Our son Niko is finally starting to put simple sentences together. This is both good and bad. It’s good because he can now communicate with us better – telling us when he’s hungry or declaring his love for various family members. But it’s bad because he can talk back and voice his opinion (like deeming the quite-ripe peach he was eating recently as “disgusting”).
We’re just grateful that he’s stopped constantly saying “mama”. Obviously it didn’t refer to his mother, it was more like “aloha”. It meant hello, goodbye, look, dog, pineapple. Everything.
I am convinced the word’s omnipresence in the mouths of babes has led to its use by nearly every language in the world to refer to the female parent. And not the other way around.
It’s also the bane of every father’s existence. And it’s made all the worse by a surprisingly large, often older female population that believe dads are clueless custodians of their children forced to fumble through a morning alone without the guidance and support of a mom.
I think part of the problem stems from women being the primary caregivers of children for millennia. Maybe hearing a kid yammer “mama” when it’s alone with dad triggers some sort of instinct that causes them to proactively offer advise or commentary to complete strangers.
You would seriously be amazed at the comments dads – straight dads and gay dads – alone with the kids get.
I was clued in to this phenomenon when my son, Gus, first moved in with us. There was this dad at the gym with whom I became friendly. One morning he told me he was going to give me a little advice: be prepared, he warned, to have total strangers assume you are an incompetent idiot incapable of caring for your own child.
Every Saturday morning this guy took his kids to breakfast to give his wife some time to herself and to give himself some time with the kids. On one of the first breakfast Saturdays, the waitress brought their plates, then turned to my friend and asked, “So, do you want me to cut the kids’ meat for you?” He didn’t know how to answer but finally mumbled that he had it under control.
My favorite personal experience happened at an airport. Gus and I were traveling alone. As we approached the security gate I placed the diaper bag on the x-ray machine conveyor belt, then lifted Gus up and seated him next to the plastic trays to take off his shoes. The extremely nice TSA woman rushed over to us and very seriously instructed me not to send my infant son through the x-ray machine with our carry on luggage. At first I thought she was joking. But she repeated it more sternly the second time.
These situations always beg the question: how should I respond?
For me, it’s especially difficult when folks make a comment or ask a question about mom. You know, “Where’s Mom?” “Giving Mom a break?” Or “Babysitting the kids for Mom?” Babysitting the kids? How the hell do you baby-sit your own kids?
I’ve decided there are generally three potential reactions:
Ignore them — Our friends Peaches and Herb (sadly nicknames given to them by Kelly that stuck) are in the process of becoming the dads of two beautiful little boys. Recently, Herb and the baby were running some errands. The baby kept saying “mama” over and over. Eventually an older lady stopped and said, “I bet you can’t wait to get home to let mom take over!” Herb silently put the baby in the car and drove off.
Be nice but non-committal – Another trip through airport security with both boys found me trying to get Gus’ shoes back on, Niko in the stroller, and schlep our bags. The guy behind me offered, “Hey, buddy! Where’s your back up help?” I laughed and replied, “At home, where we’re heading.”
Shock and awe – a social worker friend of ours told us about two guys with whom he had placed a baby. One day at the grocery story, a nice older man asked “where’s mom” and one of the guys snapped. “Mom’s in rehab! My homosexual lover and I have adopted this kid. Got a problem with that?”
I remain amazed at the number of people who freely offer their sympathies to me for being stuck with the kids. I love my kids, I like being with them. And I’d wager most other dads out there feel the same.
So I’d humbly like to suggest a Father’s Day gift from everyone out there to all the dads in the world. The next time you see some guy out alone with his baby, look the kid squarely in the eyes and ask, “Can you say Daddy?”