Relationship: Parent

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.

room momThis 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 no fatheryears 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

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

10 thoughts on “Relationship: Parent

  1. You are not alone in your experience. We suffer the same issue at our house. We also see it with doctors’ offices.

  2. My daughter has just one parent, so this isn’t something I have personally experienced–though I have many friends who have. What surprised me is that at her school, they make gifts for mother’s day every year. Knowing this, I stopped in to remind her kindergarten teacher that we don’t have a dad in our family, but Selam could make a card for her grandfather. The teacher said that they do not recognize Father’s day–as a school. “Why?” I asked. “Oh, some kids don’t have dads, and most dads don’t really care about school stuff.”


  3. Yes, seriously. Lots of children do not have fathers. And, as the teacher was kind enough to tell you, most of the fathers aren’t even remotely involved in the school lives of their children. The attitude that Mr. Duckworth is dealing with did not form in a vacuum. It is not some kind of discrimination against fathers. It is a reaction to dealing with absent dads.

  4. I had a reverse experience at my daughter’s school. Although my name was on all the forms as the main contact, they always called my ex-husband. The principal flat-out told me that the man should always make the decisions. He said it was obvious why I was divorced. I did not let him (my husband) make all the decisions. He also told me that the bible says to follow behind your husband and always obey.. I changed schools.

  5. Dear Chris,
    When I was a classroom teacher, I taught in a school that there was very little parent involvement . I mean really involvement. In my kindergarten classroom, it was a good year when more then 5 parental units showed up for open house, let alone parent/ teacher conferences, or field trips. I actually had to cancel a field trip once because of lack of chaperones. But in those 8 years, I will say that they 2 of most involved parents were fathers!!!! More dad’s need to step up like you!

  6. I have not had this response from my daughters’ elementary school and I also know this is not the norm…

    So I wonder what can we do to make the opposite of this the norm?

  7. I’m really sorry to hear that this is the case, Chris. As the parent most available, and the mom, I had no idea. Fortunately, when my kids were in school, Dad worked one block from the school, so he was able to often squeeze in short visits for events. But, no, he would not have been able to take the phone calls when he was at work. But you would sure think that with the variety of families these days, that the schools would be more flexible. And with the name Chris, you would think that it would be easier to get recognized as the more available parent. Sheesh even in a “very traditional” family it could well be that the father works one block from the school, whereas the house is 10 miles away.

  8. Wow-you’ve got lots of free time on your hands if this is a big issue.
    No wonder your church is shrinking so fast.

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