I have a great dad. I have a classic, 20th Century dad.
He protected us and provided for us. He carried forward strong values and he cheered us on as we grew. He cares for our well being to this very day. He plays his role in the family incredibly well. But let’s be honest; society had few parenting expectations of dads while growing up in the ’70s and ’80s. Moms were always around to take care of us.
As great as my dad is to me, though, the 21st Century dad won’t act like my dad.
I believe being a dad is both important and an incredible opportunity. And with all the changes to modern family dynamics, our role is evolving in an amazing way. Society needs active dads who happily take on unconditional parenting.
But a modern dad struggles against a stereotype that refuses to die off: the Neanderthal Dad. We are all very familiar with his code of conduct. He’s well intentioned but selfish and disconnected from his family. The drive for money, power or lazy self-satisfaction is considered normal; sometimes expected. He is (or pretends to be) incapable of domestic responsibilities or dealing with uncomfortable issues. Unfortunately pop culture continues to excuse, encourage and even celebrate this out-dated but all too common creature.
Shortly after my son was born, we were at a gathering as a family. His diaper need to be changed so I stood up, went to a quiet corner and changed him. I returned to our group to a chorus of admiration, “what a great dad to do that on your own!”
As a new dad I was more appalled than proud. Crushed, actually. If this was the benchmark that society had set for me to grow from regular dad to “Great Dad”, the bar is set way too low. Something has to change, because dads are important to everyone.
Today, as I look around my peer group, I am fortunate to see courageous men helping reinvent the common notion of “dad”.
It’s with their inspiration I share with you…
The Manifesto for the Really Cool Dad
1 We know we’re men, and we’re just fine with that. The daily routine of parenthood doesn’t compromise our masculinity; in fact, it boosts us up and screams “real man” to the rest of the world.
Really Cool Dads change diapers and feed babies, bathe infants and push strollers. We can clean, cook, prepare lunches and help with homework. We can help our kids through puberty, and we won’t shy away from a tough talk. We don’t fumble through domestic tasks—even though pop culture would have you believe we are incompetent—and we don’t need surprised praise each time it’s done successfully.
And yet for all the responsibilities we share, we still lift heavy things, reach the top shelf and get called upon to kill spiders in the bedroom. We do all of these things because we can. We are men and these are things that must be done. It’s called taking care of your family, and it’s easy to do.
2 We know our kids and we know who they are in the community. We know the other kids. We know their BFFs and the frenemies-of-the-day.
We know all the people who are important to our child; the coaches and teachers and librarians and parents. Really Cool Dads have met them, shook their hand, and made sure they know we care about how they treat our child. We’re involved.
3 We do what’s right to protect everything we love. We protect our kids from real evils while we expose them to the challenges and choices of life—choices that represent who they are today and who they will be tomorrow.
Really Cool Dads stand for what we believe, keep our promises and play fair. We represent the good, the honest and the adventurous, and we’ll call out anyone who thinks they can get away with being mean.
4 We keep growing. We push our own boundaries, and confront our own fears. Really Cool Dads continue to learn along with kids, and we let them know when we discover something new for ourselves.
Our children will sense when we are uncomfortable and yet they are reassured when we move forward anyway. We show kids what it means to work against the odds and still come out okay.
5 We show up each day. It’s our choice to be a Really Cool Dad, and we’re having a great time doing it.
We tell corny jokes and run slowly with the soccer ball so the kids can score, too. We get up early to get our kids to sports practice and we sing along in front row seats at the grade two Holiday concert. We eat sickly sweet cakes from an Easy Bake oven even though we know it’s probably easier and safer just to let them use the real oven.
We are there for the fun, we’re there for the screw-ups; we’re there for the wins and the “everybody gets a ribbon”, and, yes, we’re having a blast.
6 We know everything, and when we don’t, we make stuff up. We’re allowed to tell fanciful stories about pretty much anything, simply because we can. We don’t do it with a coy sense of superiority, trickery or demeaning silliness. Rather, Really Cool Dads know that if we show kids that a vivid imagination is part of being a healthy adult, they’ll nurture this ability and won’t repress it trying to grow up. We do it to instill a continuous sense of wonder and amazement and potential in our world.
We know that creativity is a skill that will be practiced, and will be forever valuable.
Really Cool Dads will help shape the future. The world needs more cool people; more cool leaders. We have some, but—for as much as we admire them—we don’t need more people building more gadgets for us to buy.
We need people who will take imagination and compassion, courage and kindness, innovation and their unlimited potential, and we need them in governments and on school boards, and police forces and science labs and community centres and farms and everywhere else the future rests.
We need to nurture and praise these qualities in our kids and remove the notion that only financial control or physical might gets to be the winner in life.
This can be the legacy dads leave behind. So when amazing kids all over the world—our kids—have grown up and become leaders of countries or communities, they’ll get to tell their story, and it starts with,
“Well, …I have a Really Cool Dad.”