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We Are Too Grateful for Good Dads

My husband is a good dad. I knew he would be, because actually he's a good guy. He has integrity, values family, takes his commitments seriously and feels very blessed to have become a dad to our three children at the relatively late age of 50.

He's involved. He takes them swimming every Sunday, brings them along when he does the grocery shopping. He brings them to birthday parties, give them baths, gets them dressed in the morning.

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He is concerned about everything from knowing whether their shoes fit exactly right (he actually bought a shoe-measuring device for the home) to whether he will be too old to teach them to kick a football.

He Googles everything.

He engages them in any task he is busy with, from cooking to fixing the sink, even though doing so inevitably makes everything messier and more time consuming.

And he gets from it an enjoyment that stems not necessarily from the activity but from the greater meaning of it.

And all of this makes him a good dad. But the term "good dad" actually grates on me. When he spends time caring for, playing with and explaining things to our children, to me he's not being a "good dad," he's just being a dad.

We know many good dads. When we bring our son to school each morning, at least half of the parents who are there, sitting with, reading to or soothing the nerves of their children are dads.

In the Netherlands, where we live, nearly 25 percent of fathers take paternity leave, and many others arrange what is called a papadag with their employers—working four days a week to spend one day with their children.

A friend of mine, who does have a papadag, hates the term, because, as he puts it, he is a father every day.

We are right to appreciate men who take their roles as fathers seriously, and who value the time they have to be with their kids and want to participate in their lives and development. But when doing so makes you a good dad, it implies that not doing so is also an option, perhaps even the default expectation.

When we talk about dads "babysitting" or portray them as fumbling idiots on television, we lower the bar.

Not every family—mine included—can split responsibility for children down the middle. As I tell my children, fair is not necessary equal. I spend more time with my children per week because I work less. This was an easy choice—I earn less than my husband, and for many reasons—he's a man, he's older than I am, he's in a different industry—that will always be the case.

But the second he walks in the door, he's on. He asks the kids about their day. He cooks for them. He reads to them, watches cartoons. And he gets from it an enjoyment that stems not necessarily from the activity but from the greater meaning of it.

Whether he's standing at a playground or sitting up with a sick child, he has a sense of purpose rather than a feeling of resentment. He has actually described changing a diaper as character building.

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It's hard to feel that way about parenting all the time. But it should be the standard we strive for. When we talk about dads "babysitting" or portray them as fumbling idiots on television, we lower the bar.

On Father's Day and every day, we should be grateful for good dads. But maybe we should also expect more from them.

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Image by Tracy Brown Hamilton

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