In the annals of flamboyant parenting, high honors must go to Dale Price. The Utah father of three woke up every school day over the past year, donned a new costume — 170 in all — and went out onto his front patio to wave to a passing school bus with his son Rain, a high school sophomore, on board. The Internet has already come up with a moniker: “Most Embarrassing Dad?” headlines wonder. But this is no conventional family — Price, who lost a leg in a motorcycle accident years ago, used to own a chain of paintball stores called “Pegleg Paintball,” and he and his wife were surely playful in naming their children: Rain’s older sister is Rikki; his younger brother, Riot.
A few weeks ago we were more than a little skeptical about the unorthodox parenting choices of another couple who had chosen eccentric names for their children — Jazz, Kio, and finally Storm, the Canadian baby whose sex is being kept a secret to protect him or her from the perils of gender norms. But it wasn’t the names that bothered us — it was the secrecy, particularly as it was placed on the shoulders of Storm’s older brothers. Aside from being a lark, and producing some memorable photographs, can we learn anything from Price’s hijinks?
Sure. First of all, he’s modeling a healthy freedom of expression and enlightened indifference to the demands society makes on men. He’s a proud “stay at home dad, actively parenting our three kids,” his wife Rochelle writes on their blog. He doesn’t mind showing off his prosthesis or, for that matter, dressing up as the Little Mermaid or Batgirl for all to see. “When he did it the first day, I was in shock,” Rain tells the Deseret News. But he and his friends on the bus got into it. “We roll down our windows and wave. It’s fun.”
But beyond that message, which is great — have fun, embrace who you are without taking yourself too seriously — is something deeper. After all, Price did this for 170 days and never repeated a costume. It took a lot of effort, he tells the paper, but it was worth it as “a way of letting him know that we really care about him.” Of course, being a teenaged boy, Rain seems uneager to admit that he is happy at this display, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t working.
That’s the takeaway here as we approach Father’s Day. Costumes and teenage embarrassment aside, Dale Price is so obviously, and publicly, present for his son that Rain would be hard-pressed to forget it. Sure, that’s not always easy for a teen to stomach, particularly as he goes about making an independent life for himself, a necessary phase of growing up. But there seems to be no doubt that if he ever needed help, or just to talk, that he would know exactly who he could turn to. Price’s admittedly odd form of engagement with his son is just the thing to make people think a bit about their own preconceptions when it comes to Dad.
Dads get a bad rap for being distant and demanding: the classic authoritarian father who wants nothing but the best for his children but goes about ensuring this outcome with relentless criticism and less-than-obvious affection. It’s good, of course, to encourage children to achieve all that they can and to expect their best effort, but we know now that keeping the lines of communication wide open is paramount for a successful parent-child relationship. And those lines of communication go in two directions: the modeling of desired behavior and values runs from parent to child, and the child feels free to discuss anything with the parent.
This sort of relationship is great for raising any child, but it becomes vital if the child has a psychiatric or learning disorder. Time and time again, the biggest barrier to identifying and treating mental illness is the shame and fear that surround it, keeping kids quiet but still suffering. Parents of these children need to model openness, a nonjudgmental attitude, and acceptance — that nobody is perfect, that we’re not supposed to have to do it alone, that you can ask for help.
One picture of Price out on the patio tells you all of this and more. All kids struggle, and they need to know that they can share their feelings, their worries, their fears. Traditionally, the person to go to would be Mom, but the division of labor among parents has changed drastically. And we’re seeing that Dad is up to the job.
So huzzah for the “Mama Grizzlies” childmind.org editorial director Caroline Miller celebrated on Mother’s Day. But let’s not forget about dads this Father’s Day, whether it’s “Most Embarrassing Dad” or some of the other neologisms coined by fathers who do a lot of active parenting, like Panda Dad—”happy to parent with cuddliness, but not afraid to show some claw”—or the dads who have to work hard outside of the home to provide for their families. Just because they wear suits or uniforms instead of pirate costumes doesn’t mean they aren’t invested in and attuned to their kids.
“He knows how to laugh,” Rochelle Price writes of Rain. “He’s a great kid.” You could say the same thing about his dad. Here’s to all the dads with the highest hopes for their children, who also understand that kids don’t automatically know how to ask them for help or advice. And since parenting can get a little wacky, it’s good to remember these words: “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Seems to be working in Utah. Happy Father’s Day.