Hot Dads, Privilege, and Fairness

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Seth and Liana
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Seth & Liana meet some goats. Photo by Seth Goren.

Let’s be honest: fair or not, I’m a pretty privileged parent.  True, being a single gay Jewish dad in a relatively gay-less and Jewishly deprived region occasionally makes me feel like an exotic animal at a religious petting zoo or some interactive exhibit at a sexual orientation museum.  But moments like these pass quickly and are replaced by reminders of my advantaged status, regardless of how just this may be.

Let’s take an invocation I gave at a formal dinner a couple of weeks ago as an example.  Although I left her seated safely with some friends, my two-year-old decided to join me at the podium and add her own words to mine, interrupting with comments about how I was dressed (“Abba’s wearing a purple shirt!”) and blowing my nose with my tie.  I was moderately mortified, but those assembled found our tag-team solemnization oh-so-gosh-darn-darling and responded with enthusiastic applause, the first time that’s happened for one of my spiritually inspiring orations.  We (my daughter, really) even got several adoring Facebook comments, reinforcing our by-now familiar feelings of adorability and prompting me to consider including her in my future appearances.

I can’t quite predict how fawning others would have been if I were a single mother.  My guess is not very.  Alternate-reality chauvinistic comments like “why can’t she control her kid?” and “why didn’t she get a sitter” bounce around in my head, just as they likely ring in many women’s ears.  

This is no big secret.  In exploring gender double standards in “William and I,” Michael Chabon notes that for fathers, “the historic standard is so pitifully low,” while being a good mother requires “a lifelong trend of behaviors most of which go unobserved at the time by anyone.”  These inequities and inequalities simultaneously impose unrealistic expectations on moms, who can’t possibly succeed without a two-in-one TARDIS/cloning machine, and deem men worthy of gushy, cooing praise when kids in their care remain undamaged for more than ten minutes.  Plainly put, it stinks, even if I benefit from it more often than not.

But even with all this male parenting privilege, there’s a subgroup that I’m envious of and that garners even more advantage than I do: the Hot Dads.  My encounters with what I call “Hot Dad privilege” is a kind of discrimination I never considered before fatherhood.

Hot Dad privilege rears its head most noticeably for me at the child care center.  When one of the HD’s (short for “Hot Dads”) arrives, heads turn in their direction, moods pick up, and smiles broaden.  Their kids have always had stellar days (even if I saw one shove or punch another child just before the father arrived.)  Not-quite-as-hot parents loiter with them, seeking their attention, attempting to engage them in conversation and trying to socially outmaneuver the other not-quite-as-hot parents.  Reminiscent of high school, this social scene is fascinating, frustrating and entertaining all at once.

This phenomenon might not qualify as “privilege” in the typical sense, but it reflects a bias others have called attractive or beauty privilege.  Attractive people tend to meet with more professional success, to earn higher salaries, to be better received in interviews and get ahead faster.  Why should the child care center be different?  If anything, the fact that most of the staff persons at the center, as well as majority of the children’s moms, are straight women should deepen the impact of male and beauty's connection and privilege.

All of this illustrates an ongoing parenting quandary: I want to give my daughter an understanding that kindness and compassion, not looks and popularity, are a true reflection of beauty, just as I want her to embrace equity across a range of other identities.  In doing so, am I misleading her and deluding myself into maladjustment?  At what point does confronting injustice become negligent mis-parenting?  In short, how do I raise her for a world I want to be while simultaneously preparing her for this world that is?

These questions can be paralyzing, and as a relatively new parent, I don’t have an antidote.  What I’m hoping to do is to focus in on fairness, to use the phrase “life’s not fair” not to short-circuit decision-making conversations, but as a jumping-off point to talk about why life’s not fair and what we can do to make it more so.  I may lack a magical paternal way to bring justice to the world, but I can still be aware, open and honest about how each of us is treated, including the advantages and disadvantages that affect me as a man, as a Jew and as a not-all-that-hot dad.

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