bearing children

What Makes a Good Dad?

Photo: Courtesy of SickKids

You know what they say: A good dad is hard to find. Making jokes about bad dads or pointing out how much lower the bar — practically buried in the dirt — is for dads than moms in heterosexual relationships is easy to do. The evidence is everywhere, and your audience of women affected by gender inequality is ready. But what does a good dad look like — and what does he think about parenthood?

Of course, there’s no clear answer, but I do think maybe there’s something to start with in this very effective video depiction of a Good Dad:

This dad has twin daughters, one of whom was in a Toronto hospital’s NICU for 16 months, from birth until just a few weeks ago. The same hospital released a similar fundraising spot about the moms of sick children ahead of Mother’s Day; this one comes just in time for Father’s Day. Unlike the mom video, this one focuses on a singular parent, which I think is a little bit too bad — I want to see more dads like him, who don’t say much but get choked up by their children’s health problems, and fully participate in family life without making flashy, ultimately disappointing statements about what a dad is and does.

We all know what a bad, entitled dad looks like. When I was pregnant, I listened to a bro describe his paternity leave. “It wasn’t really, like, hanging out with my wife and kid,” he said. “It was more like … helping my wife out? Doing chores?” He went on to make jokes about his wife’s bikini body, pat himself on the back for moving his guitars from the nursery to the garage, and rave about the benefits of taking parental leave when the baby was older and “a lot more fun.” I’m sure this particular dad is by no means the worst dad, but he certainly didn’t make himself — or dads in general — look good. I walked away wondering why anyone would want to give parental leave to this man or quite frankly any heterosexual man, when the majority of mothers in this country get nothing. When there’s so much to be done for moms, who cares about dads?

But that’s an overly simplistic view of a much larger problem, one that’s perpetuated by anyone who supports parents in the abstract but talks shit about the co-worker who leaves at 5 p.m. or needs to duck out to take his daughter to the doctor. I don’t think any of us know what a dad is supposed to be right now, and maybe that’s an opportunity. Maybe just by quietly going about their business, ordinary or heartbreaking, a new breed of dads will surprise us all.

What Makes a Good Dad?