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Weaponised incompetence, laziness, or narcissism? Fathers at Christmas

Another Christmas came and went, and with it, I got to witness the adult men around me get away with doing little to nothing. For many years it has been a running joke in my family, as well as online, that dads will always be as surprised as their children to find out what presents they gifted them. In the past, I’ve found this joke amusing. However, as I get older and I really get to witness the amount of effort my mum puts into Christmas, the charm of this ‘joke’ has faded, and instead, I’ve been left with a sour taste in my mouth.  

Perhaps what tipped me over the edge this year was a specific incident on Boxing Day. My mum had spent days cooking dozens of different dishes, adhering to everyone’s likes, dislikes, and dietary requirements, all whilst ensuring they were all classically festive dishes. My dad, on the other hand, made one dish. A mezze-type dish. If this were another thing made by my mum, it would be a perfect side dish that we would all enjoy, but not focus on. But as it was the one thing he made, it somewhat became the centrepiece, or at the very least, the hot topic of conversation. 

Initially, the conversation was in jest. Irony and sarcasm were certainly at the heart of what was being said. However, when the talk and jokes continued throughout the day, into lunch and past it, it started to feel less funny. Ultimately the attention was still on the ‘mezze platter’ and my dad. Despite the fact my mum was the true hero of the day, weekend, and Christmas period, she was overlooked. It was expected of her. Of course she’d do it all, deliciously and effortlessly. Because that’s what she always does. But one sprinkle of effort from my dad and forget Jesus! My father was the new king of Christmas.  

Now, this isn’t to go in on my own dad too harshly. Despite what you have just read, and may have consequently assumed, I am extremely fond of him, and I think of him as a thoughtful and generous man. The issue is not with him specifically, but it’s the culture our society has perpetuated which has allowed even the best of men to do the bare minimum. And more sadly, all the hard work put in by brilliant mothers to become overshadowed.  

Even more tragically, I have seen many worse cases online. Women who fill their own stockings and buy their own presents on top of doing all the cooking and organizing for the day. It’s not that I believe these men are horrible people. I don’t think they’d want their wives and children to be gift-less or upset on Christmas day. It’s just that they know the women in their lives are always going to pick up the slack. Because quite frankly, what would happen if they didn’t? Would Christmas be cancelled? Would turkeys be burnt? Would the illusion of Father Christmas be ruined for young children everywhere?  

I don’t think that many husbands, fathers, and grandfathers across the globe are that innately incompetent. However, I do think we’ve allowed them to become so. And that doesn’t mean the onus is on the women in their lives to teach them how to roast a potato or know what their children would like for Christmas. They should be capable of sorting that out themselves. But I’m also not sure we can continue letting them get away with it. And because this issue is so widespread, it stretches much further than Christmas.  

Until we reach a place where we share domestic labour, we can’t truly hope for proper equality. Mothers will always come home from a full day of work and know what is in the fridge, ready to cook for supper. The façade that women love ‘having it all’ is not true, because really, it’s not like men have ever even tried. It has historically always been the women’s role to juggle everything all at once, and we are expected to be grateful that in recent years we have been given the opportunity to balance domestic work with a job outside of the home. It isn’t that women are better at multi-tasking or enjoy taking on the mental load. Because, of course, cooking for hours is tedious, wrapping presents can become boring, and writing Christmas cards is repetitive. But they’ve put in the time and effort needed to become good at these things so to reach the expectations society has set them. And most of us could achieve this too if the buck stopped with us. But, instead, a dangerous cycle has been created where many men in our lives have come to believe they are allowed to be lazy, or in the rare cases they are not, that they should be especially praised, as this is all they know.  

Truthfully, I’m not sure I can sit through another Christmas where I watch my grandad park himself in front of the television, drinking wine from noon, whilst my granny labours away in the kitchen from morning until mid-afternoon because ‘that’s how it’s always been’.

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