I’m a stay-at-home dad with a hockey coach style of parenting.
There was a period of time in my life in which I proudly referred to my parenting style as “Herb Brooks-ian.”
Brooks was the coach of the Miracle on Ice hockey team that famously defeated the Russians in Lake Placid during the 1980 Winter Olympics. Brooks’ team was a ragtag collection of college kids who hadn’t played together and barely knew each other. To bond them together tightly and quickly, for the Olympics and, it would turn out, for a lifetime, Brooks focused their intensity on hating him. And it worked.
I am not, however, coaching an Olympic hockey team. I’m raising two daughters in a world that is increasingly complex for women. They are told, more than ever before in history, that they can have it all. Simultaneously, they are being bombarded with images, incidents, and political talking points that make it abundantly clear: the world is still not entirely safe for women. So I became Herb Brooks. I tried to develop an airtight camaraderie between my young daughters that would see them through any challenge in life—battling it out on the street, in a boardroom, or on the ice against an experienced communist regime.
My wife—the kind and warm member of our parenting duo—thought I’d gone mad. She’d say things like, “Let me get this straight, you want them to hate you? That’s your actual plan?” And it kind of was. Only, I didn’t want them to hate me, per se, but to rally together so that they’d have a deep connection no matter which direction life takes them, especially if it ends up being apart from each other, as is the case with so many siblings, mine included. So I’d chastise my daughters for frustrating but frivolous infractions: forgetting to bring their water bottle home from school or leaving a wet bath towel on the floor. They’d rush to the other’s defense in tears. An obvious chasm began to form between us.
I could see that I wasn’t going to win any gold medals in fathering with that strategy, so I stopped being Herb Brooks.
As the at-home parent who cooks, cleans and does the laundry, I am still playing a role (and playing it rather well) as a dad. While I’m no longer Herb Brooks, I am most definitely the bad cop to my wife’s lovable good cop. It’s a natural fit for the two of us. I’m the one who makes the even-tempered requests for our daughters to pick up toys/wet towels/food wrappers/scraps of paper. (Why are there always scraps of paper on the floor?) It’s me, every weekday afternoon, kindly reminding them to empty their school lunch bags. It’s me who insists they do homework before riding scooters. Add in a few well-placed eye rolls and sighs of exasperation at the repetitive nature of my role as homemaker, and you get a crystal clear portrait of me as bad cop parent. But I’m no longer the enemy.
At 5:30 pm, when my wife dances through the front door after her day at work, it’s inevitably a parade of “daddy got frustrated with us again,” snuggles, and quality time with mom. I am perfectly okay with this arrangement because I want my wife to play the role she was destined for and is brilliant at. Because I know that someday, when our daughters are older and out in the world, maybe with their own children leaving scraps of paper on the floor and repeatedly scooping up their cat, they will reflect back on their childhood and understand that their daddy may not have prepared them to beat the Russians on the ice, but he prepared them for life.