Reprint from 1994
Not-the-Mama is not only the amusingly irreverent title, affectionately given the daddy dinosaur by the baby dinosaur on the TV series Dinosaurs, but is also a societal stigma given fathers, especially separated and divorced fathers having custody. Not-the-Dada seems to be an un-conceived of concept (let’s hear about it single moms). Many capable, loving, nurturing fathers too easily give up custody during the separation and divorce process simply because of the Not-the-Mama syndrome. Yet, in this era of women’s lib and male sensitivity, other than the biological differences, what can one parent do that the other parent cannot? Answer: That depends on the individuals as individuals and not on their labels.
As a divorced custodial father of a 4 year old girl (at time of writing, DOB: 8-19-87), I am constantly besieged: I really respect you for taking on the responsibility, it must really be hard on you! (As though its any harder on a man than a women); Gee, who takes care of her when you’re at work? (Same as most working moms… day care); Your so good with your daughter, how do you do it? How does any parent do it? (Consistency, set rules, plenty of nurturing, and lotsa’ love). Why are people so surprised? It reminds me of the time when my daughter was about 2 years old and we were grocery shopping…
Several moms and dads asked me what my secret was to such a well behaved child who doesn’t grab everything from the shelves, throwing everything in the wagon and then screaming when the items are replaced on the shelves, as their children were doing. Simple, I said, I don’t leave the wagon close enough to the shelves for my daughter to be able to reach. – Simplicity.
Simplicity is the key to doing anything, but damn it, there is no simple way to braid her hair!!! Or getting those bows, clips and barrettes to stay in her hair! The important things in life, braids, clips, bows… OH NO! I’m Not-the-Mama! But I can do a dandy pony tail and get clips to stay in her hair behind the pony tail what-cha-ma-call-its. Kind of like many single moms doing a tune-up or oil change, we learn, we do, we get by or get a sibling or friend to help.
When simplicity fails, substitution works great. A few months ago, my innocent little 4 year old girl wanted a bra! So off we go to the stores. On the advice of my friend’s sister, a mother of 2 (a 9 nine year old girl and an 8 year old boy), we went in search of those half top strapped under shirt what-cha-ma-call-its. The first 2 stores didn’t have any, but every time my little girl saw a real bra, she said, There’s a bra for me daddy. I blushingly replied, Wrong size honey. Now she has a draw full of those what-cha-ma-call-its and happily wears a bra every day.
The only aspect of single fatherhood of a little girl I really hate is having to take her to the dreaded, filthy, disgusting MEN’S ROOM when out in public. Conversations about this with many women seems to indicate that womens rooms aren’t so much tidier than mens rooms after all. Am I just being consoled… or… can it be true… I hate to even think it… the WOMENS ROOM is just as filthy as the MENS ROOM? Was it just a myth that I’ve been holding on to all these years? If its true: Congratulations women’s libbers on achieving rest room filth parody. Ha! Ha! Ha! (As my daughter would say.)
Worst of all, I found out that my daughter has been kissing a 4 year old boy at day care. Upon further investigation, I learned that this Casanova gets kissed by all the girls. I immediately, as a responsible parent, had a talk with the boy’s father, and the boy himself. I discovered that this Casanova, though he comes from a fine upstanding family, never attended college and has no means of self-support. But worse yet, even under the severest of interrogations, this Casanova refused to reveal his secrets so that I too, could be kissed by all the girls.
What does any of this have to do with being a single custodial father as compared to being the mother? Not much and that is just the point. Whether mama or Not-the-Mama, being a parent is just that, being a parent. The greatest of responsibility, adventure and love. The needs of a child stay the same, the responsibilities of parenting stay the same, and the societal myths stay the same.
The only real differences are the societal misconceptions and the media that perpetuates this. Magazines and newspaper articles, and TV shows on the subject matter of parenting are all geared to the mama audience. Just as Cosmo and GQ are formatted to their respective gender counterparts of similar subject matter, there needs to be media parody for fathers. Or as Time magazine and many others are geared for all people, parenting publications should be presented in a way as to interest both parents.
Authors note: My little girls name is Amanda Margret, I misspelled her name on her birth certificate. She is not a little girl anymore but a young lady.