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As a father, I’m damned by excessive praise

EMILY FLAKE/The Globe and Mail

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In hindsight, I should have figured out that I was doing something a bit out of the norm the morning I walked into Tim Hortons to the sound of applause.

"You finally got a stroller!" the staff cheered as my infant son stared at the menu screens from his buggy.

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My kid's persistent 4:30 a.m. wake-ups had been rousing me earlier than usual, and for a while I'd been taking daily moonlit dog walks with the baby strapped to my chest.

That morning, I had reached my breaking point: If my son was determined to push his height and weight nearly off the chart, I decided, then for the sake of my back he was going to have to rough it in the stroller.

At the time, I figured the positive attention was a result of my becoming a friendly face after many early-morning visits.

But it soon became clear that this interest was not limited to my saviours behind the 24-hour coffee counter.

Over the past five months, I've had people stop me countless times: not to ogle the baby that I'm toting, but to proclaim my worth as a dad.

"Good for you for giving your wife a break," a dog-walker shouted from across the street.

"Your son is so lucky to have a dad like you," whispered a woman in the LCBO.

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Every time I get on a transit vehicle with the kid, someone leans in to chat. Even runners have stopped to comment. Yes, those lonely early-morning warriors who rarely obey streetlights decided that it was worth lowering their heart rates to let me know how they felt. One told me how lucky my wife is to have such a loving father for her son.

I'll be honest – I don't mind the attention. I'm a bit of a ham, and walking the dog that early in the morning can be a solitary experience. Plus, I'm pretty proud of him. He's irresistible. So is our baby.

But even all this attention did not prepare me for the response I would get as part of a group.

One of the women at my wife's moms group had a partner who wanted to organize something for the guys.

I reasoned that since my wife was brave enough to go to an unfamiliar house and chit-chat with strangers while breastfeeding, the least I could do was give the dads thing a try.

I was a bit nervous. Our first gathering – beer, no babies – felt a bit like a blind man-date. But we hit it off, and now the three of us gather at more kid-friendly locales with the babies in tow.

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We usually hit up a street festival every few weeks, swapping sleep-deprivation stories, laughing at the milestones our kids have inevitably missed, and comparing notes on everything from the absurdities of parenthood to the baby foods that we sneak tastes of when our wives aren't looking.

And as we go about our afternoon, people wink and smirk. Pregnant women question us on the merits of our baby gear. We get stopped by strangers with comments like "So nice for mama to get some sleep," or "They should make a documentary about you guys," or my personal favourite: "Are these actually your kids?"

Let me tell you, we didn't find these three poopers on Petfinder.

Last week we tried the Royal Ontario Museum. Amid a swarm of families, I felt a tap on the shoulder that prompted me to shuffle over so a couple could have an unobstructed view.

But it wasn't the dinosaur that had piqued their interest. No, they wanted to get the three of us dads – complete strangers to them, babies largely obscured by the infant carriers and strollers – to pose together for a photo.

Are we that unusual?

I know that the reaction my wife receives when she's out with the baby is fairly unremarkable.

Sure, people coo and smile, tell her she has a beautiful boy. But unlike when us dads go out, nobody takes any notice of the person on the other side of the stroller.

Don't get me wrong. I can take a compliment. But are expectations for dads still this low?

Getting such effusive credit for exceeding expectations feels less and less like praise and more like a constant reminder of the wide disparity between the public perception of "moms" and "dads."

Because certainly when my wife goes back to her job no one on the subway will compliment her willingness to brave the work world. Nobody will be at the elevator doors waiting to congratulate her for juggling parenthood and employment. No strangers will comment on how she brings home half our family's income.

So, if no one is going to say this to her, then I will.

Thank you. For him, and for everything.

And maybe one day she'll be asked to round up her female colleagues and pose with their paycheques for a photo. Well, probably not.

Marc Peverini lives in Toronto.

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