One of the most prominent among my numerous pet peeves is people who complain about niggling things. This pet peeve itself very rightly could be construed as niggling. I intend to complain about it nonetheless. Hypocrisy is another pet peeve of mine. Conversely, I’m quite fond of irony. Your support or opposition to my forthcoming opinion will most likely determine which term you feel best describes my niggling about people who niggle over niggling things.
Are Flowers A Good Gift For Men?
The first year my son attended preschool I had the honour of being the Playdough provider for the class. It was a relatively simple volunteer position requiring only a small outlay of cash for supplies and a few minutes of effort one evening per month. I’m fond of easy tasks and figured it would endear me to my son and him, in turn, to the other kids in his class. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to be the offspring of The Playdough Dad? Also, my wife volunteered me for the position so I didn’t have much choice.
At the end of the school year as a show of gratitude the owner of the preschool bought each of the volunteers a gift. The gift, as you might have already guessed, was flowers. I thought it was kind of a sexist gift. Flowers are a gift for women as all holiday advertising will tell you be it Anniversary, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or Get Out of the Dog House Day.
To make matters worse, the flowers were Chrysanthemums. ChrysantheMUMs! Am I reading too much into a name, perhaps, but if you’re going to give a dad flowers at least try to choose a more appropriate species. Something cool like Snapdragons or dangerous like Wolfsbane seems more fitting? Hell, Venus Flytrap has ‘dad’ written all over it. I’m assuming, of course, that power tools were out of the established budget parameters.
Then there were the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day parties. For the mothers the preschool had a lovely morning tea party held during class hours and all moms were required to attend. For the fathers they had a donut and juice open house for a couple hours over the supper hour for those that could make it. And not even donut shop donuts, just those cheap grocery chain glazed mini-donuts in the clear plastic clamshells.
I think it’s safe to say that nobody would find either of those incidents to be insulting, donut quality notwithstanding. They are both prime examples of gender stereotyping that remains pervasive in our society. The message is clear; dads work, moms raise children, and flowers are the perfect gift, thank you. I’m still kind of surprised that a business owned and operated solely by women assumes that all mothers would be available for tea during the mid morning. The times they are a changin’ but it would seem that change takes time.
It is this gender stereotyping that is at the crux of the indignation many fathers feel towards the above sign. Their viewpoint is best explained by Aaron Gouveia of The Daddy Files, the dad who found the sign during a family outing to a local apple orchard, in this fine piece he wrote.
“Take my wife … please.” That was the second thought to cross my mind when I first became aware of that sign and the accompanying uproar it caused amongst the dad blogger community. My first thought was, “lighten up”. That first thought is one I’m not supposed to have as an actively involved father and stay-at-home dad. Much like the Henny Youngman staple it brought to mind, the cornball humour displayed in the sign is perceived as insulting or even sexist by more and more people.
If I were so inclined, I could spin such a sign as a badge of honour for fathers; a tribute to our enduring youth and sense of mischief. A compliment, backhanded perhaps, recognizing our resilience in the face of an adulthood relentlessly sucking every ounce of fun from our being. It’s a falsehood, of course, a stereotype that often does not reflect the reality of most fathers, but it’s one I wish I better reflected.
Detractors of the type of humour displayed in that sign believe that such “potshots at fathers” are just the cusp, the gateway drug if you will, of a systemic stereotyping of dads as grown children and inept boobs utterly incapable of handling even the simplest of parenting tasks. Social media, commercials, and television shows are riddled with doofus dads presented under the guise of humour. Unrelenting small jabs towards dads that eventually accumulate into a universal belief that fathers are both useless and extraneous.
That’s a leap I have a hard time making myself. Honestly, I don’t think the sign is terribly funny, certainly not LOL funny. But I don’t think it’s hurtful either. It’s funny in the way the jokes my grandfather told over and over and over again were funny. They were old, they were corny, and they were groaners only managing to make me smirk or roll my eyes but I miss them tremendously now that my grandfather is gone. They’re a throwback to an era long past but they’re hardly offensive, like the reruns of Lawrence Welk on PBS you accidently found Saturday night flipping through channels during commercials.
There is a part of me that’s empathetic to Mr. Gouveia’s cause. I’ve read many of the horror stories other dad bloggers have shared regarding their life as an involved parent. The suspicious looks from women, the condescending comments from coworkers, and the outrageous assumptions by mothers and school officials with regards to the intentions of any man at a children’s playground. Some of the anecdotes are truly shocking and most definitely worthy of contempt. There is a battle to be fought, I agree.
These stories are also shocking because they are equally foreign to me. I’ve been a stay-at-home dad for six and a half years now and my experiences have been nothing but supportive and kind. When I quit work my male boss whose own children were in university said it would be the greatest experience of my life. Coworkers, friends, and my entire extended family not only embraced my choice but have been quite inquisitive as to my experiences with it. I’ve never heard a condescending comment from anyone, not even strangers. If anything there is perhaps a sense of awe in their reactions to what I’ve done.
And women just love me as a stay-at-home dad. Seriously, if I’d known how big a turn on being a stay-at-home dad is for women, I’d have done this in high school. My wife’s nonagenarian Nana thinks I’m the most remarkable creation and every visit needs to confirm that I do indeed cook, clean, and look after the kids. I’ve gone to playgroups, preschools, and elementary schools and never once have I felt unwelcome by the moms present let alone viewed with suspicion. Some of my very best friends right now are mothers I’ve met through my children.
And yeah, I’ve been called Mr. Mom. Many times. I’ve never felt that was an insult either.
We are the product of our experiences and perhaps I’ve just been terribly lucky. Maybe I don’t warrant the credibility to speak to this entire matter. It’s possible I’m just blind to what’s really happening around me or perhaps others are just trying too hard to see slight where none exists.
What I do know, what I do believe, is that TV shows, commercials, and yes, silly signs, do not define me as a father or a man. Never did I watch episodes of Married With Children and think to myself, this is how I must behave as a father. Media is fantasy and these are all fabrications. They are meant to be funny; an escape from the true world. Yes they may overly rely on outdated or unrealistic gender stereotypes, but so what? They’re not meant to be real. That’s what makes them fun. The truth is that most gender stereotypes have a little basis in truth and as uncomfortable or unpleasant as that may be, we can all see that reality and have a little fun with it.
Laugh At Ourselves and The Important Message Will Be Heard
I don’t want to spend my days in a world void of self-deprecating humour. We’re losing our ability to view the world through context and intent. Do I think it’s right for dads to behave like unruly children? No, of course not and I don’t think most dads behave that way anyhow. But am I offended by a sign that light-heartedly insinuates such a truth? No. I’m able to laugh at myself, my vocation, my gender. I think that’s a healthy thing. Something we all could do a bit more often; I surely can.
The problem as I see it is that if we lose our ability to laugh at ourselves, our idiosyncrasies, our quirks, our stereotypes, the innocent ones not the bigoted ones, we lose some of our humanity. Even worse, when we start criticizing and ranting against every niggling incident that could possibly be interpreted as an affront, people will start tuning us out. And when they tune us out they won’t hear the important messages about the serious stuff.
It’s a lot like the boy who cried wolf in that sense. If you want people to rightly hear your complaints about being perceived as a pedophile based on no more evidence than your presence at a park watching your own children play then crying foul about a silly sign with an old joke at a family business isn’t the best way to garner a caring, motivated audience.
So I’m OK with the sign. I’m okay with Homer Simpson and the dudes in the commercial that can’t change a diaper. Media does not define me as a father or a man. My actions do. I’d like to think I have room left in my soul to poke a little fun at myself. I’ll focus my outrage and efforts where it’s really needed. I suspect that’s what Emma Watson wants too.
Two Girls Laughing on Chair – ‘Two little girls laughing on a sofa’ by simpleinsomnia. Used under creative commons attribution 2.0