By Edward Lee
At the end of last year the U.S. State Department decided to change the DS-11 form which is used for new U.S. passport applicants. The changes on the form, which are being rolled out February 2011, were initially made to move to gender neutral language by removing and replacing the titles “Mother” and “Father” with “Parent 1″ and “Parent 2.”
However, once news of the change spread and it became clear that this was going to be a political fight and public controversy, the State Department decided the new form would instead read, “Mother or Parent 1″ and “Father or Parent 2.” For those that are married but not parents, I think the equivalent to the changes on the new passport form would be if marriage licenses were changed to read Spouse 1, Spouse 2 instead of Husband or Wife.
To some, these changes are a big deal, to others the changes are a matter of semantics. Yes, I do know the bigger picture here is “same sex marriage.” But, for this post, I am only dealing with the reality of the name change to those that call themselves “father” and “mother,” not the impetus for the change. The focus is on whether the generalizing of these traditional term has any impact to those that use them. So here is the specific question, “What, if any at all, is the significance of removing or conjoining the traditional titles of mother and father with the gender neutral tag, “parent”?”
For me, and my family, I am Father or Daddy, not Parent 2 (I do take issue with Dad’s being Parent 2 instead of Parent 1 but I will leave that for another day.). Here are the two primary reasons that it matters that I am a Father and not a generically tagged Parent.
Implies there is no difference. To me, my title clarifies and defines who I am in my family. When my child has frazzled my wife’s last nerve she says, “Go ask your father.” To me, in my family structure, that means go ask the one who makes the final decision on that particular issue. Similarly there are ways in which my wife is defined as a mother. For example, when it is time to get a snack, it is time to ask mom, because this daddy just does not make a grilled cheese sandwich like mom does.
Of course, this holds true in more serious areas of the family interaction as well. There are times when there are things I just don’t want to deal with. But the mantle that comes along with being a “father” reminds me, it is my job to stand up and lead my family – even or especially when I don’t want to. I have absolutely no problem with my wife taking the lead in some areas, but when things jump off track, it is my responsibility to get things right because there is a difference in a mother and a father.
It is a point of clarity that just makes our family tick. Simply stated, a father is not a mother and a mother is not a father. There is a difference that can not be neutralized or generalized.
Destabilization of family structure. Similar but yet distinct from the first reason is that of the family structure. Because a mother and father are different (point 1), it seems that by removing the titles we are tinkering with the entire stability of the family. In a traditional sense, families have a structure or hierarchy that has placed the Father and Mother at the top, with the children underneath them. By accepting the removal or what I consider to be the lessening of the titles, we are masking the fullness of our authority and scope of responsibility as…Dad and Mom.
From my male-oriented view – Father denotes the leadership, love and strength to lead his children and raise them to be productive citizens. Of course not every father is a good one. Yet, in being called a father, there are a set of responsibilities that typically come to mind, that can not be stuffed into a catch all title.
Certainly, no one is going to come into your home and force you to drop the title Father and Mother. But as the acceptance of a more gender neutral stance to family designations becomes mainstream it is something to ponder and clarify within your own household.
So that is my personal take on it, in my house just call me Daddy, with all that that means good and bad, that is who I am. I am not a general guy, with roundabout responsibilities, I am the husband and father. It does not give me the right to treat my wife as a doormat or be a dictator to my children. It does clarify that I have designated roles and responsibilities as leader of my tribe and tone setter of love and respect.
But what about you BMWK, do you find anything of significance in the titles, Father, Mother, Husband, Wife or is this just much to do about nothing?
Edward is an Ordained Minister, Bible College Professor, Pastoral Marriage Counselor, and Author of two first of their kind marriage books, Husbands, Wives, Gsod: Introducing the Marriages of the Bible to Your Marriage and coming February 1st, Husbands, Wives, God – Weekly Devotions: 52 Weeks of Relationship Enriching Devotions. To learn more about Edward and Husbands, Wives, God go to edwardclee.com or follow on facebook at Husbands, Wives, God.