Dancing dads

nofairMy daughter is a performer and can’t get on stage enough. I have attended many a recital and seen more than a few ‘dancing dads’. Recital organizers will sometimes ask dancers’ dads if they want to learn an easy routine and perform it in the recital to add a bit of comedy. These acts are cute and show a dad’s involvement, cool. But, there’s always a but.

These dances operate with a man/woman binary, right away excluding families living outside of cis heteronormativity. It also sends the message that dads are the fun ones. Listen, I am totally fun. I am a fucking hoot. I get jealous that as a mom I don’t get to let loose. I am not allowed to be comfortable enough with my body to look foolish. I am expected to move gracefully and with ease. People would more likely evaluate the size of my belly before cheering me on. It is assumed that as a ‘good mother’ I am already involved, I don’t need any prodding. There is this assumption that when fathers parent it is a treat to be celebrated and rewarded. It is assumed that Dad will be goofy and mess it up, leaving a mess for Mom, which she will merrily clean up. This isn’t good messaging. Also, men dancing are supposed to be hilarious because dancing is girly and frivolous, that’s really not good messaging.

What if the dancing dads act is open to everyone? Would it be assumed to be a mom’s job? Would it add more labour for Mom and take away a socially acceptable way to join in for Dad? This issue is a symptom of gender binaries and patriarchal motherhood.

Back to how I am not allowed to be hilarious. You know, the real meat of this issue. Comedian Louis CK, an affluent white man, gets on stage, calls his kid a ‘cunt’, and is showered in approval and cash. If I did that I would not be a ‘good mother’. If I did that there would be a fucking petition going around and perhaps an awareness raising hashtag. I just want to swear and be asked to dance.

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Paternity leave is only weird if we let it be

BB and his foster kittens
BB and his foster kittens

July 7, 2013 was a Facebook employee’s last day of a four-month paternity leave. Tom Stocky wrote of his leave in a – what else? – Facebook note. He wrote about the stuff anyone on paternity leave can relate to: “I had thought her two naps each day would serve as breaks, but instead that time was mostly used for showering, feeding myself, washing bottles, cleaning up her high chair and toys, and doing tasks around the house that would be more difficult when she was awake.” He also made some interesting points on people’s reactions to his decision to take paternity leave.

That’s typically followed by surprise that I’m actually taking it — why would I want to subject myself to that torture (from parents), why would I want to sit around and do nothing for 4 months (from non-parents), or why would I want to do what is surely a career-limiting move.

That last one was especially interesting to experience because in some ways people said to me what they didn’t feel permitted to say to women. Would my project still be there when I got back? Wouldn’t my ambitious coworkers use this as an opportunity (maliciously or not) to advance themselves at my expense? Wouldn’t I be viewed as being less committed to my work, thus stunting my own advancement for the foreseeable future? I didn’t know the answers to these questions, but I viewed this as an important enough experiment to find out.

I can’t speak for all mothers, but no one was shy to ask me these same questions. Maybe the opinions, questions and comments like the ones Stocky receive are well-intentioned, but they come off rude and ignorant. Adults aren’t great with change; so faced with a biggie like parenthood, things can get sensitive. Things are confusing enough.

When it comes to paternity leave specifically it is disheartening to read how the father felt isolated in a sea of mommy groups, “I didn’t like being the only dad at the playground, getting cautiously eyed as moms pulled their kids a bit closer.” I’ve seen this happen to the lone dads at drop-in play centres and playgroups, and that sucks.

Paternity leave is being used more often in Canada. In Quebec, fathers can get five weeks of leave, unpaid, in addition to their paid parental leave. A September 2011 Canadian Business article says nearly 30 percent of fathers took leave, at various lengths. Paternity leave needs to be accepted as a norm so more fathers will use it.  A parent is a family member, nothing gender specific about that.

I write other stuff too! Check out HillaryDiMenna.com

Self-doubt, single status and singing La Vida Mickey

I don’t expect pity for being a single-mom, it’s better off this way than if I had stayed with her father, but I didn’t expect this conversation to hurt so badly. Really hurt, lump in my throat, heavy heart hurt.

There are times where your self-confident self can be reckoned with, transformed into that shy, shaky kid at the front of the class during public speaking week. I didn’t expect one of those times would be spawned in relation to an event with the soundtrack of Livin’ La Vida Mickey.

When I signed P up for dance classes I expected the waiting room experience with the other parents, mostly mothers, would be horrible. It wasn’t. I’m usually reading a book or writing in my notebook while they chat amongst themselves. It is all very friendly and I’m sure if I wasn’t so darn anti-social I’d be included in the banter.

So no, this post is not about mean dance moms. It does involve a conversation I eavesdropped on one afternoon while our children danced down the hall.

The next day would be the day recital tickets went on sale. Though the doors of the building would not open until 9, those with past experience warned a line forms at 6. Though we all groaned there were sighs of relief, “My husband is staying at home with the kids so I can line up.” Or, “My husband will be the one getting in line.” With that solved they joked about having signed their hubbies up for the Dancing Dads segment of the recital.

I don’t expect pity for being a single-mom, it’s better off this way than if I had stayed with her father, but I didn’t expect this conversation to hurt so badly. Really hurt, lump in my throat, heavy heart hurt.

Saturday morning I decided against shaking my sleeping kiddo awake before I had to. There is a golden rule to never wake up a sleeping child. We got to the dance school a quarter to nine thanks to my two feet, a stroller, a booster seat balanced somehow on the stroller handles just in case and my bus pass.

I got in line, with two dads in front of me, and a dad behind me. These guys were carrying ballet slipper emblazoned duffle bags; they talked about their daughter’s lives with interest, this wasn’t a chore for them, it was what they did.

I felt like a loser, standing there with my bus pass, travel equipment and what I thought to be obvious single status. They included me in their conversations, we joked, I smiled. I felt like a loser.

My daughter couldn’t have cared less. She talked to everyone, she danced, she played with the other kids. She told people how fun her mom is. The fun, “Me and my mom” have.

Me and my mom.

Me and my daughter.

It’s cool, it’s fine, it’s life. It’s my life and I’m totally cool with my ringless finger wrapped around those of the hand of such an awesome little girl.

I got good seats in the end, by the way.

She insisted I participate instead of watch from the sidelines xo

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Dads: Caring for your own child is not babysitting

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 8.08.13 PMba·by-sit bey-bee-sit]  verb, -sat, -sit·ting.

verb (used without object)


to take charge of a child while the parents are temporarily away.

If a babysitter is someone who watches a child whom they are not the parent to, why do I hear so many fathers say they are going to babysit their children?

“Can’t come out, babysitting tonight.”

No you’re not, you’re taking care of your offspring. You are doing the responsible thing. You are doing not only what is ethical but also what society and nature expects of you. You are not doing the mother a favour, you are being a dad.

At first hearing things liked this would make me mad for the mother, like it were such a great thing for the father to watch his own child/ren. But as I write (I’m only about 100 words in and I’ve switched) I’m mad that guys say these things because it degrades their work as fathers.

If you are a responsible father who cares for your children and takes the time to care for them, don’t downplay that. You’re playing an important and necessary role.

I write other stuff too! Check out HillaryDiMenna.com