african american couple arguing

It’s usually said defensively. Almost even reflexively, like the person saying it is so used to saying it that they’re no longer paying attention to what they’re saying.

Perhaps you last heard it from your friend. Or your sister. Or your favorite reality television show character. Or in defense of your favorite athlete. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself.

The conversation always starts the same way. Person A will update Person B about some extra sh*tty sh*t a man in Person A’s life has done. What exactly comprises the sh*tty sh*it varies, but one constant is that it always shows a blatant disregard for Person A’s dignity, reputation, health, safety, and sanity.

Person A will finish. But, as soon as Person B is ready to respond, Person A will add:

“But...he’s a great dad, though.”

Then, Person A will waste a couple half-assed sentences to explain exactly what makes this man such a great dad (“He’s always there for them. Well, financially at least. And he never misses one of our son’s basketball games.”), not realizing that the existence of the previously mentioned sh*tty sh*t negates everything she’s trying to say.

If the last paragraph was a bit unclear, let me make it more literal. It is impossible to be a good father if you treat the mother of your children like sh*t. There are no exceptions or caveats to this. No special circumstances. No “well, what about?”s. All “good dad” deeds cease to make a person a “good dad” if they blatantly and consistently mistreat the mother of their child(ren). They are now just “dads,” but not good ones.

Admittedly, I get why “but...he’s a good dad” happens. The barriers to “what makes a man a good dad?” seem to have been set so low that “any effort whatsoever to have any type of impact on your offspring’s life” somehow equals “he’s a good dad.”

This is a direct result of the fact that, because of myriad social and political issues too complex to address here, we’re a few decades away now from “mom and dad living in the same household” being the norm instead of the exception. Which means there’s a very sizable percentage of our population who’s never seen a household operate like that. And, which also means there’s a very sizable percentage of our population who have no idea that the way a man treats the mother of his children has more impact on his children than anything else he does.

It doesn’t matter if he’s “there financially” or “always on time” or “doting” or “involved in his children’s lives.” Children, especially young children, are sponges who pick up on everything we do. Every conscious act and subconscious tick displayed around them will be stored and eventually processed by their brains. And, if a child sees that his father treats his mother like shit, that lesson is not only going to stick, it will supercede all other lessons. Still calling that man a “good dad” is like calling the man who served you some tasty fries and an e coli-ridden burger a “good cook.”

Now, before you hit “send” on that angry reply you’re typing out, let me make it clear that I’m very aware that some women make it very difficult for the fathers of their children to have cordial relationships with them. I also know that, even in the best spousal or co-parenting relationships, it’s near impossible to completely avoid any type of heated disagreement or argument. And, (unfortunately) sometimes these disagreements and heated arguments will occur in front of your child.

“But...he’s a good dad” is born out of a completely different dynamic. “A child witnessing a rare heated argument between his parents” and “a child listening to his mom cry herself to sleep every night because his dad got another woman pregnant...again” isn’t an apples and oranges comparison. More like apples and chicken wings. Or apples and horse manure.

I’m aware some will interpret this as pandering. Anti-dad. Even anti-male. Which couldn’t be more false. I’m a product of a good dad, I’m surrounded by good dads, and I hope to eventually be one. And it’s because of this background that I’m sensitive to the “good dad” application and protective of the “good dad” shield. Calling every dad -- even the ones who shit on the mothers of the children -- “good” ones minimizes and retards the label.

I’m also aware that there wasn’t much here about what actually makes someone a “good dad.” This was intentional. That’s a completely different topic. I will say one thing, though. If the mother of your children always has to say “but” before they explain why you’re a good dad, you’re probably not one.