I recently completed a marathon of paperwork for my children’s elementary school. It is my annual handwriting workout. I write more by hand at this time of year than at any other time of the year.
- Emergency contact forms.
- Medical forms.
- Tell us about your child forms.
- School policy forms.
- How your child gets to and from school forms.
- Acknowledgement of receipt of homework and discipline policy forms.
- A form to confirm receipt of forms (ok, not really)
Many of these forms ask for the names of adults and their relationship to the child.
Name: Chris Duckworth
Relationship to student: Parent
I write Parent. Not Father. But Parent.
This is intentional, for a variety of reasons. As a Parent who is pretty involved with my children’s education, I have learned that schools don’t expect Fathers to be very involved. I have learned that school personnel, consciously or subconsciously, turn to Mother to talk about homework or the child’s wellbeing, send emails by default to Mother, and ask/expect Mothers to volunteer in the classroom.
But not only do schools expect a high level of involvement from Mothers, but they also seem to expect very little from Fathers. I have been a Parent for ten years, and for ten years I have encountered surprise far more often than any Parent should by caregivers and educators when I show up at school, or ask about my child’s homework or classroom performance, or volunteer for a field trip. I have had to ask, multiple times, to receive email communications or to be listed as the first Parent to call when the school needs to call home. When possible, we have even listed my name, number, and email address as the primary contact on forms, and still my spouse gets the calls, emails, and text messages. Four different school systems. Three different states. The same basic story.
The system defaults to Mother. The system expects very little from Father.
And so I’m ditching the term Father. For now, anyway. I’m letting it lay fallow for a period, and using in its place the perfectly accurate Parent. This is a term that does not carry with it any of the cultural baggage of low-parental-expectations that comes with the term Father, but instead more directly communicates active involvement. Consciously or subconsciously, too many people see Father as shorthand for sperm donor, and perhaps disciplinarian or weekend fun-and-games guru. I am more than that. And since we’ve so bastardized the term Father, I’m ditching it.
My name is Chris. I am one of Naaman’s, Cana’s, and Tali’s Parents.
[More on gender roles in tomorrow's blogpost]
UPDATE 08/30: Follow-up blogpost is up. Ditching Father and Resisting Gender Roles