Every once in while, my wife tells someone that due to some obligation or another she's unable to look after our son Declan and that I'll be watching him for the day. With disconcerting regularity, whoever she tells this mundane fact to responds with a surprised and impressed, "Wow, that's so great that your husband is babysitting your son like that."
It definitely doesn't work like that the other way around. If I were to tell someone that I wouldn't be able to look after Declan for a Saturday afternoon because I was doing something and that my wife was with him, I would be absolutely shocked if their response was a startled, "Oh my god! Your wife babysits your baby when you're not around! What an amazing partner! You're so lucky!"
That's because when a mother looks after her children by herself, for anything length of time, society understandably sees it as a pretty basic, essential component of being a good parent. I've touched on this before, but for all the advances our culture has made in some areas, there's still an insane and unfair double standards among parents where if a woman doesn't do everything humanly possible for her children she's deemed lacking and harshly judged for her supposed transgressions and inadequacy.
But if a father does anything for their children, whether it's taking them to a minor league baseball game and rooting loudly from the stands or teaching them how to ride a bike, then people have a tendency to see that as evidence that they're a terrific, engaged parent.
By definition, a father who looks after his child while the mother is otherwise occupied is not looking after someone else's children, they're doing their job...
This drives me crazy, even if I benefit from it. This strange notion that when a mother looks after her child by herself, she's simply doing her job, while if a dad does the same he's helping his wife out by being an awesome babysitter speaks to the very low standards society has for fathers, and the very high standards it has for mothers.
The "Dad looking after his own children" idea is considered so outrageous and unlikely that its even been the premise for hit comedies like "Daddy Day Care" and "Mr. Mom". Just the phrase "Mr. Mom" says an awful lot about how we see the respective roles of mothers and fathers. You know what a more appropriate, less jokey name would be for a man who looks after his own children while the mother works? Father. Or Dad. Or Pops. Or Old Man.
I know that my dad looked after my sister and I by himself for long periods of our childhood as a single dad and it'd be weird to think that, in some folks minds, apparently he spent the years between 1978 and 1982 babysitting his own damn children. In my mind, babysitters are people who look after other people's children, often with payment of some sort, even if that payment takes the form of leftover pizza, Mountain Dew and access to Netflix.
By definition, a father who looks after his child while the mother is otherwise occupied is not looking after someone else's children, they're doing their job, and shouldn't receive undue accolades and validation from society. So when I look after my son, I'm doing so in my role as Declan's dad, not as a suspiciously aged babysitter.
Although, I wouldn't mind some leftover pizza and maybe a few cans of Mountain Dew as "payment" all the same—dads have needs too.