I took my daughter to a routine medical appointment last week, and as I was leaving a woman from the front desk walked up to me and said, in a rather patronizing tone:
“Now, should we contact your wife about scheduling your daughter’s next appointment? Or can you do it?”
I stammered for a second, not sure which of her errors to address first. She had assumed that I was married, which I’m not. She had assumed that if I were married, I would be married to a woman — which is correct, but she had no basis to believe that. And in her tone and emphasis, it was clear that she had also assumed I was not the person actually in charge of my daughter’s care.
Fathers get this kind of thing all the time. If we’re out with our kids, people say that we “must be giving mom a break today.” If there’s a school function or kid’s birthday party coming up, we don’t get the email. When we go to change a diaper, our bathroom often has no changing table. At every turn, society assumes that we are secondary childcare at best, and that we are generally clueless about it.
In fairness, there is a reason for this stereotype. Many fathers are not primary caregivers to their children. And plenty of them have bought into gender stereotypes so heavily that they outright refuse to take part in childcare, or believe they aren’t capable of managing a child’s needs. But in general, that is changing. Fathers today are spending more time with their kids. They’re handling more of the childcare. More of them view parenting as an important part of their identity. It’s not a safe assumption, or fair, to assume that we’re not real parents.
I’ve been taking care of my daughter since day one. I fed her and changed her diaper when she was a baby. I gave her baths, brushed the tangles out of her hair, dropped her off at daycare and school, packed her lunches for the week, and got up with her first thing in the morning. Now that she goes between two households, I’m her primary caregiver for half of her time. And I’m not asking for credit for any of that. It’s exactly what I should be doing, and what I should be expected to do. But when you’ve been doing that work, it’s frustrating to be treated like you’re automatically incompetent.