In Praise of Dads – and Moms

April 26th, 2013 by Andrea Bennett

One dad maintains that overpraising dads – and moms, too – can raise the status of domestic work for everyone.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

In a recent story in The Atlantic, writer Noah Berlatsky writes about his mother-in-law praising his “marginally competent” cooking skills. Her own traditional marriage, he writes, “had set her expectations for male domestic contributions low – and as a result she thinks her daughter won the lottery because her son-in-law can boil pasta and schedule playdates.”

In fact, he writes, there are plenty of modern dads who take offense at the seeming double standard: Praising dads for doing “normal mom stuff” implies they’re somehow deficient. He quotes Matt Villano, who wrote an article in the New York Times last year about how he hates being overpraised as a dad. “The act of labeling someone a ‘good dad’ suggests that most dads are, by our very nature as fathers, somehow less than ‘good.’ That we don’t care. That we’re mostly cruel.”

Although Berlatsky says he can appreciate the appeal of Villano’s “gender-bending macho domestic self-sufficiency – the ideal of a tough, rugged, competent, parenting dad who doesn’t need or want your social approval,” in the end, he’s happy just to hear some kind words. After all, he points out, “Humans are social creatures; we get a lot of our sense of ourselves and our status and our worth from what other folks say about us and how they react to us.”

An informal poll of my male friends who are fathers revealed that most of them feel the same way. Who would turn down a little extra praise for doing things they weren’t raised knowing how to do? Berlatsky suggests that the point is not that men are condescendingly overpraised for domestic achievements, but that women are underpraised. Overpraising both dads and moms for the work they do in the home is valuable because, as society has historically valued what men do over what women have traditionally done, recognizing everyone for domestic contributions can raise the status of work in the home overall.

Do you agree that there are benefits in praise – and occasional overpraise? Or is the answer, as Villano writes, that dads “don’t need unsolicited feedback,” and that it’s time to reject the “heinous double standard” that dads need to prove they’re good? Weigh in.