On the Emasculation of Parental Competence

Lead by example. Actions speak louder than words. Don’t let societal expectations hold you back.

Well, it happened again. We were out for dinner with some family and the question arose of who would take care of our infant daughter when my wife goes back to work. This is despite the fact that they already know I have been working from home with flexible hours for years and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change any time soon. This is despite the fact that they generally know I have been around for my daughter since day one, changing her diapers, soothing her back to sleep, and taking her to story time.

And yet they continue to ask.

We are incredibly fortunate that my wife is able to take a full year of maternity leave. We are also very fortunate that my career has also enabled me to stay home full time for baby-raising duties. And despite all of this, I continue to endure some degree of perceived emasculation, particularly from the older generation. The mindset is different.

The conversation and circumstances of that family dinner are not unique and it was certainly not the first time that the question was raised. There is just this assumption that, as a dad, I will be completely inept at taking care of my child. They assume there is no way that I’ll be able to handle the responsibilities without the direct assistance and supervision of the baby’s mother. It’s not an attack on me personally so much as it is a slight on fathers in general.

A real man doesn’t change diapers. A real man doesn’t know the first thing about being responsible for a baby. A real man’s place is out in the world, earning a paycheck and leaving the child-rearing to the women. (You can probably picture Red Forman from That 70s Show here.)

Except I do know what I’m doing (or at least I’m trying). And I’m certainly not the only father who is perfectly capable. There are plenty of us out there, including a growing cohort of full-time stay-at home dads. Somehow, the societal perception is such that a dad who knows what he is doing is somehow less of a man. Competence and care are somehow emasculating… even if it means we somehow develop superhuman hearing through the process.

Training for Evo 2028?

A photo posted by Michael Kwan (@beyondtherhetoric) on

This certainly doesn’t detract from all the wonderful mothers out there either, whether they’re working moms, full-time homemakers or anywhere in between. The point is that we can be and should be equal in our choices, responsibilities, and competencies. We can all do whatever works best for our families.

Attitudes are changing and more fathers of my generation are taking on more parental responsibilities, just as there are more women in the workforce taking on what had once been seen as “man’s work.” Gender roles be damned. Men can be caring, loving and nurturing. Women can be assertive, authoritative and strong. My daughter doesn’t have to be a little princess (but she can be if that’s what she wants).

And I’ll be right there by her side, every step of the way, as a proud and competent work-at-home dad. We’ve got this.