The Kiddy Pool: Are You Dad Enough?

Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.

Like just about everyone else in the blogosphere, I noticed the May 21, 2012, cover of TIME Magazine featuring Jamie Lynne Grumet breast-feeding her toddler. The cover features a stylish, attractive woman doing something socially unconventional in this country, and doing it in what even the photographer admits is not a typical pose. Next to the pair is the headline “Are You Mom Enough?” with “Mom Enough” in bold, red letters. That juxtaposition got me thinking about what — or who — is missing from the picture, and why we don’t see headlines like “Are You Dad Enough?”

I began to wonder what that might look like, and a flood of images and memories came to mind. There’s my own father, who finally told me when I was 23 that he did not enjoy roller coasters; all those years, I thought we were both having a blast. Or when I was twelve, and our beagle-basset hound mix had to be put down, and I saw my dad cry for the first time that I can recall. Or all the times I fell down in races (um, a lot of times), and I could hear my dad yelling from the sidelines “Rub some dirt in it.”

Then there’s my husband, whom I have the privilege of parenting alongside. I think of him cradling our infant daughter, her chubby cheek smooshed against his muscular bicep. Or stashing a plastic piece of pizza in his briefcase and heading off to work with the “lunch” our daughter wanted to prepare for him. (She’s thoughtful that way.)

So I was already wondering what “Dad Enough” might look like in the popular imagination when my husband came home from his run clutching the latest issue of WIRED along with the rest of our mail. On the June 2012 cover, father and funnyman Adam Savage from MythBusters stands next to a child robot: the headline reads “How to Be a Geek Dad” with the words “Geek Dad” in large, all-capital letters.

I can’t help but feel like there’s some intentional riffing on the TIME cover’s provocative popularity. Yet there are some key difference, too. The TIME headline and image read like a challenge whereas WIRED‘s is instructional. Many mothers reading the TIME article already made their decision to breastfeed (or not), and can’t go back now, which posits the totality of motherhood in a single developmental decision. Mothering is a high stakes, competitive sport, it would seem, and everyone in the mommy wars comes out a loser. Savage’s article, meanwhile, provides tutorials for “electric play-doh,” along with puzzles and activities to do with children of different ages. There’s fun and growth embedded in the geek-chic form of fatherhood that Savage embodies. Being “dad enough” just feels like a whole different game.

That’s not to say that there aren’t cultural pressures for fathers. My husband acknowledges the demands of being the primary breadwinner, the household handyman, and the standard against which our daughter will measure men for the rest of her life. It’s not an easy gig, but my husband handles it with patience and grace even when he’s struggling to corral the kid’s hair into some semblance of a ponytail. I could provide countless descriptions of the ways my husband is more than “dad enough,” and the thing is, I trust he would answer the same way for me being “mom enough.” When it comes to competitive parenting and the incessant mommy wars, enough is enough. Let’s shift the conversations on parenthood away from polemical and prescriptive and try to keep a sense of humor… and maybe even dissect a glowstick and watch Star Wars à la Adam Savage.

About Erin Wyble Newcomb

Erin Wyble Newcomb earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Women's Studies from Penn State University. In addition to parenting her daughters, running marathons, and making things with glitter, she teaches in the English Department at SUNY New Paltz. Follow Erin on Twitter @ErinWyble or at http://phdmama.com/.


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