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Giving dads the gift of competency

Dads get a bad rap, portrayed as clueless, dismissed with onesies that have instructions printed on them. And while that is considered humor, sometimes we unintentionally give credence to that idea. I know I spent several years doing that—not with joke shirts or sharing viral videos of yet another clueless dad, but with one simple, judgmental sentence.

“That’s not the way I do it.”

Variations of the sentence exist. “Not like that.” “That’s wrong.” “Why are you doing it that way?”

Because moms know how to do it all, obviously. We know how to cut the bananas just right, and how to pull an outfit together, and how to transfer that outfit onto an unwilling, squirming toddler. We know the nap schedule and which kid likes to play with what toy and why. We know every technique, every trick.

When our first child was born, I was a big “no, not like that!” mom. My husband would cradle the baby in his hands, and I would tell him the baby preferred to be held close to the chest, obviously. He would dress the baby, and I would ask, “What made you think that matched?” He would go to soothe the baby, and I would say, “He likes to be rocked like this, not like that.”

I was the expert, after all.

But instead of teaching what I thought were very necessary lessons about our baby, I was telling my husband, “Your way isn’t good enough.” What would you do if, every time you tried something, someone else was there to tell you it was wrong?

At some point, you would stop trying.

Fortunately, we never made it to that point, because one day my husband, fussing baby in his arms, turned to me as I closely shadowed him, making tiny corrections to his obviously incorrect technique, and told me to stop it.

“But you’re not doing it the right way.”

“No,” said my husband. “I’m not doing it your way. Let us figure it out for ourselves.”

And so I learned to bite my tongue. To sit on hands that wanted to reach out and adjust the baby. To be OK with the fact that the outfit my husband put him in didn’t match but was clean and weather-appropriate. That maybe the baby cried for an extra 90 seconds, but the baby was also learning that Dad was capable of providing comfort and care, too.

It was a lesson I learned with him.

My husband still reminds me of this lesson sometimes, as I ready to swoop in and handle whatever situation is developing with the kids.

“I’ve got this,” he will say, and he does, even if his “getting” looks different than mine.

It still gets the job done. And if he dresses our daughter in orange-striped shorts with a red onesie and neglects to top it off with a giant hair bow before taking her with him on errands, that’s secondary to the fact that he willingly takes her with him, strapped correctly into the car seat, and if he forgets to pack her a snack and she gets hungry, he will figure it out. If, instead of taking three minutes to explain to our son why it’s important to try new foods and says instead, “Dude. Take a bite. Now,” that’s effective, too. In fact, it’s more time-efficient and gets the job done better.

It may not be your way, but it’s his way.

The best gift we can give our husbands for Father’s Day is the gift of competency. That willingness to sit back, no matter how hard it may be, and let them figure it out for themselves. Yes, I know the bananas aren’t sliced the way they should be. I know the shoes he just put on the baby don’t match her outfit and your son still has bedhead. But it’s a gift to us, too, because a dad who feels competent is also a dad who takes the kids out, by themselves, to the park, leaving you at home, with full access to Netflix and that hidden stash of chocolate that you only bust out at bedtime.

It’s not that his way is the wrong way. It’s that it’s not our way. And we have to be OK with that.

To all the men who have stepped up and made a difference in a child’s life, Happy Father’s Day.

By Samantha Kilgore • kimeberely@leaderpress.com

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