenist gave me such a look when I told her "No, I didn't bring a bottle because she won't drink from one and No, she won't take a pacifier." I was the pacifier and her source of food for the first 9 months of her life. I hate that it appalled so many people, sniffle.

Fancy Schmancy said...

As the single mother of a 14 year old boy whose father decided his involvement ended when he offered to pay for half of an abortion, I am always amazed by wonderful fathers. The guys you see at the grocery stores with a couple of kids in tow and no woman in sight. The guys you see out in public carrying a baby and gently kissing it's head when they think no one is watching, or don't care if anyone is watching. The guys who leave work early to show up in a suit to their son's weekday afternoon football game and loudly cheer them on. The guys who blog about how much they love their children and their family. It gives me hope for the world. You are a wonderful father, don't let some bitch take that away from you. I had to de-lurk for a minute to say that.

Kimberly said...

Yikes...I've probably done that (or something like it) before. I can totally see myself trying to be funny, attempting to make pathetic small talk at the playground and have something like that fall out of my mouth.

My bad.

Heather said...

I'd guess it was a weak, very poor attempt at a joke saying "Da-ad" as though that's what your daughter would be saying. That's my theory. I bet she'd have said Mo-om too.

But if she did mean it the way you took it, then yeah, that's crap.

ZenMom said...

Even giving this particular yippie the benefit of the doubt ... you have still completely hit the nail on the head. And you've said it all perfectly.

This is why I love following your blog. Sometimes you make me laugh. Sometimes you make me think. But you always do it so beautifully.

You have a gift for storytelling. I'm sorry if I've never told you before how much I appreciate it.

Lisa @ Crazy Adventures in Parenting said...

Beautifully written. Simply beautiful.

That yippie mom needs an ass-whoopin' .

RebTurtle said...

"The nerve of total strangers to openly criticize is mind boggling."

And here we all rush in, to judge the judges after hearing one side of the story?

Don't get me wrong. I'm totally with you on the story, and the feelings. I can't count how many wonderful, powerful speeches I wrote in my head, usually too late, and never released into the wild. It's frustrating as hell. And as dads we are viewed as deadbeat and dumb until proven innocent.

I just find it comical how quick humans in general are to criticize based on one view without any introspection. But then again I was once jailed for something I didn't do. It wasn't comical. It'll change your perception about a lot of things in life. Like prosecutors, and public defenders.

evan said...

It’s funny, but as an ‘at-home’ dad the comments people make and the assumptions in which they’re rooted used to be something that irritated me no end... but as my kids have gotten older I’ve found that those sorts of ham-fisted, socially inept remarks have dropped off to nearly zero.

I’ve always assumed that’s because the innate social mores behind those sorts of reactions/comments presume that infants and the very young are only safe with nurturing, protective moms while older kids are expected to be out and about with dad... Which, now that I think about it, suggests to me that these expectations go beyond social constructs and are rooted in our biological past; the young stay in and around the cave with mom while adolescents are expected to explore/hunt with the men.

Or... then again maybe that’s all just a bunch of pretentious clap-trap and people are just boobs. Either way, I appreciate the thought provoking post; thanks.

BabyShrink said...

Reminds me of when our kids were babies; really tiny. Whenever DH was out in public with one of them, it never failed; some little old lady would rush up to him (and he's a big 200 pounder, 6'3") and grab the baby out of his arms, cooing about how cute the baby was, but also looking around -- "Where's the Mommy?" -- as if he couldn't handle it.

He took it in stride, but it definitely was an example of what you say. DADS ARE INCOMPETENT -- or so thinketh many. (Especially little old ladies, and ESPECIALLY little old immigrant ladies, whom we are surrounded by, who are not used to seeing Dads in this new role.)

So, look it it this way: It's a Brave New World, and you're a shining example of it. You live in part of the country where you're not all that uncommon. But the rest of the world has a long way to come in catching up to your example -- but it's a great example.!

Elisa said...

I don't think you were being too sensitive. I wasn't there, and yet, that "da-ad" sounded patronizing to me. But I am really glad you ignored her, her "comment" wasn;t even worth of an answer.

mumma boo said...

Yeesh, way to ruin a nice family outing, yippie lady. Don't be too hard on yourself, BPD, for not replying to her inane comment. It would have only encouraged her to do it again.

bejewell said...

You know it's entirely possible that somewhere out there a blog post was written today by a woman who was at the park with her family and saw a cute little girl fall on the slide. And this blog post is all about how the first thing that came out of this woman's mouth was this stupid "Da-ad" line and how immediately she regretted saying it because she knew it was lame but she was mortified and didn't have the balls to apologize but instead just hoped that the "Da-ad" in question realized she was just trying to lighten the mood after the little girl fell and understood that she didn't mean anything by it at all.

I've said LOTS of stupid things in my misguided attempts to quell uncomfortable situations, usually resulting in awkward silences and obsessive embarrassment that has, in some cases, lasted for years.

I'm just sayin'. You never know.

DC Urban Dad said...

F her. Plain and simple. Any dad that has a backpack freakn' rocks.

Father Muskrat said...

I've been lamenting this pop culture-reinforced stereotype for 25 years, when I was nowhere near fatherhood, but I thought highly of my own dad and disliked that TV shows were starting to go in this direction (See Rosanne, Simpsons, etc.) after having "good" dads like on Cosby, Silver Spoons (to a degree), etc.

Now, it's worse. Unoriginal as it is, in light of your other comments, I gotta go with "Fuck her" as a response.

Leanne said...

Do you have any idea how many times my kid has fallen down and tripped over something while only Mu'um was around to take the blame. If she wants to wrap her kids in cotton wool so that she winds up with a 42 year old weirdo still living at home where mommy can control their surroundings thats her thing.

You should have just given her the finger and walked away. That's what I would have done.

Corina said...

To hell with traditional stereotypical family gender roles. My husband is just as or more responsible in these situations as I. Why the sarcasm, woman? Why the shrouded witty remark? It only serves to pigeonhole us further, to cause us to live up to these fabricated standards of inequality. To what end?

Enough is enough. Dads deserve their due.

Next time, don't fall into the stereotype. You are much, much better than that. Deliver the speech. Some people need to hear it.

Petra a.k.a The Wise (*Young*) Mommy said...

I might have to get that calendar so I can replace the 1998-1999 calendar I currently have that is filled with pictures of kittens in various predicaments with word bubbles that say things like "hang in there" and "climb to the top."

It sounds a lot sexier.

Anonymous said...

My gut reaction is with bejewell -- friendly people who attempt to be witty don't always succeed. You are a Dad -- did you expect her to say 'Mo-Om' or 'Pa-Rent' to you if she's going to say anything at all? Of course you were actually there and you may have heard a clear inflection that you didn't missinterpret, but might you have heard her "witticism" as an admonition when heard during an instant of feeling guilty? After all, there are reasons why playground equipment is marked with an age range. One reason is probably that a fall that is twice the height of a 5 year old could be 4 times the height of a 2 year old. Another is that the offending ridge (which could have even been an element of strength to the design rather than a flaw) might not present an obstacle to the climbing/squatting actions of bigger kids with bigger feet.

Jerri Ann said...

Listen while everyone's trying to figure out what to do about this darn vacuum cleaner dilemma, could you talk some of them into coming to my sites and playing in my 12 Days of Christmas Give Aways?

Backpacking Dad said...

Anonymous: I think you've missed a very, very important paragraph in this post.

The story wasn't what the woman said; the story was what the character behind one interpretation of that inflection said, and my reaction to it. I never said anything to the woman, nor did I, here, say that she had done something unequivocally wrong.

But thanks for berating me in precisely the way the character in my head did. You've at least validated the belief that some people really are just judgy to strangers; you've done what she never really did. And because she never really did it I didn't say anything to her.

And of course I didn't expect her to say "mom" or "parent" to me. That little piece of criticism is just a dead end. Because I never took offense at her addressing me by a name for father, which is what I am. I took offense at the layers of culture carried on an inflection; an inflection, by the way, that I was never certain she intended. You imply with your criticism either that she had no choice but to say "Dad" in the way that she said it, and so no one hearing "Dad" said in that way at that time in that situation should have reason to take offense, or that I am unreasonably upset at being called "Dad". Neither is true.