MY friend tells an anecdote about a mother and toddler group she attended with her wee boy.

There was one lone dad in the group who, for the Halloween party, came dressed up. Well done him for making the effort... but the idea was that the children were dressed up, not the parents.

In the Halloween group photo, there's all the mums in mufti and there's the lone dad dressed as Richard Gere in An Officer and a Gentleman.

Adorable, right? Silly daddy, trying his darnedest and still getting it wrong.

That's the kind of language you hear all the time about dads, this implied innate incompetence.

I still hear women refer to their children's dads as "babysitting". I hear mums praise dads by saying they've been "really good" during a period when she's been busy. I hear women undermine their partner's attempts at caring for their children.

You don't have to watch much television before you see an advert or scene portraying paternal struggling. If behind every successful man is a great woman, then behind every great mother is a bumbling dad.

Mumsnet has the kind of clout that would make a political campaign manager weep - where's Dadsnet?

It's accepted that men shirk their parental duties - deadbeat dad, runaway dad. A woman who does similar is some kind of unnatural monster.

A woman with a baby is a milk-soaked drudge; a man with a baby is a keeper.

Mums are the designated parent while dads get a round of applause for showing up.

Social expectations set dads up to be absent or to fail. So does policy. I have sat through countless children's hearings where mum is unable to care for her children yet dad hasn't even been contacted or consulted, even if he's on the scene.

Legislation in Scotland mandates that the natural father of a child can't register his name on the birth certificate unless the mother agrees. If the parents are not married and don't register the birth together then only the mother automatically has parental rights and responsibilities (PRR). The father can either marry the mother, fill in a form with the mother's permission or apply to the court.

Government and NHS literature around families and parenting, until recently, would almost uniformly show mothers and children.

Why are men not absolutely fuming about this stuff? Why don't they have a stern chat to their brothers who perpetuate the deadbeat dad cliche?

We have to think about how we talk about and to fathers and, it would seem, now is the time to do it. This year is Year of the Dad. The project is run by Fathers Network Scotland and funded by the Scottish Government. The initiative is prompted by a belief that now is the tipping point for great social change - that there is evidence of the great positive impact fathers have on children, that shared parental leave is in force, that gender equality is increasing.

I support everything Year of the Dad is trying to achieve while finding it depressing as hell the campaign has to happen at all.

Dads should be as essential as mums but this needs women's support.

Parenting is repeatedly trumpeted as the most important job in the world but women don't quite yet seem to want to relinquish full control.

And no wonder, when society places so much of a woman's worth on how well she mothers. Is there more to it than that? Mothering is the one thing women are unquestionably in charge of. Men enjoy more power and privilege than women. Suggesting loosening their grip on this exclusive domain is a big ask.

One of the major ways to ensure equality in the home and the work place is split parental leave. But while child rearing can be unutterably boring and uniquely exhausting, a year away from work to spend time watching the infant milestones of your child is not something mothers will be automatically inclined to share, despite its obvious benefits for everyone involved.

In 82% of families the father works full time. We talk about women "having it all" but do dads? While it's perfectly acceptable for a woman to be financially supported by her husband, the reverse is not the case. Will equality for dads mean women are increasingly expected to take on the role of breadwinner and will either sex want that? The status quo, where woman may be stay-at-home mothers or working mothers but where men must be breadwinners, has myriad benefits for women with partners.

But having dad equally involved in their upbringing has myriad benefits for the health, wellbeing and development of children.

For men, parenting is optional. It shouldn't be optional. We can't legislate for compulsion so here we are, with Year of the Dad making a persuasive case for changing social attitudes.

But that means more than just expecting them to know how to dress for a party.