The difference between being a parent and being a father

Father’s Day, plus the marriage equality victory in New York, make this post by Peggy Drexler at Psychology Today especially timely:

Gay and lesbian couples embody changing ideas about sex and sex roles. They are challenging us all to reevaluate the terms of marriage. Along with single parents raising children, they are also transforming the nature of parenting–and showing how Americans have transcended the gender-based definitions of parenting. We aren’t mother or father anymore; we’re just parents.

I’ve written before about the ways I’ve had to appropriate and adapt family terminology. Drexler’s post helps connect my personal experience to a larger, cultural shift. For me, a hopeful one.

A couple weeks ago when I was out with Miles, someone wished me a Happy Father’s Day. I was startled. I’d forgotten it was Father’s Day. We don’t celebrate it, not as an intentional choice but so far it’s never struck us as a day to remember.

I was also surprised that they thought I was a “father.” Seriously. It was like, “Wait, are you talking to me?”

I’m not completely oblivious. I know I’m perceived as a man (albeit not a particularly manly one) with a son, so of course people see me as a father or a dad. But most of the time–until I have a reminder like the Father’s Day greeting or when I come across parenting resources addressed exclusively to “mommies”–I see myself as a parent, not as a father or a not-mother.

To be a father is to be something different and unique from being a mother. But if you were to compare the parenting of an adoptive mom with my parenting, what differences would you find? I seriously doubt the differences could be explained by gender.

More from Drexler:

To parent: It’s a verb that barely existed a quarter of a century ago. By now, however, with the advent of so many same-sex couples, parenting can be as useful as the verbs “to father” and “to mother.”  “To father” refers to the biological function of making a baby; it is the provenance of paternity suits. “Fathering” is also about the social role of being a male who is an active presence in his child’s life, performing the once-traditional masculine task of introducing his child into the world beyond the home. “Mothering,” on the other hand, bears little genetic import at all; it primarily refers to the social role of caregiver. In our transformed world where men nurture and women behave paternally, “motherhood” and “fatherhood” do not reveal everything about who takes the kids to school or disciplines them, who earns the family income or stays at home, or who comforts children when they cry or who praises them for being brave.

Could the growing number of single and same-sex parents change the way everyone thinks and talks about gender and parenting? I’d like to think so. It’d be healthier–more balanced, more free–if parents were just parents and not moms and dads.

And yes, I realize this would fulfill the doomsday predictions of the right wing.

P.S. I found Drexler’s blog via a post, “Happy Father’s Day, Mom,” by Jen Gruskoff on Goodkin. Gretchen recently added this collaborative, modern-family blog to her blogroll. It’s definitely worth a read.

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2 thoughts on “The difference between being a parent and being a father

  1. Pingback: You’re a Papa | Regular Midwesterners

  2. Pingback: Josh’s response: am I a “mother” or a “father”? | Regular Midwesterners

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