Man Up: A Brief Instruction Manual

Not long ago, my wife escaped the confines of our house to enjoy what is known as a “girl’s weekend.”  If you have not heard of such a thing, I am not surprised.  Finding a “girl’s weekend” in its natural habitat is as rare as bumping into a cucumber sandwich at a monster truck rally. While Gabby enjoyed what I imagined to be endless Sex and the City reruns interrupted by the occasional pillow fight, I was left at home to care for the kids.  The prospect was both exciting and scary.  I love having one-on-one time to shape their character in ways only a dad can, but knowing I would have to keep track of homework and execute a legitimate pony tail gave me indigestion.


As soon as we woke up the next morning, Jake and Audrey excitedly asked,

“What are we doing today, Daddy?”

“Well, I need to run some errands.  Maybe start at Home Depot…”

The whining and screaming erupted before the words left my mouth.   You would think I had just told them I was kidnapping them, throwing them into the trunk, and driving them to the park where they would be forced to kick baby seals.

I offered an olive branch.

“How about this.  If you behave while were inside the store, we can go sit on the lawn tractors and pretend to race.”

This seemed to satisfy them.

Later that morning, as we wandered the aisles, the kids were needling each other.   No violent assault was imminent, but it was irritating nonetheless.   A middle-aged woman spotted us and commented,

“Out with daddy, huh?”

Audrey stomped on Jake’s foot.  He returned the favor.

The lady just laughed and said,

“So fun at this age.  And good for you for bringing them along.”


We continued through the store, collecting the remaining items.  A box of small screws and a drill bit.

“Can we go to the tractors now?” Audrey asked.

“Sure thing, honey.”

We found the Lawn and Garden section and each climbed aboard our chosen racer.  Everyone made rumbling motor noises and screeching brake sounds with their mouths.  Audrey changed tractors in hopes that she would get a faster one that might eke out a victory.  But I knew she never stood a chance.  In imaginary tractor races, Jake declares himself the winner.  Every.  Time.

Our fun lasted all of 90 seconds when another woman approached.  I thought she was going to usher us out of the store.  Instead, she looked our direction and a grin crept across her face.  I heard her comment under her breath,

“Such a good dad.”

At first, I soaked up the compliment.

I am a good dad!  The best dad ever!  I should get a medal for this.  A gold one, even.

But then it hit me.

I am a man.  Men have done some pretty amazing things throughout history.  We’ve harnessed the power of lightning and put it in an incandescent bulb.  We’ve captured sound itself and transmitted it over a wire.   We’ve poured fire into a rocket, strapped human beings aboard, sent them to the moon, and returned them safely home again.

So why are people so amazed when I successfully navigate the plumbing aisle with my son and daughter?

I’ll tell you why.  Most people think men are complete morons when it comes to taking care of kids.  The bar for being a “good dad” has been set so low, that anything short of selling my children to a drug cartel is seen as success.  It’s an odd double-standard.  I earn a wink and a smile for misbehaving kids, while Gabby gets the “stink eye.”

Does this bother anyone else?

Let me start by saying this:  There are awesome dads out there.  The neighbor down the street who is outside playing with his kids no matter the weather.  My brother-in-law who finds every opportunity to teach his children about the fascinating stuff in the world.  A friend of mine working two jobs to feed his kids while his wife goes to grad school.  And let’s not forget about the single dads out there.  I believe there is a special place in Heaven reserved for any single parent.

It has sound-proof walls and a La-Z-Boy with a wine dispenser hidden in the ottoman.

These folks are my heroes.  They’re the ones I thought of the day my firstborn came into the world.  I turned to Gabby and said,

“I want to be an equal partner with you as a parent.  Sharing everything 50/50.”

To which Gabby replied,

“OK.  I’m on input.  You’re on output.”

I hastily agreed, forgetting I am somewhat OCD when it comes to bodily fluids.  But believe me, it all came rushing back when the first “output” was a diaper filled with meconium, which is Latin for “Poo sauce of the Devil.”

I was terrified.

But here’s the thing with being a dad.  Fear is healthy.

Failure to try is not.

It's time to Man Up.

I know far too many guys who simply will not allow themselves to be left alone with their kids.  I’m not sure why, but I suspect it could be any one of a host of reasons. Maybe they’ve been bludgeoned to death by a mom who takes over the instant they see dad “doing it wrong.”  (Aside:  Ladies, you know who you are, and you’re teaching “learned helplessness.”)  Maybe their own dad wasn’t the best role model.   Or maybe it’s simply these low expectations I’ve experienced.

We see countless bumbling dads on TV.  They are usually funny, chubby guys married to very thin, much-too-attractive wives.  They shouldn’t be allowed to carry a sharp pencil, much less pack a sack lunch.  And so this carries over into our social conversations, where we see moms posting on Facebook, gushing gratitude for a “hottie” (HOTY Husband Of The Year) who bathes a child once every Leap Year. The positive reinforcement is helpful, to be sure.  Even if we dads don’t do it right, it’s still nice to be recognized.

But come on, fellas?

If you’re a dad who is fed up with the fact that every kid in little league gets a trophy, logic holds that you should also be embarrassed by such hollow praise.  The only way to reverse this trend is to dive into the deep end.  Spend some time with your kids.



Because dads matter.

And it’s not just because we teach them how to change a tire or pick a buffalo wing clean to the bone.  Back in the 90’s, researchers in the U.S. and Europe studied kids and their relationship with their parents to see who has a bigger influence on their faith.  What they found was shocking.

In families where the mom regularly took kids to church, but the dad was only an occasional participant, only 3.4% followed a regular spiritual practice when they grew to adulthood.

However, in families where dad was the regular attendee and mom never went to church, nearly 45% of those kids were regular churchgoers in adulthood.  An even greater percentage than those whose parents were both spiritually involved.

That’s right.  Go back and re-read that last sentence.

I’m not saying that your job as a dad is to get kids to go to church.  What I am saying is there is something about alone time with dad that can hook a child’s soul.  It makes them want to latch on to something greater than themselves.  You’re the key to making that happen.

So, fellas, the time is now.  I implore you.  Start somewhere.  Go to the zoo.  Camp in the back yard.  Make a list and take ‘em grocery shopping.  Heck, grab a free cookie for yourself at the bakery if you must.

But please.


For the love of God.

Man Up.

  • For those interested, the statistical mash-up can be found on Wikipedia.  I know… not a place to cite statistics, but all of the studies are linked found at the bottom of this page.