You're not a Dork. You're a Dad

How fathers teach children about men.


Every year, I get hired to write something about the dorky Dad. Or the clueless Dad or the Dad who has no idea how to pull his pants up in the morning and Lord knows he's not going to know how to raise a baby unless some way-wiser woman tells him how. It makes for good media, it's funny and for the most part harmless. I just want to tell you guys though what I really think. I think you're awesome. The world would be a sorry place without Dads. We need you guys because...You're Guys. A Dad's contribution is as important to a child's wellbeing, growth, development and security as Mom's. And contrary to popular opinion, I think you know what you're doing straight out of the gate.

You guys are up against a lot. You're told by experts, whether that's some writer, your mother-in-law, wife, your own Mom or some show you'll watch tonight on TV that you're a dork; that unless you're told by a Mom, you won't know how to do the right thing. We need to bust that myth. Please get this straight: You're a Dad. You're not a co-Mom, a Mom-helper or a Mr. Mom. You're a Dad. You're not the same as a mom nor should you be expected to be. You're just as capable of taking care of your child as a Mom (and that includes diaper changes, braids and bows and Bandaids) but you're likely to do some things differently. That's fine. That's why parents usually come in sets of two. So that kids learn at least two ways of doing things. That's how children learn tolerance, variability, adaptability and that they can rely on at least two methods for solving problems. Sometimes they learn that, Nope, there's only one way and both Mom and Dad say so.

My husband is a gentle, nurturing soul who'd rather step on a hornet's nest than create conflict with one of our children. With very few exceptions, he finds them fairly faultless—annoying and messy sometimes but essentially just fine the way they are. When it comes to handing out the scoldings, it's more likely to be me than him. Do I wish he'd do it more? Sure. Nobody wants to be the disciplinarian, but our children aren't perfect. Sometimes they need to be scolded and I seem to do it more. I' guess I'd rather scold them than step on hornets. Our children, however, value his high-regard for them so much that they'd rather step on a hornet's nest than fall out of his favor. It's a pretty good system: He thinks they're fabulous so, for the most part, they are. He's also the one who'll horseplay with our daughters and allow our adolescent son to wrestle him to the ground. He'll play hours and hours of ping-pong and electric guitar with them but will also insist they clean up their junk and speak politely to each other. He cooks dinner with them and does most of our laundry. He works long hours but doesn't miss a performance, recital or important medical appointment when our children are involved. He's the fun, calm, constant presence who's teaching our children to play, be responsible and treat each other with respect. Well, I help with that stuff too. But this is about Dads.

Fathers teach their children what to expect from men. My daughters, some are young adults now, hang out with really nice guys. They've come to expect to be treated respectfully by a funny, smart guy who knows how to have fun and thinks the world of them. Therefore, those are the kind of guys they hang out with—respectful, fun, smart ones who treat them really well. My son is learning that patience, gentleness, responsibility and good laundry skills are as important to masculinity as wrestling and football. The other day, my second-grade daughter wanted to tell my son (12-years-old and built like a linebacker) about a story she was writing in school. He sat down to listen to her. She crawled into his lap and he put his arm around her, sat there and listened. You know how little kids are. It can take a long time to tell their stories. This great big, almost teenage boy cuddled with her and listened. A couple of days later, his older sister (home from college for the summer) wanted to try out his new skateboard. He showed her the ropes then insisted she wear wrist guards and a helmet. "You're a klutz. I don't want you to get hurt." She wore them too. This college kid actually took advice from her little brother. Why? Because he'd learned how to be compassionate and responsible while showing someone a good time. He probably learned it from his Dad.

So guys, you've got a baby coming along pretty soon. You're already a father. People are going to treat you like a dork. Don't listen to those who'll tell you, you don't know what you're doing because you're not a Mom. You tell them, I know plenty. I'll know what to do. I'll know how to be my child's father. You will, too. Don't worry. You'll know. Happy Fathers Day.

Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to and it may be answered in a future blog post.

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