Does today's standard for a good father require him to be a good mother?
Miss Manners hastens to explain that she does not define "mothering" as putting up with one's own children to the extent of feeding them, airing them, listening to them, mopping up after them, explaining life to them and forcing them to write letters of thanks.
That is called parenting. No matter how many societies have held fast to the idea that this is a job description only for mothers, that is surely peculiar and contrary to nature. If such were the case, it would have been designed as either a day shift or a night shift, but not both.
As it is, child-rearing is an all-hands-on-deck, all-leaves-canceled-for-18-years undertaking. Attempts to spread the fun between those responsible for creating the children in the first place (and anyone else they can gang-press into participating) are therefore a needed corrective. Miss Manners is troubled only by the literal-minded spirit in which new parents now approach this.
She has been teaching herself not to cringe when a young gentleman says, "We are pregnant." It is sweetly meant, and surely an improvement, in both attitude and approximation of reality, on another statement one still occasionally hears: "She got herself pregnant."
Miss Manners does not even argue with the observation that it is unfair for mothers to bear, as it were, that entire burden. Nevertheless, as all the experimentation in matters of fertility has not even attempted to distribute pregnancy equally between parents, we have to deal with it.
She would have thought that the traditional compensation, whereby the father-to-be was expected to summon patience, tolerance and energy to deal with discomfort and whims on the part of the mother-to-be would be sufficient. Daily (and nightly) drilling in sympathizing, fetching and mopping up happens to be excellent training for parenthood.
If it seems superfluous for them also to participate in whatever exercise or other classes the expectant mother deemed necessary, it is nevertheless touching. Perhaps it provides a deeper sympathy, and in any case, it solves the problem of what to do between dropping her off and picking her up.
But the father-as-mother concept has turned all but compulsory for any prospective father who is not actually denying his connection and demanding DNA testing instead. Sympathizing is no longer considered enough to demonstrate his good will: He is assigned to be the coach, as well the photojournalist, and his presence and participation in the birth itself are hardly optional.
Miss Manners has nothing to say against this when it has the enthusiastic consent of all the adults involved -- father, mother and medical attendants -- and they promise not to subject innocent people to the video. As many ladies have come to regard giving birth as sport, or work of art, or religious experience, it is not implausible that their gentlemen have, as well.
But she worries about those who do not, and yet are afraid of disqualifying themselves as good fathers at the very start. Intimate physical phenomena, especially those involving witnessing pain, and even more especially those involving witnessing pain being endured by someone the witness loves, are not for everyone. Even experienced doctors do not participate in the treatment of their relatives.
Miss Manners' Father's Day message is directed to expectant mothers: A man can be a wonderful father even if he sits outside and waits.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I feel awfully silly asking this question, but what is the proper response to, "I'm sorry"?
I usually find myself saying, "Don't worry about it," or "It's OK," neither of which I typically mean. "Apology accepted" sounds so sterile and, at least to my ears, has the ring of moral condemnation, which I also rarely intend to express.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners gathers that you want a statement that will make you seem gracious but produce no relief to the person who made the apology. Is that about the size of it?
Short of "My seconds will call on you in the morning" (modern version: "You'll hear from my lawyer"), the reply to an apology is some version of, "That's quite all right." If you want nuances, you will have to practice the tone.
Rushing the words out as if you were embarrassed means, "Oh, goodness, I didn't think anything of it," while spacing each word and emphasizing them equally means, "I was wondering when you would get around to realizing the enormity of what you did."