"You are a great cook!" my mother-in-law told me with something like wonder. She was staying with us over spring break, and had watched me put together a bare-bones stir fry. She seemed particularly impressed that I could cut chicken sausage fairly quickly without severing a thumb.
My mother-in-law knows her way around a kitchen. You might, therefore, think she was joking, or expressing at least mild sarcasm, when she overpraised my marginally competent food prep. But no; my mother-in-law doesn't do irony. She was truly and sincerely wowed. Her own marriage was very traditional. She stayed home and did the cooking and cleaning. Her husband worked, first in a factory and then directing workers for the municipal government. He maybe cooked scrambled eggs if there was an emergency, but that was about it. He had set her expectations for male domestic contributions low—and as a result she thinks her daughter won the lottery because her son-in-law can boil pasta and schedule playdates. Who am I to disabuse her?
One person who might think I should disabuse her is Matt Villano, who wrote an article a bit back in the New York Times explaining that he hates being overpraised as a dad for doing things that moms do all the time. According to him:
The act of labeling someone a "good dad" suggests that most dads are, by our very nature as fathers, somehow less than "good." That we don't care. That we're mostly cruel.
What's more, the phrase evinces a heinous double standard: It's not like strangers compliment women as being "good moms" for doting, loving and doing normal mom stuff.
Anne-Marie Slaughter nodded approvingly in her essay on The Atlantic last week. Men, she said can be great at domestic tasks; there's no need to overpraise them, or grade on a curve.