It’s so easy for every day, run-of-the-mill parenting practices to pile up — one small misstep stacks atop the others — reinforcing problematic cultural conventions. Fatherly intentions are often pure, but we inadvertently teach our kids to conform with a sexist status quo. Especially when it comes to the familiar tropes of masculinity, problematic habits of mind are hard to recognize. Sometimes, we even avoid looking altogether because self-reflection can lead to cognitive dissonance; we might discover that our well-meaning actions betray our social values.
For me, it started last December. My partner Amanda and I bought our kids a ping pong table for Hannukah. Aldi advertised it as a loss-leading doorbuster for only $79.99. We couldn’t resist. We haphazardly balanced the oversized box on the top of our cart, wheeling it to the checkout with all our favorite store-brand delicacies piled underneath: Specially Selected Marinara, Never Any! Butterflied Leg of Lamb, Burman’s Real Mayonnaise, and Clancy’s Kettle Cooked Potato Chips (Aldi fans can relate). We drove home with twine holding the hatchback closed, unpacked the groceries, and hid the ping pong table at the back of the garage.
Unfortunately, before it was time to light the menorah, we realized there wasn’t enough space indoors for table tennis. So, we let the box hibernate for the winter. It sat behind the lawnmower and next to the weed whacker until the first nice day of spring. That’s when I cracked open a cold beer, dragged the damp, moldy package across the driveway to the side porch, and pulled out my power tools. It took a few hours to assemble, and it was wobbly when it was built. But the kids were excited to put down their smartphones and enjoy some outdoor recreation. We got our money’s worth; we play almost every night. After dinner, the three teenage boys talk trash while they practice their backspin. I think they must be watching YouTube tutorials because they’ve got a ping pong vocabulary completely unfamiliar to me: smash, chop, push, drive, slice, flick.
Even when I lose, I enjoy playing. Family bonding is better than teenagers isolated behind bedroom doors. But lately, I’m grappling with a difficult dilemma. I want…