Catherine Deveny's column on fatherhood is spot on. Men need to be encouraged to be good parents, but they don't need to be coddled. I speak from experience: without going into specifics, at the age of twenty - a very immature twenty - I had to learn quickly how to look after a child, and although I had (and still have) supportive parents of my own, I soon became reasonably self-reliant and proficient in the arts of parenting. I don't know if I had any views on gender roles in parenting, but if I did they were swiftly overturned by the immediate reality of having a child to look after. I copped my share of condescending remarks ("Babysitting today?"), misguided praise ("So good to see a man brave enough to take his daughter out alone!"), and nasty looks (unfortunately to some people man + child = kidnapping) but I always felt it was axiomatic that you look after your kids, whatever your gender.
It is bizarre to me 1) that women let their men get away with acting like Ward Cleaver, and 2) that men want to act that way in the first place. It's a bit like cooking - my dad (who is, I hasten to add, otherwise an enlightened, generous and active participant in family life) rarely cooks anything more complicated than a slice of toast. I, on the other hand, cook most of my family's meals and tend to think that my dad has missed out on one of the great pleasures of life. The hands-off, Ward Cleaver-types miss out on even more. I can't imagine not being capable of taking my daughters out for the day on my own, or spending the weekend at home with my youngest while my partner is away with friends, or a thousand other day-to-day activities. I would feel incompetent, diminished. I still cop the occasional evil eye or condescending compliment when out pushing the pram, but frankly I don't give a shit. I'm not a novelty act and I'm certainly not doing anything exceptional. I'm just pushing my kid around in her pram, trying to keep her safe and happy, maybe singing her a song. If I had two X chromosomes most people wouldn't even notice.
Speaking of dads, last week my local library honoured Father's Day with a display entitled "Dads in Fiction". Nice gesture, except most of the dads in most of the fiction were from the arsehole end of the fatherhood spectrum. Moran from Amongst Women and Frank's father from The Wasp Factory certainly count as "dads in fiction", but they are somewhat less than the Father's Day ideal.