The Non-Helpless Dad: A Father’s Day Shout-Out to My Husband

Let me just say this upfront: My husband is, hands down, the best father I know. (Sorry, Dad.)

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Robert, my husband, with three-day-old Daniel.

Here he is, the day we took our first son, Daniel, home from the hospital. (Note the beard growth and dazed expression; that’s what you get after sleeping on one of those hospital recliner chairs for three nights. Not that I looked much better — after two days of labor and a C-section, I wasn’t anyone’s version of a beauty queen. But what I love about this shot is the tenderness in his hands, contrasted with the terror in his eyes.

He rose to the occasion — because he’s not what I call a Helpless Dad.

Those who know me best (my family, who has been treated to me yelling at TV commercials for years now) know that I cannot stand that category of commercials I call “The Helpless Dad.” Can. Not. Stand. Them. They feel so anachronistic to me, and lazy to boot. Surely, the smart, creative types at the ad agencies can come up with a less tired concept to push, say, cold medicine than the idea that the poor mom has to stuff herself with decongestant and get up out of bed, because if her husband has to get the kids off to school, well, there’s no telling what mayhem might ensue.

Yes, I know there are plenty of dads who are truly helpless — leave them alone with their kids and they fall apart, with no idea where the Cheerios are or what bowl you put them in, much less the pediatrician’s name or how to dress the children on a snowy day. But I suspect there are fewer of these than you’d be led to believe. Why? Territoriality. It’s hard for moms (who, let’s face it, get judged from all sides about how good they are at motherhood) to let go the reins. Behind many a mom’s sigh of exasperation about the partner who is clueless about cleaning the spit up from the baby’s neck folds (you know how mysteriously stinky that can get!) is a sense of smug satisfaction: She knows.

Dads do things differently. Take my husband: When Daniel was an infant, I made a habit of hitting the gym on Saturday afternoons. I’d get back, and more often than not, they’d be gone. But our apartment?! It looked like the secret police had knocked at the door, and he had to grab the kid and whatever supplies he could get his hands on and climb out via the fire escape. I mean, did he really have to turn the whole dresser inside out to get the boy into his bunting? I could have chastised him for not Doing It Right, but who cared? (OK, I cared a tiny bit, because I had to clean up, but I got over it). The baby might be in a strange outfit, but he was happy, and clean, and safe, hanging out in his front carrier, against his big, strong dad’s comfy chest. And I promise, he was really careful with that steaming cup of black coffee from Starbuck’s!

Here’s what my husband says, apropos of the helpless husband phenomenon: If I was going to become a father, I was going to do it all the way. Otherwise, why bother? That’s not a direct quote, but it does sum up his sentiment. He’d never seen the business end of a diaper before Daniel was born, and his dad who (bless his 50s-guy heart) still prides himself on never having changed a baby, his own or his grandchildren) didn’t exactly offer practical lessons in modern fatherhood. But he plunged right in.

Here he is, sleeping with an infant Daniel — probably after swinging him for hours in his carseat (that boy craved motion), or feeding me forkfuls of dinner while I nursed the baby (a task that, in the beginning, seemed to take two hands).

Daniel loved sleeping like this.

Daniel loved sleeping like this.

I’ll tell you right here, right now, without an ounce of know-it-all-mom pride, that I could not parent my kids the way I want to without this guy. You know when I do my smug gloating? Silently, when I’m surrounded by moms complaining about husbands who mysteriously can’t hear a baby cry in the middle of the night; or can’t figure out the anatomy of a sippy cup; or measure out baby Tylenol. On the outside, I might be politely nodding, but inside? I’m saying: Mine does! Mine does! Mine does! Lucky, lucky, lucky me.

Can’t do it without him. Happy Father’s Day, my dear.

3 responses to “The Non-Helpless Dad: A Father’s Day Shout-Out to My Husband”

  1. Christina

    Lucky you, indeed, Denise–and lucky him for having a wife who is open with her love and appreciation. I had a good-dad hubby, too, and also appreciated it and felt secretly smug around the hapless dads; it’s one of the reasons I find being separated so hard. But he’s still a good dad and I still appreciate it. Thanks for making me realize that.

  2. KnK

    amen to that!
    my husband isn’t a “helpless dad” either and gladly, wholeheartedly puts his energy into raising our daughter (now 19 mo). since i have an ongoing commitment on Wednesday nights, he’s taken over all child care on Wednesdays and everything has been *just fine.* they have their own routine, their own way of doing things, but at the end of the evening, the Kiddo is safe, clean, full, and sleeping. what else is there to ask for?

    requiring a dad to do thing just ike a mom only discourages him from doing things! no one likes to be micromanaged. and if women complain about “helpless dads” then we should also look at ourselves and chastise “micromanaging moms.” they usually come in pairs! :)

  3. Sandra

    This mom prides herself on not changing a diaper for the first six weeks of her daughter’s life. Is that wrong? Here’s to dads who do it all the way!

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