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.

 

 

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NATHANIEL MISSILDINE lives in Dijon, France with his wife and two daughters. He is the author of the 2012 travel memoir SAVE FOR FIREFLIES as well as a recently completed novel. Online writings, by turns comical and puzzling, are on display over at nathanielmissildine.com.

42 responses to “Choosy Dads Choose Jif, Too”

  1. Joe Daly says:

    >>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, <<

    I love a good simile.

    Even though my dad is 93, you just put things in a perspective that allowed me to consider so many things that he might experienced that as a perennial bachelor, had never occurred to me.

    Changing people’s perspective is a sign of effective writing. Well done.

    • Thanks, Joe, I’m glad it was effective for you. You and your dad probably have your own perspective-changing stories to recount. So a happy father’s day to him too this weekend.

    • Dana says:

      >>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, <<

      I remember one time when I was 4 or 5 my mom was away helping one of her sisters who’d just given birth, so dad had to brush my hair. That I’m 47 now and STILL remember that, it’s exactly like a Civil War hospital amputation. 😉

      My dad was amazingly involved for a parent of his generation. He went out of his way to spend time with both of his children, and I have the BEST memories of childhood — so many of them dadcentric. I bet your children will have wonderful memories of this time.

  2. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    I’m assuming your around my age (Gen X), and ours is the first generation to really see fathers staying at home with their children. I have three male friends who were at-home dads for the first years of their children’s lives. They acknowledged it was exhausting (as you indicated) but they also LOVED having a chance to bond with their children in a way their fathers never did with them. It’s really beautiful.

    I haven’t read THE END OF MEN article yet, but methinks the title is overdone and inflammatory. Men and women are both going in new directions. Change: Deal with it.

    Good luck finding a functional bag, by the way.

    • Yeah, I think our generation tends more and more not to notice whether the primary caregiving parent is the mom or dad. The strange looks I mention getting often come from members of older generations.

      The End of Men article is worth reading as it presents a good picture of what’s currently happening as men continue to underachieve. It’s just a little short of solutions for us. But, you’re absolutely right, everybody first just needs to deal with it.

      I will continue my bag search, I’m dangerously close to acquiring a fanny pack.

  3. Gloria says:

    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. <—– This is the best line about parenting EVER.

    I breastfed twins for two years. Do you have any idea how many times during that period I wished Dad had boobs?

    I love your writing. The comparison between two dollar bills and househusbands (both being legal tender) = genius.

    I love this article so much. It’s worthing linking and it’s worth thinking about. And I’m going to post it on a Facebook group that I started (that has a pretty lackluster following) called “Just Because Your Parents Did It, Doesn’t Make It Right.” And I’m going to send it to people I know, because you’re right. Men get the short end of the stick here. And it’s unfair. I have a friend who has an eight year old daughter. He took her to the mall to buy new clothes recently and was given looks and sideways glances and vibes that made him actually wonder if he was a masher – or worse. That’s totally unfair. He was just a loving a dad taking his little girl to buy clothes in a woman-dominated world. Unfair.

    Bravo to you, dad! Brilliant article. My only complaint: how could you possibly write this without making one single Michael Keaton reference?

    • Slade Ham says:

      Interesting, Gloria. I actually found the fact that there was no Michael Keaton reference refreshing. Good stuff Nate. Father’s Day has been a tough one for me the last few years, so I’ll just leave this at that.

    • I don’t know how I managed to skip mention of gender role pioneer Michael Keaton. I wonder if catching that movie on cable as a kid had some sort of effect on me and my life choices.

      But thank you for all these kind comments and for reposting this piece elsewhere, too. I’ll have to look for that group. Yes, a stay-at-home Dad to daughters presents still further challenges that I’m just starting to see the beginning of. It’s never helped by outsiders making snap judgments. Hopefully, the more Dads elect to take care of the kids, the less people will leap to negative conclusions.

  4. Matt says:

    Very nice piece, Nathaniel, and kudos to you. I for one would pay money to see a shark volcano eruption.

    One question: 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. If so, how then do you see the parenting dynamic of two gay men raising a child, absent of a biological female presence?

    • This is an interesting point that I’m glad you raised. I thought a lot about non-traditional parenting situations as I was writing this – single parents and same sex parents especially who face challenges well beyond a stay-at-home Dad offended by a peanut butter label. But to answer your question, my point was that a mother will always have a biological tie to her child, not that a child is incapable of being raised without this presence. Indeed from what I’ve witnessed first hand, most same sex parents take an equally strong parenting role with their child that is much more beneficial to the child’s development than the traditional family setup where the father doesn’t get involved. In the end, my piece speaks about my own personal inability to do it alone, that I need the other half, in my specific case the mother of my children.

      Thanks for the comment, Matt, and if you have further questions about the shark volcano, my daughter would be happy to get into details.

      • Matt says:

        True enough. I wasn’t entirely certain what you meant by “biological tie”, and think I misread the paragraph a little bit. My bad; I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the Prop 8 court case here in California that’s winding up right now and the “biological determanism of motherhood” has been used pretty frequently in the pro-8 argument. Ergo my slight confusion in what you meant.

        Ask your daughter for me: is the shark volcano underwater, as one might expect, or is it above ground, forcing people to deal with a post-eruption shower of toothy, hungry sharks falling from the sky?

        • I’m glad you were there to let me clarify, fortunately the definition of family and parenting has and always will continue to evolve.

          But the shark volcano stuff, that’s simply way over my head.

        • Don Mitchell says:

          Unfair, Mr. Missildine. I need to know about the shark volcano too.

          I liked this piece very much.

          What I’ve observed about fathers, whether stay-at-home or the common kind, is that some of them do really well with infants and toddlers — basically the little ones. For others — and I’m one of them — the older, the better.

          By this I don’t mean an inability to properly parent. I just mean taking extra pleasure in interactions.

          Anyway, this is a good thing to read just before Father’s Day.

        • dwoz says:

          I know what you mean, Don.

          I’ve got SERIOUS baby mojo.

          Right about 4 mos to 11 mos. The time when they’re developing stranger anxiety. I just scoop ’em up and the two of us style and hang. The moms are all “WTF? he/she ALWAYS cries when men pick him/her up!”

          It isn’t such a big deal, really. You just need to be able to speak baby.

          Truth be told, Moms get a little annoyed that their kid who is hell-and-gone past naptime, cold, hungry, wet, and bug-bitten, calm right down with me.

        • Nathaniel Missildine says:

          Yes, I’ve noticed the father-infant bond too, I think they’re soothed by our deeper resonant voices. And we’re soothed by just about every single thing they do. My daughters have just started to realize how charming and adorable I think they are, which they increasingly attempt to use to their advantage. Not sure how this bodes for the teenage years.

  5. dwoz says:

    From my own experience as a stay-at-home dad for awhile, I’ll suggest that you get a HOCKEY EQUIPMENT BAG.

    That’s what we used for a baby bag. Then again, we had a lot of equipment to haul for triplets. I think we even had a rock climber’s bivouac tent in there.

  6. Amber says:

    My fiancee has a 6 year old son. Said son lives with us. While filling out paperwork for Medicaid and to state he did not wish to receive child support, he encountered questions he couldn’t answer. Standard questions such as “Does the father see the child on a regular basis?” “Does the father have any identifying marks, such as tattoos or birthmarks?” “Is the father now or has the father been in prison?” Not one of those questions asked about the mother. The assumption was made throughout that the father had taken off and the mother had primary custody. He called to point this out and they promised to get him a less gender biased form that he could fill out more completely.

    People are still surprised to find out my fella went for (and got) primary custody of his son. And that he’s there every day to have dinner with him, to help with homework, to discipline when necessary. It shocks them. And that makes me sad. Sure, so many men have bailed on their kids that it’s seems like an epidemic, but why did they do it? I bet a lot of them were selfish, inconsiderate jerks. Maybe part of the reason some of them do it is because no one ever told them there was an alternative. Society doesn’t make it easy to be an involved father. Being a SAHD is even harder. I’m not excusing what these men do when they leave behind children and families, but maybe if we all made it more okay for men to care for their children, just as we attempt to make it more okay for moms to have jobs, then maybe more men would stick around and be dads.

    All that said, you go, Dad. Keep on being awesome.

    • Amber says:

      BTW, my guy’s name is also Nathaniel. Sweet. 😀

    • Good for your fiancee. There have been plenty of bad examples of fatherhood, like the ones discussed in the article I linked to called the End of Men. I still believe overall that the majority of Dads make sacrifices and put in the time with their families, and in ways that are not acknowledged as often as they should be. It’s the jerks that get the attention. You’re right that society doesn’t reinforce an involved father. Many times this comes from other men who don’t view raising a child as an achievement. But this too is changing, thanks to your example and the very fact that you’re sharing stories about a dad doing something right.

  7. Irene Zion says:

    Happy Father’s Day, Nathaniel!
    You are a jewel among men.

  8. Uche Ogbuji says:

    Hang on! The article says that for the first time women are the majority in the workforce? And it’s wondering what men are going to do with themselves?

    Is The Atlantic seriously that bereft of imagination? Hell, even I know the answer to that one:

    Managing the new workforce

    • Nathaniel Missildine says:

      See if only I could pull this look off it would solve so many daddy problems for me, one being that a whole new set of handbag options would open up for me. Maybe I can start with the hat.

  9. I leafed through that issue of the Atlantic, saw that article title, and kept flipping pages….but, as a man intimately acquainted with the baby Bjorn, I understand exactly where you’re coming from trying to define your place…or designation…or just a touch of understanding in uncomprehending and judgmental eyes. Three kids all by yourself? Hero status. Nice piece.

    • Nathaniel Missildine says:

      Thanks, Sean. Ah yes, the baby Bjorn. Another piece of childrearing equipment that only sometimes works for guys, until that day the baby’s legs are long enough to dribble your crotch.

  10. zoe zolbrod says:

    Loved this. My husband has a Manhattan Portage bag that works pretty well. When we had kids, he was the one whose cut back on work to stay home more. My instinct was that if I were the one to stay home, I’d be the primary parent 24-7, just as you suggest, but I knew I’d be super-involved no matter what. Plus, hard as it is sometimes for all the reasons taking care of little kids and paying the bills and having a life while doing it is hard, I like putting my money where my Women’s Studies 101 mouth was. So to speak. Happy Father’s Day!

    • Nathaniel Missildine says:

      Sounds like you’ve had a similar experience to ours, so a happy father’s day to your husband too. A Manhattan Portage bag sounds cool and perhaps life-changing. Thanks for your comment, Zoe.

  11. dwoz says:

    Ok, so I just had an experience that puts this whole topic front-and-center for me.

    Let me set the stage:

    My daughter is in the Boston Ballet.

    Forgive me the conceit of writing that, which is technically true, though she’s not a principal, or even in the corps du ballet. No, she’s in the school. Being in the Boston Ballet (school) is not a casual affair. She’s dancing six days a week. Toe shoes have become a regular household expense. Every Saturday, I take the limousine duty, shuttling down from idyllic New Hampshire into the city for to spend five hours of standby, until the trek back home in the early evening. It would be an insufferable black hole in my schedule but for the fact that I couldn’t dream of a better excuse to carve out a solid block of writing time. So on Saturdays, you can find me in the lobby of the Boston Ballet, getting in my 2k words.

    So, today is the final day of the semester. I am told as I leave the house in the morning that I have been volunteered to assist in the party catering and serving for the last-class party. I am fine with that. I generally make myself useful, and take care, surrounded by Ballet Moms, to not have an opinion. That strategy works well. In the course of serving up pizza and pastry to a hundred students and their parents, I run into the back office to fetch some more cake. There around the table , sit the school director and the various teachers, who, past their years of touring the world’s stages on young bodies and firm knees, have devoted this second stage of their lives to pouring that experience into my daughter’s able body.

    The director looks at me, and says “Oh, my goodness! What is this! It’s a man working with the parent group!” Apparently, this is an event that happens on the same general frequency as a full solar eclipse during a planetary alignment, or perhaps a changeover into a new geological epoch.

    I answer: “What, do you think, I’m going to TRUST WOMEN to properly handle FOOD SERVICE????”

    I of course say it in an exaggerated tone of effeminate false indignation. The women at the table, each of which have certainly lived the life of diva, wined and dined in 4-star restaurants where the thought of a woman waiting table would be met with a chuckle, did not take me up on my repartee.

    But what an interesting concept.

    • Nathaniel Missildine says:

      Thanks for sharing this story. My girls both recently had a ballet recital (maybe just a smidge more casual than the Boston ballet) and when I went backstage to help get them ready I was the only guy present I think, like a gorilla in a sea of bouncy pink flowers. Glad you could offer a joke in your situation, even if no one else was laughing.

  12. […] — Nathaniel Missildine […]

  13. angela says:

    aw, what a great piece. the end brought a tear to my eye.

    happy father’s day!

    • Nathaniel Missildine says:

      Thanks Angela. I hesitated on the end, because I thought it might be too much. But then figured as a Dad I might be able to get away with more.

  14. Jordan Ancel says:

    And here’s to you, Nathaniel, for stepping into the role of stay-at-home dad. I have friends who hold this title, and although clunky at times, they seem to handle it with at least as much grace and humility as you do.

    It is an interesting paradigm shift that has occurred in our generation. There used to be such a stigma associated with working women and stay-at-home dads. The father’s often wore a label like slacker bum, loser, or worse. But now, with our generation thinking more progressively, the role reversal isn’t so uncommon, nor it frowned upon.

    Great piece for father’s day.

    • Thanks, Jordan. The more the stigma becomes a thing of the past, the less clunky we stay-at-home Dads are. Though our generation hasn’t eradicated the stigma entirely. That bum or loser label still gets applied from time to time, in a lot cases I think from a housedad’s own voice of self-doubt.

  15. Marni Grossman says:

    As someone who subscribes to the philosophy that gender is a social construct and care work- of all types- is undervalued, I say kudos to you. In women’s studies classes, we often liked to say that patriarchy hurts men too. And here’s an example. There’s no reason to think that it isn’t perfectly natural to be a stay-at-home dad. It’s our fucked up society that says otherwise.

    It’ll be a happy day when no one raises an eyebrow at a father who’s a primary caretaker.

    Happy belated father’s day. You deserve it!

    • Thanks for this nice comment, Marni. I think your key point there is how undervalued care work is, mostly because it’s hard to quantify and end goals are so long-term (terms of assessment largely set by men). But patriarchy I think is steadily getting dismantled, for everyone’s benefit, even if what we’re left with can be a little messier at times.

  16. Tawni says:

    As a stay-at-home parent, I really appreciated this piece. Great writing. Happy Father’s Day. (:

  17. Dana says:

    I just bought this most excellent bag — and while not a diaper bag, it might suit you.

    Totally geeky, but it’s really roomy and I love it. http://www.thinkgeek.com/computing/bags/aaa5/?cpg=froogle

    • I had no idea of all the good options out there. This, like some of the others suggested, would be a significant step up from the plastic grocery bag I currently use. Thanks, Dana for your comments and kind words.

  18. hospital says:

    hospital…

    […]Nathaniel Missildine | Choosy Dads Choose Jif, Too | The Nervous Breakdown[…]…

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