Why Is It So Hard To Accept Men As Caring Parents?

Heather Whitten
Heather Whitten

The debate over this photo was predictable. I knew many would see something uncomfortably wrong.

When it first found its way onto social media a few weeks ago the image caught the attention of millions around the globe. Mom and photographer, Heather Whitten, took the photo of her husband, Thomas, and their one-year-old son, Fox, in a tender and not-so-uncommon family moment.

Fox was ill. Feverish. And – as children do – making a mess of himself. So dad did what dads and moms do. He took his son to the shower with him to both clean him off and, hopefully, cool his body down. I’ve done the same thing many times with my own children when they were young.

I was just never photographed.

But Thomas was. And his photo ignited a debate.

Some felt it was inappropriate. Creepy. And they looked well beyond what the image actually portrayed. Facebook became a central player in the conversation when it removed the image – several times – stating it had violated its ‘Community Standards.’ They ultimately and permanently reversed their position and allowed the image to stay on Facebook.

Yep, that debate I saw coming.

But there’s another conversation that needs to take place, isn’t there? It’s a conversation that centers on the reality that many are still not comfortable seeing men as caring and nurturing parents.

I first experienced that discomfort about ten years ago when I became my three young children’s sole and primary caregiver. With regularity – I encountered a world of doubters who questioned my ability – and really, any man’s ability – to care for children.

I experienced it with friends. I experienced it with family. Neighbors. Even random people who would share their opinions with me at the grocery store.

“It must be hard for a man to handle all that you’re trying to do.”

Some referenced their perspective that I had to be the “mom and the dad” – all at the same time.

“Funny,” I’d think to myself. “I’m just trying to be a parent and take care of my kids.”

But that was ten years ago. And in those ten years a lot has changed in society. Media has slowly come to address how dads are portrayed in commercials and advertising. There’s fewer and fewer bumbling idiot dads mocked in sitcom television shows. More and more families turn the daily parenting responsibilities over to stay-at-home dads. (Research from Dove Men+Care – a partner of mine – shows 9 of 10 men see their caring side as a sign of strength). Men are talking about how they value their caring side. Even Facebook’s own Mark Zuckerberg has been one of numerous public figures leading the conversation about men as caregivers.

That’s progress, right? I like to think so. But I am often reminded that we have a long way to go with this cultural conversation.

I was recently asked – now that my children are older – what my favorite part of being a dad was. It was a question I couldn’t fully respond to because my answer is wrapped within the arms of having a lifetime relationship with each of my children.

That’s where you’ll find my favorite part of fatherhood.

Smack dab in the middle of the feeling I have when I care for the people I love. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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