Start with typical.Stand in front of your kitchen cupboards wondering what you’re going to make for dinner.Something quick and healthy and delicious and still quicker to clean up.Haul out the same pots and pans you just washed from lunch.Get the food into small, yammering mouths through concerted negotiations or last-ditch ultimatums, then remind three times about both the importance of brushing teeth and not unrolling the toilet paper.Then shuffle the little bodies now emitting their last crescendo of energy into bed where you read a book and sing a song and answer correctly a question about what you will do to save everyone if a volcano full of sharks erupts in the middle of the night and then kiss goodnight.The lights-out silence that follows reverberates against the walls with such a contrast to the uproar of the day that you’re left too disoriented to clean the kitchen or speak in complete sentences.Wake up the next morning much earlier than you thought possible and immediately throw together a breakfast and dress everyone and comb hair in a way that must be as painful as a Civil War hospital amputation because of the wails that accompany each stroke, and then speed up to get the shoes and coats on in time to reach the school entrance before the final bell, after realizing you didn’t match the socks with the top and never combed your own hair which might explain some of the looks from the teacher’s assistants at the door.But it doesn’t matter now because you’ve got a day of folding the socks (the ones that do match) into neat piles ahead of you and now it looks like mildew is growing in the shower which you’ll need to be on your knees scrubbing before it’s time to get the littlest one, who has developed a cough in the two hours since you last saw her that you should probably make a doctor’s appointment for just to be on the safe side.Before that though, it’s lunchtime where you’ll be back to the cupboards pondering the exact same question you didn’t have a good answer to yesterday.The only thing you can say, to yourself and your starving children, is “be patient.”
This is the so-called woman’s work that is never done.It is also – if not more frequently – never done if you are a man.Or like me, a stay-at-home father.Because matching the socks with the top and expertly combing the hair is still something we need pointers on.And the loud, accident-prone angels you’re doing all this for will not only ask about your shark volcano-preparedness, but also why Dad doesn’t have boobs.
A recent issue of The Atlantic featured an article called The End of Men which states that, as of this year, women are the majority in the workforce for the first time in American history.Along with other grim numbers for men (like women also earning 60 percent of all master’s degrees and the decreasing rates of women neither wanting nor needing male life partners), the article generally begs the question: what are men going to do with themselves?
My personal answer: Mr. Mom.It has been my line of work for the past six years.My wife, meanwhile, has always worked full-time, currently as a VP overseeing twenty odd people, many of them men.I, too, spent years sampling the cruel mix of stress and monotony that comes with office jobs like hers.However, something about housework has a mind-twisting endlessness that requires an inner fortitude like no other.And it’s hard to say if this is just my Y chromosome talking.
But whether in the majority or not, housewives and househusbands can be equally desperate.The daily home grind applies to whoever’s doing this dirty work.Stay-at-home Dads simply get a few unique added hurdles.Despite the changing roles and the praise lavished on working mothers, househusbands can still garner puzzled looks.Finding one at your local playground or pediatrician’s waiting room is like coming across a two-dollar bill.You forget about them, but they’re legal tender too.And some people think they’re even good luck.
I still find myself going through the explanation of why a stay-at-home father is an infinitely better alternative to daycare or a nanny and just as workable as a stay-at-home mother.I still find myself getting a quaint smirk from people when I tell them what my full-time job is.And I still have to read an article about raising toddlers in a parenting magazine that speaks categorically to the mother or be told things like “Choosy Moms Choose Jif” when filling my shopping cart for the family.
And househusbands endure the fact that there’s of yet no good male equivalent to the purse.I carry the ever-present kid accoutrements needed to go to and from school and park and stores either in a slightly emasculating tote bag or crammed inconveniently under my arm, hindering my ability to grab onto anyone attempting to lollygag off the sidewalk and into traffic.Also, I don’t have hips, those soft natural resting areas for tired children needing to be carried.Nor do Dads get the other aforementioned equipment which makes the mother the first and foremost during the early stages.
This is one reason why stay-at-home Dads can more freely admit that a parent shouldn’t have to do it alone.That we’re not, nor will we ever be, a perfect parent (proof, I’m here walking around without boobs!)That the other half of this rearing equation makes this possible.That we need each other to do this. And that a mother, regardless of how far the gender roles reverse, will always be tied biologically, unconditionally to her child.So in a family where the father has stepped in as the primary caregiver, there is an automatic strong presence of both adults in the house, without having to force it or designate time for one parent to “be” with the kids.In a stay-at-home Dad household, both parents are there by default and both are compelled to grow and learn – learn to be flexible, learn to forgive, learn to shelve egos and learn to be patient.
Because for fathers as a whole there’s some catching up to do.But this is fine, we tend to love a good race.
In the meantime, though, we also get a day.
So here’s to the fathers, whether they’re huffing back and forth to an office or whether they’ve traded in their white collars for a T-shirt with spit-up on the shoulder.
Here’s to the spouses who love them, those at home or those overworked at jobs they’re still getting paid less than their male counterparts to perform, but who come back each night to coo a few bars of Over the Rainbow by the nightlight.
Here’s to the soon-to-be fathers trying to make sense of the installation guide for the car seat they just purchased.
Here’s to fathers worried that they maybe just yelled a little too loud.
Here’s to fathers not sure if they’ll have enough to cover groceries for next week.
Here’s to those worried that they’re barely keeping it together.
Here’s to the fathers who don’t have the slightest idea where they put the keys, to those too tired to finish reading this piece and to those who’ve forgotten they’re allowed to be on the receiving end of the celebration for once.
Here’s to fathers who never thought they’d wind up where they are right now, but find themselves doing all that is within their power everyday not to change a thing.
Here’s to guys not yet settled down, trying to imagine the face of their children in a future not as distant or out of the question as they assume.
Here’s to the fathers, the men, for whom it’s a little early to start signaling the end.
And here’s to our own fathers, by now done with the heavy lifting, but left with the understanding that patience, whatever form it takes, counts for something.