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.”
Stephen, I love the courage it takes to tell the truth about the Neanderthal Dad. If I’m telling the truth I not only had one myself but am perfectly capable of being one myself 7 out of 7 days a week. I’d like to think what brings me into the 21st century is that I am not afraid to admit it when my kids point it out, poke at it, or when my wife is trying to wrestle me out of a Neanderthal moment. I can still say I do 100 things my dad didn’t do but like it or not my judgment of him and the old school plants the seeds for the 21st century Neanderthal. Maybe I’ll try to love the Neanderthal into the 21st century…and beyond. Love good!
Thanks for the comment, Keith. Frankly, most of us are capable of behaviours that slip into Neanderthal territory—the trick is to recognize it quickly and slide right back into the modern version that works for you. Laughing about it is best (as long as you don’t just use that as your excuse, of course). Please take a look at some of the other posts and join in the conversations.
Great blog! Just discovered it, and I appreciate what you’re doing.
I think it’s important to remember that this “neanderthal dad” concept you speak of originated in the women’s lib movement of the 1960’s. Before the sexual revolution, before the “men are scum” phrase came to be; men had for generations passed on a general code of conduct which was the standard.
Of course there have always been men who tarnish our gender’s reputation, but it wasn’t widely accepted that we were ALL this way; and for that matter, universally unsalvageable. I certainly agree that we need to put the neanderthal dad to rest and that the 21st century will see us tire of the slovenly couch-dad image; but I also think it’s important not to re-invent the wheel. Time-tested values, age-old wisdom, and the virtue of truth vs. subjective reality have always been what have guided effective dads.
So before we lift ourselves up too high and tout the “modern dad”, remember that success as a father has always been (and will continue to be) about raising children to be adults who bring honour to their parents by living with integrity and selflessness. So yes, “modern” in that it’s alien to the last couple of generations; but at the same time, not “modern” at all, because it was the accepted standard for every generation previous.
And for the record, I’m not sure the phrase “classic, 20th century dad” can really carry a unified definition short of your underlying reference to the apparent contrast to the “21st century dad”. I’m not sure a dad of the 30’s would bear much resemblance to a dad in the 80’s, and yet, both are technically 20th century dads. Just semantics, I know, but generalizations can cause ambiguity; and then our message doesn’t get through.
Just a couple of thoughts! Again, great blog, keep up the great work. Whenever we’re thinking critically and trying to be involved parents, and putting our kids’ needs before our own, it’s a good thing.
Flailing Dad Podcast
P.S. – I know this is the name of your blog, but the word “cool” is used so frequently referring to peer acceptance and being “hip” to current trends; isn’t it counterproductive to tell us that, as dads today, we need to be “cool”? I would think, given your stated priorities, that being “cool” would be the last thing you’re concerned about. Unless you’re trying to redefine the word entirely of course. And I don’t really see the point of that because there are already so many great adjectives for describing loving, effective dads; why settle for a word whose meaning has become superficial at best? It’s counterproductive because the image in your readers’ minds of a dad in sunglasses and brand-name clothing has to be overcome and cast aside before your message actually begins to sink in.
Again, not criticism, just my thoughts. And they’re not worth much, don’t worry!
Rob — thank you for your extensive and thoughtful comments. I see that you have commented on a few posts, and I will reply appropriately. I am glad that you appreciate the thoughts and ideas in my blog.
I agree that the pop-culture stereotype of the neanderthal dad is relatively new; it’s grown out of simplistic mass media. But it also spotlights the idea that traditional fathers have been considered incapable of the nurturing aspects of parenting, something that was clearly defined by gender for many generations. While many fathers were honourable men who modeled integrity and selflessness for their families, few were celebrated for their domestic skills. Modern Fathers (as I have defined them) have the opportunity to carry forward that same integrity while embracing all aspects of modern family life, without having their masculinity challenged.
You may notice that in my blog I never get into a gender war. In my opinion, neither gender makes an inherently better parent. And I don’t believe fatherhood—at least in my little crusade for Really Cool Dads—has anything to do with the issues underlying feminism, so I consciously stay away from those types of arguments. Being a great father is the choice of the dad; no one else. So I disagree that the true Neanderthal Dad is an outcome of feminism—the two aren’t really related.
As for the name, you can see how it came to be in the Dad section. It’s accidental naming in its purist form. I’ve worked many years in the field of brand strategy, and I am well aware of the limitations of words like “cool”. If I were building a global campaign to alter the perception of fathers everywhere, your concerns are a fair judgement. But I am not. I am just a guy having fun writing my thoughts in a blog. That said, I’ve been introduced in social circles as the guy who blogs as “the Really Cool Dad”, which always raises the question and engages people (you’d be hard pressed to think “cool” about me in person). And then if just a few people get talking about positive fatherhood, then I know were doing something right.
I really appreciate your comments. Thank you.
Grown out of simplistic mass media? The mass decision to cease to portray men as honourable people capable of more than just lusting and feasting had to come from somewhere. These ideas have roots. And they have a purpose.
Even I have to fight to overcome the idea that “I’m just a guy; I’m not worth much.” It’s just been programmed into us for the last couple of generations.
There have always been Homer Simpsons. And there have always been Wally Cleavers. So why did it so suddenly appear as though we’re all Homer Simpsons?
I consider myself a true feminist, in that I consider men and women equal in their intrinsic value as persons. However I won’t tolerate being stereotyped and dismissed as useless simply because I’m a male. It’s unnecessary and unjust. And if you want to pretend this idea and point of view doesn’t exist then that’s fine. But if you’re going to talk about this “neanderthal dad” that has made it’s way into our collective consciousness, don’t blind yourself to its origin and smear over it with politically-correct ambiguity.
We ALL have to take responsibility for our roles in the pains of this world. Men, women, old, young.
As for the “coolness” factor, I see your point. It is true, anything that gets dads talking is good; I guess my worry is that too many men out there are more concerned with how fatherhood will affect their “coolness factor” than whether they can actually be a successful dad, that’s all. And I hate to reinforce that idea.
(Is two years too long to reply? Yes. Sorry I let this hang. You’ve made very valid points that deserve a reply.)
I think we’re approaching the same issue from different angles. We agree that dads are reflected poorly in the media, and that influences social dynamics in the real world. I battle against these stereotype daily in both minor and grand ways. We agree that this must change.
I see the solution as self directed; we must change our behaviour and call out the behaviour of our misguided peers. We must create our own truth. I see your approach as confronting the external pressure—people with, perhaps, a differing agenda.
I don’t deny that there are people actively countering my beliefs for their own gain, but I simply choose not to confront it here. Far too often both sides of the stories are deep, murky and confusing. I don’t have the time or resources to seek the truth in those situations within the context of this blog, and be comfortable amplifying the rhetoric. There are many topics and voices that make me very angry, but if I can’t add anything of value—within my amateur space—I won’t take the bait.
I don’t consider myself a feminist. Or rather, I don’t need the label. I fundamentally believe in the equality of men and women—and I trust that is reflected in my actions every day—but I don’t want to defend some vague definition just to appease others in solidarity. I let my actions define whatever you wish to believe.
Again, sorry for the delay in responding.