I recently took one of my sons to see a pediatric surgeon about an abnormal growth on his scalp. I first discovered this growth by accident one evening while the kids and I were watching a movie. I reached over and rubbed his head and felt it beneath my fingers (this particular kid is great at allowing me to pet him like a puppy whenever I want). Startled, I pulled his head over to get a better look and there was a growth the size of a small marble, barely hidden by his hair. Upon questioning him about it, I learned he had known it had been there for a few months and his mother had known for that long as well, but hadn’t done anything about it or bothered to tell me. I made an appointment with his pediatrician the next day, a pediatric surgeon three days later, and then had it surgically removed a week after that. In the end, it turned out to be a type of harmless cyst, benign and posed no threat to my child’s health. Thank God.
But here’s why this is the lead-in to the story. At each appointment I scheduled, his mom showed up. That’s awesome; a child deserves to have his parents around. However, at each appointment, in every single case, with every care provider we encountered, not one of them addressed me directly and barely acknowledged I was even there. There was even one appointment where I came with my kid and mom didn’t show up until 10 minutes later. In that case, the nurse was forced to speak with me. However, the second my ex walked into the room, I again became invisible.
This happens all the time. In our family, I am the one who takes care of most needs of this type for the children. I schedule and/or participate in almost all doctor visits, school meetings, sports meetings, driving exams, orthodontic adjustments, etc. A large reason for this is because I enjoy taking care of my family. But part of it is because their other parent doesn’t excel at making, keeping or showing up on time to these appointments. This is not about the faults or shortcomings of my ex-wife. We all have our blind spots and I have plenty (although I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me when it comes to the health of the boys). This is about my frustration that people in all areas involving the care of children routinely discount, dismiss or flat-out ignore fathers. So doctors, nurses, principals, teachers and everyone else who works with kids, please hear this; dads matter!
This annoyance has reverberated as a low pulse in the back of my head for a while, but hadn’t really come to the surface strongly enough to notice until recently. Most likely, the reason has something to do with the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon, which basically says that as soon as you encounter something abstract such as a thought, word or phrase for the first time, you start to see it everywhere. After the encounter at the pediatric surgeon’s office, I was driving home and, as I was trying to put a name to the feelings I was having, the words “Dads Matter” popped into my brain. Most likely, I had heard it somewhere else (I don’t claim to be original); but I started to see articles here and there on the same topic with the same headline. I saw and read the article “Why Dads Matter, According to Science by Shari Margolese. Then a few days later I saw another article from Esquire talking about a study that found a relationship between testicle size and the amount of time a dad spent caring for his children. Oddly enough, the more a dad cares for his children, the smaller his testicles. I can’t confirm this because, well, I don’t really go out of my way to compare testicle size with anyone. But science is science, right? It also talked about how the scientific community has basically ignored the study of how a father impacts a child’s development (paraphrasing of course) as compared to the numerous volumes of studies regarding the impact of mothers. Anyway, I googled the term and there are several articles, books etc. on the topic of a father’s impact; but there’s not very much. It’s a difficult battle for me sometimes to cry unfair on any topic; I mean I was born into the trifecta of luck – White American Male. How much more advantage do I deserve? Well, ultimately it’s not about me. It’s about the benefit lost for my children when opportunities to have a positive influence are lost. Sometimes it’s almost embarrassing to complain about anything being a father. Because, you know, I don’t have a womb. That is a big deal, but this isn’t a win-lose proposition. My children will gain from recognizing and experiencing all the good both parents have at their disposal. It’s in my boys’ best interest to maximize that in every way possible. One step is to make dads matter in more ways than just the traditional stereotypes of protector, provider and first date shotgun polisher (for those fathers blessed with daughters).
Know this; I put my heart and soul into being a dad and my role as a father is the one thing that transcends all other labels. I don’t want to be treated special, I don’t want my butt kissed, I don’t want a medal and I don’t even need you to believe I’m as good as the average mother. I just need you to acknowledge that I exist. There are plenty of discussions in all forms of media about how a large number of fathers don’t do enough. These are written by, quoted by, and agreed to by the very people who cannot find the strength to direct their attention to the ones that are there.
Glance my way as you’re providing your thoughts about my child. Look me in the eye one time for every five you look at mom. Is that so hard? It is? Well, practice until it becomes second nature. If you made a choice to go into your field because you truly want to help shape young minds, this is part of your job. It may seem small, but it’s an easy way to make a positive difference.
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