My sister, who holds a PhD in nutritional biology and wrote an excellent book about parenting, once pointed out to me that men today occupy a rare historical sweet spot.
Society increasingly embraces the idea of men contributing to the family through active parenting, yet expectations are still relatively low, so any father who makes even a minimal effort is typically celebrated.
With a child finishing pre-K and preparing to enter kindergarten next year, I’ve continued to experience this unearned windfall of goodwill. And now not only as coequal parent, but in a new role, both humble and exalted: school dad.
It hasn’t always been smooth. I had the awkward experience of showing up for a PTA meeting, and discovering that I was the only male in the room. I had to ask myself: Do I challenge the gendered division of volunteer labor and keep showing up, or defer to the accepted social order and find a way to contribute that’s less likely to make waves?
In the meantime, I enjoyed chaperoning my daughter to the Greensboro Children’s Museum. At first it stung slightly to know that only a handful of parents were asked to show up, as guardians to children with a reputation for wandering. But I got over it, and I ended up feeling good about my contributions, from modeling attentive listening to body-blocking 4-year-olds bolting for the exits.
On Tuesday evening, I took the opportunity to work on a project with other dads at my daughter’s school to make cardboard arcade games for the upcoming school carnival. Happily, some moms showed up as well. I came with a battered cardboard box for a Dewalt Compact Miter Saw Stand that the previous occupants of our house left behind, and with a nagging feeling that I was going to make a fool of myself. Miraculously, through attaching cardboard tube legs and carving holes in the panel, with plastic fruit baskets attached as pockets, I fashioned something that reasonably functions as a speedball game. Before I was even finished, my handiwork had attracted a succession of 10-year-old boys eager to test their aim.
If I can entertain kids, maybe I’ve amounted to something after all.