Some daddies can take better care of their babies than others because some daddies aren't poor and some are.
I can tell already that people perceive me to be a good daddy at least in part because of what I can provide for my son and the time he and I are able to spend together.
When our little JD was less than an hour old, he breastfed for the first time, and Betsy had a great deal of discomfort. Right away, the hospital's lactation consultant recognized that the little guy had tongue and lip ties that were preventing him from achieving a proper latch. There was an easy procedure that would fix the problem, they explained, and they quickly made a referral to the only pediatric dentist in our region who performs the procedures.
The day after JD was born, the dentist's office called to set up a consultation. On that first call, the office manager from the dentist's office told us how much it would cost and explained that it was likely not covered by insurance, and even if it were, it would count only toward our out-of-network deductible, which we will likely never meet, because their office chooses to not participate in any insurance networks. I was a bit grumpy about it, but JD needed the procedure, so we scheduled the appointment for the sixth day of his little life because six days old is the earliest they can perform the procedure.
Yesterday afternoon, he got laser treatments for both a tongue tie and a lip tie. The treatment went flawlessly. We drove to Asheville, about an hour away, for a consult. The dentist had room on his schedule after he confirmed that JD needed corrections to both his upper lip and his tongue, and he said he was happy to go ahead and do the treatment yesterday since he didn't want us to have to make another trip to Asheville. We were whisked out to the business office where I promptly inserted my card into the little machine for payment. $809 and ten minutes later and JD no longer had the tongue and lip ties that cause problems with breastfeeding and would later lead to a speech impediment, crooked teeth, and gum disease.
As we were gearing up to leave the dentist's office, Betsy asked how I was feeling. I said that I was very happy to have been able to get our son the care he needed. She replied that it was because I'm a good daddy, and it occurred to me that actually, I was able to get him the care he needed not because I'm a good daddy, but because we are a middle class family. Our socioeconomic status means that we are able to provide care for our son that I would not have been able to receive when I was a baby.
The process of having a child and becoming a parent (the two are definitely not the same things) has taught me so much about the gross inequalities that exist in our society. Frankly, this is something about which I already assumed I was an expert. A substantial portion of my academic research and much of my published work has been dedicated to the analysis of poverty, and I am invited to give public talks about my work on poverty on a regular basis. However, navigating the process of having (and paying for having) a child has taught me much and reinforced for me just how unequal and unfair our system is.
Yesterday's procedure is but one example of the ways those with resources are better able to provide benefits for their children. Because of a late-stage capitalism process that I can't personally fathom, the "formula lobby" and their robber-baron cronies at insurance companies have decided that breast feeding is somehow optional and not essential. Therefore, insurance companies are not obligated to cover procedures like our JD had yesterday, and even if they did, the dentist who performed the procedure, as I said, chooses to not participate in any insurance plan networks. In short, if we wanted JD to have the procedure to address his tongue and lip ties, we were going to have to pay out of pocket for 100% of the procedure.
If we couldn't have shelled out almost a cool grand yesterday, we would not have been able to have the procedure done. Sure, JD would have ultimately been fine, but there would be consequences. Betsy has been a rockstar with breastfeeding, but she still has to use a nipple guard so that the pain in manageable. Both the dentist and the lactation consultant said that we should see dramatic improvement in JD's latch, and she should be able to toss the nipple guards within a week. If we couldn't have paid for the procedure, though, Betsy would have had to continue enduring pain while JD fed, or, perhaps, she might have given up on breastfeeding and either switched to pumping or to formula, neither of which are as good for babies as breastfeeding.
However, insurance companies don't really care what's best. They care about what's cheapest. So what if the kid can't feed in the one way that is completely natural, which will be healthiest for him in the long run and foster a stronger bond between he and his mother. And who cares if he develops a lisp or a gap between his front teeth. None of those things are life-threatening, right? So goes the mentality of our medical care system and the villains at the insurance companies who fund it. The result is that children from wealthier families get substantially better care than children from poor families.
As we navigate paying for JD's healthcare, including the hospital bill that has not yet been calculated but which our local for-profit hospital tried aggressively to collect an estimation of while standing at the foot of Betsy's hospital bed less than 24 hours after she gave birth, I'm certain that I'm going to have a great deal to say about how broken the system is. For now, though, I continue to be haunted by the harsh reality that, no matter how good some daddies are, they just can't provide the same kind of care that I am able to provide for our JD.
Financially, it's little secret that Betsy earns a substantially larger salary than I do. That means that there isn't some sort of pressure on my part to provide for my family as if I were the only bread-winner. We both make salaries well above the average in our area, and we have a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. However, even if it isn't all on me to earn the money, I am still able to do things for JD that some of my peers are not by virtue of their socioeconomic status.
A good example was my ability to go with Betsy to take JD to the dentist yesterday. I have a job with some degree of flexibility. I worked late into the night at home last night, but I was able to take a break in the late afternoon to drive him to his appointment. If I worked the sort of low-wage job where I had to punch the clock and work a full shift all at once or risk losing my job, I couldn't be there for the little guy's appointment no matter how good a daddy I wanted to be. When we got home, I was able to strap JD to my chest in a ring sling and spend quality time with him while he slept and I graded essays and edited a compliance report. A father working the late shift at McDonald's certainly couldn't strap his baby to his chest while he worked. With few exceptions, jobs like mine with a little flexibility and paid leave are jobs that pay more than those with more rigid schedule requirements, and I have my job by virtue of my education, another thing doled out unequally in the US according to socioeconomic status. My ability to be there for my son during his procedure yesterday has at least as much to do with our socioeconomic status as with my desire to be a good father.
As JD gets older, my socioeconomic privilege will also bring him myriad benefits I did not receive when I was a kid. Betsy and I both have good benefits at work, so he has good health insurance already even though he's only a week old. He will have a dental plan that will pay for braces if he needs them, and I am confident that we will be able to kick in the difference when insurance inevitably doesn't pay the full cost for those braces. Though we will aim to raise him to be wary of consumerism, he will also not face the cruel bullying I faced as a kid by virtue of the fact that we lived in a trailer and I wore clothes from the thrift shop or the bottom shelf of the K-Mart.
JD came home from the hospital to live in a home nicer than any place my mother and I ever lived when I was growing up. One doesn't realize just how much that matters unless one has been taunted endlessly by cruel kids when the school bus stopped at a rented trailer home. He won't have to ask us to drop him off or pick him up a block away from school because he is ashamed of our car and knows other kids will make fun of him because of what we drive.
When he finishes high school, JD will be able to go to any college he wants, no matter where it is or what it costs. More importantly, he will be prepared for college because both of his parents have doctorates and understand higher education inside-out. He will be able to get tutoring if he falls behind, and we have been reading to him since before he had ears to listen. The kid already has more books than most grown-ups I know.
If he chooses to attend a tech school to become an electrician, I will honor and respect that, but if he wants to go to Yale, we will cheer him on and pay the tuition and do everything we can (short of bribing admissions representatives and cheating on standardized tests, just sayin') to be sure he has a shot at getting in. If he ends up at one of the 440 wonderful private liberal arts colleges in the US that participates in the Council of Independent Colleges' Tuition Exchange Program, he will attend at no cost because I am an administrator at a college that participates in the program. When I was in high school, I couldn't even afford to take the SAT, much less go to college, but because I ascended to the middle class, JD will have educational advantages I never did. This is not because I'm a good daddy, but because we can afford the good life.
I could go on about all the benefits JD will have over the course of his live by virtue of our socioeconomic status, but you likely get the point. I believe I am, and will be, a great dad. But I also know that my own privilege means that I will be able to do things for JD that less privileged but equally great daddies won't be able to do. And while some might be tempted to spout off the false narrative of bootstraps-up upward mobility, I will be the first to say that, while I have worked hard almost all my life to build a better life for myself, so have many many others I grew up with, and they didn't have nearly the same results I did. Sometimes, people like me get lucky and escape poverty, but that socioeconomic mobility is increasingly the exception and not the rule in the United States. The most certain predictor of one's socioeconomic status in the US is the socioeconomic status of their family during their childhood.
I don't know what the solution is, but I know that as JD grows up and people tell me I am a good daddy because of the things I can provide for him and the time I can spend with him when I would otherwise be working, I will likely respond that there are plenty of equally good daddies who would love to be at the parent-teacher meeting or at Little League but can't because their kids might literally miss a meal if dad misses work. When we evaluate the quality of parents, we have to look a bit deeper than the surface to see that, through no fault of their own, some daddies just can't do the same things for their kids that I can for mine, and that does not make them any less wonderful a parent than I am.