About Me

My photo
I’m a stay-at-home dad. People say all kinds of dumb things to stay-at-home dads. This blog began as a way for me to record these comments and criticize the people who said them. However, it's evolved, and I now use it to express other random thoughts on parenting, children, gender, and society. Thanks for checking it out.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

“Do You Help Your Wife With the Cleaning and Stuff?”

Not long ago, I was at Target with my 1-year-old daughter. It was our weekly trip to spend ridiculous amounts of money on diapers, baby food, a wide array of kid-friendly crackers, too many paper towels, and maybe—if there’s room in the budget—one or two items for me. We were in the checkout line, and the cordial, clueless employee started chatting it up with me.
Noticing the small child and assorted groceries in my cart, she asked with a smile, “Are you a stay-at-home dad?”
“Yep,” I said, wondering to myself whether she asks moms the same question.
“Aw, that’s so cute!”
I smiled and gave a polite, fake laugh. As I’ve pointed out before, I don’t think it’s particularly cute that I care for my kids, but whatever. No point in making this lady feel bad. Target management had already required her to wear a “New Team Member” nametag, and that’s embarrassing enough.
But then she kept on yammering.
“So, do you help your wife with the cleaning and stuff?”
At that point, I looked around for a hidden camera. I had met this lady 15 seconds ago, and she had already said three blog-worthy things to me. Was this some kind of a prank? It’s like she had read my blog and was trying to provoke me. Maybe she wanted to get mentioned. If so, it was working.
“I do the cleaning,” I replied. “I don’t really call it ‘helping.’ It’s my job. I’m the stay-at-home parent.”
“Oh! That’s great!” she said, wide-eyed. “Do you want a handle for your toilet paper?” Then she made stupid faces at my daughter and continued ringing me up.
I hope I got through to her, at least a little. That word—“help”—bothers me, and anything I can do to stop its widespread use is a step in the right direction.
I’ve heard it a lot since I started the stay-at-home thing. Someone once asked me if I “help with laundry.” When people hear that I cook dinner most nights, I’ve been told, “That’s so nice of you to help your wife like that.” It reminds me of when my 5-year-old “helps” me shovel snow, which is to say he scoops one small shovelful and then just jumps around making snow angels. I call him “Daddy’s helper” because it’s cute (there’s that other word the Target lady used), not because he’s actually helping.
Why is it “helping” when men do the housework? When I was single and lived alone, I did my own laundry and washed my own dishes all the time. Whom was I helping back then?
When I moved in with a woman, did it immediately become her job to clean my skivvies for me? If that’s the case, someone tell her, because I can count on one hand the number of times she’s done my laundry in seven years of marriage. (Full disclaimer: Because of my OCD, I pretty much have to do my own laundry. If I let someone else do it, they might fold it all wrong.)
I’m not helping my wife when I clean the house, anymore than she’s helping me when she goes to work every day. Using the word “help” implies that the cleaning is rightfully her job, and that the breadwinning is mine. That it’s not my responsibility as a grown man to scrub the toilet once a week, and that she really shouldn’t have a career that can support a family.
We’re married, we own a home, and we decided for some reason to have two money-sucking, attention-demanding, mess-making, beautiful, wonderful, glorious children. All of the responsibilities associated with those endeavors are shared responsibilities. They don’t belong to one of us or the other. I mow the lawn and iron the clothes. My wife bathes the kids and cleans the gutters. We both work and earn money.
The majority of the housework falls on my shoulders, and it should. After all, she works full-time, and I work part-time. It seems like a no-brainer, and it works for us. That’s not to say we enjoy it all the time or never quibble over who’s busier, but simply that we recognize things need to get done and don’t much care which one of us does them.
I know it’s not my place to tell anyone how to run their household. The traditional arrangement—man go hunting, woman go to river and beat clothes on rock—works for plenty of families, no matter how disturbingly outdated it seems to me. To ask everyone to abandon that and embrace a world in which we all rake leaves and pay mortgages and bake quiches and wipe babies’ asses, regardless of our preconceived notions about gender, is asking a lot.
So let’s start slow, by simply correcting Target employees. And by recognizing nobody should feel forced to do anything because of what is or isn’t between his or her legs. If you want to do it the old way, go ahead. It’s none of my business. Just don’t refer to me as my wife’s “helper” if you happen to notice me cleaning my own damn house.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


About a mile from our house, there’s a community center that offers playgroups several days a week. Before my son was in school, I took him there often, and now I take my 1-year-old daughter. It’s close, it’s cheap, and it provides valuable socialization for my daycare-less kids.

The community center is where I’ve met about 90% of the men and women (mostly women) in my network of stay-at-home parents. It’s also where I’ve encountered countless absurd comments that could inspire legions of blog posts. But that’s not what I’m going to write about today. Rather, I’m going to write about the painful lack of absurd comments—or any comments, for that matter. I’m going to write about silence. Undisguised, unmistakable silence.

It happens all the time. There I am, the dad, walking into the playgroup room with a child in my arm and a diaper bag over my shoulder. There she is, some random mom, sitting at the snack table, reading a magazine or looking at her phone, glancing at her kid every once in a while. I nod and say hello as I enter. She gives a polite smile and, without a word, goes back to what she was doing.

OK, I think. Not everyone has to jump out of their seats at the sight of another parent. She’s here to sit for a while and let her kid play, just like I am. Like I said, it’s the kids who are there to socialize, not the parents.

So we sit in silence for a few minutes. Then, in walks another mom with her kid. And another with her kids. And another. They greet each other, they settle in, their kids play. The buzz of conversation slowly begins, and soon the room is humming with children frolicking and moms chatting and laughing about bedtimes, feeding routines and discipline strategies. Some of them clearly know each other, but others are definitely strangers, as I overhear several introductions. (“I’m Katie, and this is my daughter Indigo.” “Hi, Katie. I’m Sarah, and this is Maxton.”)

Wait a minute, I think. What’s happening? I thought the lady reading the magazine just wasn’t social, and now she’s yammering on with two other women about the best overnight diapers and which brand of sippy cup is BPA-free. And there I sit, in a chair designed for a 3-year-old, looking like the new kid in school. Or just the kid everyone avoids because he always smells like cat pee.

I realize it takes time to be accepted into any new group. That’s cool. And, to be clear, I’ve met plenty of personable moms who have accepted me immediately. As for the ones who don’t, I’m a big boy and I can take it. It’s just that it fascinates me how blatant it can sometimes be.

For instance, some moms were sitting around one week talking about laundry detergent. I know it sounds cliché, but I speak the truth. When moms get together—the moms I witness anyway—they talk about laundry detergent and baby shampoo. I’m all for breaking down stereotypes (that’s the whole point of this blog), but damned if I don’t overhear a conversation about which brand of cleanser won’t scratch the bathtub or some such domestic matter every time I show up to playgroup. It’s like being on the other side of the glass during a Procter & Gamble focus group.

This particular week, as I said, it was laundry detergent. Do you pay the extra money for name brand, or is the store brand just as good? Liquid or powder? Scented or unscented? And don’t even get me started on dryer sheets.

I sat in my seat apart from the group, listening for a few minutes before weighing in. I figured, if they won’t ask for my opinion, I’ll take the initiative and offer it unsolicited. Then they’ll see I’m one of them, and I’ll be accepted.

“My son has eczema,” I said. “So we’ve switched to unscented everything.”

They all stopped speaking and turned to look at me.

“Unscented body wash, unscented detergent, unscented dryer sheets,” I continued. “We use All Free Clear. It works just as well, and his skin has really improved.”

There was a moment of silence from both sides. Probably a second or two, but it seemed like much longer. Then, slowly, they all turned back to one another, shook off whatever it was that had just happened, and picked up their discussion where they had left off.

And that was that. My attempt to join the party had failed. They carried on conversing, and I went back to keeping my mouth shut.

About a half hour later, I discovered that my contribution to the laundry detergent forum did break the ice a bit. As I was preparing to leave, a mom who was packing up her stuff alongside me started making some chit-chat.

“So you, like, do the laundry and stuff?” she asked.

“Yeah, I do,” I replied.

“Oh,” she said, clearly interested but not really knowing what else to say.

Silence followed as we zipped shut our diaper bags and grabbed our kids.

“OK, have a good day then,” I said. And we parted ways.

Another playgroup, another hour of awkward silence, I thought on my way home. As I considered this lady’s question, however, it occurred to me that I had stumbled on a possible revelation. Maybe I had an answer as to why these moms don’t include me in their domestic discussions.

See, I assume all stay-at-home parents do the bulk of the housework. They’re the ones home during the day, so it just makes sense that they would handle the laundry, grocery shopping, and what not. But, if this lady’s question is any indication, these moms assume I don’t do these things. “So you, like, do the laundry and stuff?” the lady had asked. The notion had never occurred to her, so she didn’t even think to include me in the discussion.

These moms weren’t necessarily ignoring me because I gave them the creeps (although I still kept that open as a possibility); they were ignoring me because they figured I wouldn’t have any interest or input in what they were talking about. It’s akin to a bunch of men sitting around talking about football while ignoring the one or two women in the room.

As anyone with a partially open mind can understand, that’s not really fair. Still, it happens to both sexes all the time. Just as some men assume sports talk is a boys-only club, certain women assume child-rearing chat is girls-only territory, and they’re protective of it. No boys allowed.

To a certain extent, I’ve got it coming. Everyone knows sexism almost always hurts women, not men. Women are the ones who get talked down to by mechanics. They’re the ones whose gender is used as an insult—nobody ever disparages a kid by saying, “You throw like a boy.” They’re the ones who—in 2014, for god’s sake—get paid 77 cents to the man’s dollar for doing the same damn job.

One thing women have on men, however, is parenting. Moms, not dads, are still seen as the family nurturers. They’re the experts in raising children and managing households. So I can imagine their confusion and possible resentment when I strut in, trying to talk about unscented laundry detergent. Men have taken away enough from women over the years, and here I am trying to horn in on something they’re universally seen as better at.

Ah, the hell with it. Maybe I’m over-thinking this. Maybe I really do just give them the creeps. I suppose the next time I go to a playgroup, I should wear pants.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Tale of Two Old Ladies

As I go through my daily adventures as a stay-at-home dad, I regularly field odd looks and dumb questions from a vast array of people. Young, old, man, woman, parent, nonparent, seemingly intelligent, obviously dimwitted—they’re all capable of the unintentional insult. But the demographic that seems to notice me and other daytime dads the most would have to be senior women. The surprise, the judgment, the genuine confusion, the “Giving your wife a break today?” questions—they seem to come from older ladies more than any other group.

It makes sense, I guess. When I’m out food shopping with one or both of my kids in the middle of the day, it’s probably a jarring image for the sixty-plus female crowd. Thirty, forty, fifty years ago, when they were parents of toddlers, this was their territory. There wasn’t a man to be seen in these parts. While today’s retail aisles are still populated by more moms than dads, the tide is slowly turning, and I suppose the old guardians of the grocery store are the ones most likely to take notice.

Three of those fingers are
pointing right back at you,
you crusty old bird.
I’ll give you a couple examples, one that reinforced my general disapproval of the human race and one that might just be enough to convince me to give everyone another chance.

I took my son, who was two at the time, to an indoor playground for a morning of chaos and germ trading. If you’re a parent, you know the kind of place I’m talking about. You go there when it’s too cold or rainy to play outside or when you’ve run out of other ideas. You pay admission, you take off your shoes, and there are a variety of slides, half-broken toys, and overpriced snacks. The kids run amuck, simultaneously dazed and squealing from their steady diets of Ritalin and Twizzlers, while their parents wander around, staring at their smartphones. Not my favorite place in the world, but for $8, it’s not a bad way to spend a half day and let the boy burn off some energy.

At the end of this particular half day, when I told my son it was time to go, I was met with some resistance. Kids hate to leave a place when they’re having fun, and if there’s anyone in the world harder to reason with with than a two-year-old, it’s an exhausted two-year-old who’s approaching naptime. I gave him a five-minute warning, but when he didn’t make his way to the exit himself, I did what you do next in these situations: I lifted him off the floor myself, securing as many of his flailing arms and legs as possible.

As I raised him toward my face, he let out a horrible, high-pitched, ear-piercing yelp. An octave higher and it would have been detectable only by dogs.

“Whoa!” I reacted. “What’s with the screaming?” It was a rhetorical question; I didn’t really expect my two-year-old to answer me.

Then, from behind, I felt a boney old hand on my shoulder. It was some kid’s grandma, attempting to assuage my anxiety. In a calming voice, she said, “Noises like that are perfectly normal for children that age.”

Huh? She was talking to me as if I’d never dealt with a two-year-old before. As if this was my first day on the job. As if, because I’m a dad, I needed some guidance.

“Oh, I know,” I replied, nodding.

She gave me a reassuring smile and another pat on the shoulder, and then she went back to practice her obviously superior caregiving with her dirty little grandkids.

As with any such instance, this could simply be a case of my misinterpreting things. Maybe I’m looking for subtle sexism in every interaction, so I’m bound to see it even when it’s not there. Perhaps this lady would have said the same thing to a mom in the same situation, and I’m just paranoid.

But you know what they say: sometimes a little paranoia is just sound thinking. I’ve gotten “the look” before. Plenty of times. And I might seem like some crazy guy who thinks everyone is out to get him when I say old ladies look at me differently from how they look at moms, but I know it’s true at least part of the time.

I know this, because one old lady actually said it.

We were at the post office on a Tuesday morning, my son and I. We had stopped there on our way to story time at the library, so it must have been about ten a.m. I held my son in one arm and handed our package to the postal worker with the other. My son was helping push the buttons on the credit card machine, as he likes to do, when I noticed an old lady watching us and smiling. I smiled back.

Then, she spoke, and it’s something I’ll never forget.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said slowly, “that we’re starting to see more men doing so many of the things only women used to do.”

“Thank you,” I replied. And I meant it. “Thank you” is something we say a dozen times a day, but we don’t often mean it; we’re just being polite. This time, it was sincere. That lady made my day.

I didn’t think there was anything particularly mom-like about what I was doing that morning. I was just mailing a package with my son. But it was ten a.m. on a Tuesday, and I was ably handling a two-year-old in public, and that was enough for this old lady to take notice. As I said before, I have to remember that when she was my age, she probably didn’t see such things.

The fact that she was embracing this change made me want to hug her. She “got it.” In one sentence, she acknowledged that roles are shifting, she approved of it, and she delighted in it. She didn’t make me feel unwelcome or inept. On the contrary, she made me feel warm and fuzzy, right there at the post office.

It’s almost enough to make a grump like me find a restored faith in humankind. I walked into library story time with my head held high that morning, and there may have even been a skip in my step. I felt I had broken through some sort of societal wall. It was a victory.

Then, of course, five minutes in, some grandma at the library noticed me and chuckled. “Uh oh!” she said, “Dad’s in charge today!”

And just like that, I was put right back in my place as the untrusted outsider. Thanks, lady. For a moment there, I was feeling good about the world.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

“Father of the Year”

I almost feel bad writing about this one, because the lady who said it really did mean it as a compliment. She didn’t intend to simultaneously degrade all fathers and mothers everywhere. But she kind of did.

It happened a few weeks ago, when I was at a restaurant with my kids. It was just the three of us: me, my 5-year-old, and my 9-month-old. My wife was in the midst of a busy period at work, and, for the second time that week, she’d be home rather late. It always feels a bit pointless to cook a substantial dinner on nights like that, as I’m the only adult around to enjoy it, so I figured we’d dine out instead. Let someone else do the cooking and wash the dishes, and let the kids be distracted and entertained by the many sights and sounds of “da westawant,” as my son fondly calls it.

We were sitting at the outside patio—my son enjoying his buttered noodles and fruit salad and me skillfully eating a black bean burger with my daughter squiggling on my lap—when a lady sat down at the table next to ours. I was taken aback, because she was a dead ringer for Margot Kidder. For those of you unfamiliar with Margot Kidder, she played Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve Superman movies in the ‘70s and ‘80s. She also went bat-shit crazy in the ‘90s. This lady at the restaurant looked like the ‘90s Margot Kidder. We’ll refer to her simply as “Bonkers.”

Left: Young, graceful Margot Kidder. Right: Old, crazy Margot Kidder.
Bonkers noticed my little family and seemed excited by us. She energetically asked me, “Are you out to eat with both of your kids?”

“Yes, I am,” I replied.

“Wow! You’re Father of the Year!” Bonkers declared with a slightly-psychotic smile.

I smiled back and thanked her. She stared at us for a while and then periodically glanced over and smiled adoringly throughout the rest of our time together. I was a bit frightened but mostly flattered.

I knew she was just being nice. She was congratulating me on my bravery for taking two young children out in public with no assistance. And, for a moment, I bought it. “Yeah, I am Father of the Year,” I thought, smugly helping myself to another sweet potato fry. But it didn’t take long before my general dislike of people kicked in, and I recognized how unfair her statement was.

This amazing feat that I was pulling off? This “Father of the Year” display I was exhibiting? Moms do it all the time, and nobody seems to notice. This lady sees a dad doing it, and it’s the greatest thing she’s ever witnessed.
Do I really deserve one of these? Probably not.

Yes, it can be difficult to handle a 5-year-old and a 9-month-old at a restaurant. So I hope the next time Bonkers sees a mom doing that, she flashes her a creepy grin and declares her Mother of the Year.

But that never happens. In fact, I’ll tell you another story. A few days later, all four of us—my wife included—were out to dinner at a restaurant to celebrate Mother’s Day. Our 9-month-old was especially cranky that evening, and she refused to sit in the restaurant’s highchair without crying, pounding her fists, and letting everyone around her know what awful, selfish parents we are for asking her to sit quietly for ten minutes while we eat our meals. So, my wife and I took turns eating. My wife ate first while I carried the baby around, making silly faces at her and pointing out distractions like ceiling fans and crappy wall paintings with my best faux enthusiasm. Then, when my wife finished eating, she grabbed the baby and returned the favor so I could eat.

While I walked around with my daughter, I caught some man who was standing at the bar beaming warmly at me. When I got closer to him, he said, “You’re a good dad.” Of course, I thanked him. But when my wife walked around with the baby, he said no such thing to her. And he had the opportunity to say it, as she walked right past him. When we left the restaurant after finishing our meal, he saw me carrying the baby in her car seat, and he said it again.

But no compliment for my wife. Not even a “Happy Mother’s Day.”

“What about me?” my wife asked me. “Am I not a good mom?”

Sorry, honey. That’s how double standards work. You don’t get any praise; all that hard work and dedication to your children is just expected of you.

Here’s yet another example, brought to you by Facebook. One night, around 8:00, a friend and mother of two posted something along the following lines:

“Whew! So thankful for my wonderful husband Larry, who’s taking over bath and bedtime duty with the boys so Mommy can get some alone time at the gym! Feeling blessed.”

The comments came pouring in, from men and women alike:

“What a great dad!!!”
“Awwww! Lucky girl!”
“Good guy you’ve got there. Hang on to him. ;)”
“So great that Larry will do that for you!”

In other words, 364 nights a year, this lady bathes her kids and puts them to bed, usually after working her full-time job. Then, one night, her husband takes over, and he’s elevated to superhero status.

Like Bonkers’s Father of the Year proclamation and bar dude’s “You’re a good dad,” this Facebook BS is an insult to both sexes.

It’s an insult to women because it reinforces the outdated idea that it’s their job to take care of the kids while the men do whatever it is they do—work, eat, drink, perhaps relax with a pipe and the evening newspaper. When people subscribe to this kind of thinking, mothers who aren’t constantly nurturing their children are seen as being bad at “their job.” That’s right, ladies. You don’t get time to enjoy a meal, read a few pages of a favorite book, or—heaven forbid—have a career. Your proper place is in your house, bent over the side of a tub, washing your screaming two-year-old. Whatever other silly endeavors you take on, child-rearing is still all on you.

It’s an insult to men because it implies an expectation of incompetence or indifference. Even though someone might mean it as a compliment, they’re also saying, “Gee, seeing as how you’re a man and all, I would expect you to be a bumbling idiot or just not give a shit about your own kids. But look at you! Way to go, you big, loveable dummy!”

So, the moral of the story is this: Don’t compliment anyone. No, that can’t be it. I guess you should just think before you speak. And maybe try gradually shedding whatever archaic ideas about gender roles you’re still carrying around in 2014. It’s not easy, I know. These ideas are reinforced everywhere: our upbringing, our peers, TV, movies, advertising. Everywhere. But you can do it if you put forth a conscious effort.

I mean, if a moron like me can figure out how to clothe and feed my children, anything’s possible, right?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

“Dad’s Babysitting?”

I’ll be the first to admit, most of the dumb things people say to me and other stay-at-home dads are pretty harmless. I really do understand that they’re not meant to be offensive. “Mr. Mom,” probably the most common gaffe, is just an outdated attempt at creating a cute nickname for us. For better or worse, most people see nothing wrong with it.

But here’s one I don’t understand at all. Every time I hear it, I wonder how people can say it without knowing how offensive/degrading/inappropriate/imbecilic it is.

“Dad’s babysitting?”

Let me tell you about one of the many times I’ve heard this phrase or one of its variations. When my son was two, he and I went to the hospital to see my mom, who was recovering from shoulder surgery. After the visit, we were standing in a hallway, waiting for an elevator, when some guy who worked at the hospital—perhaps a nurse or a lab tech or a bedpan emptier—noticed us and smiled.

“Oh, Daddy’s babysitting today?” he asked.

I gave a slight, insincere laugh and said, “Yeah, every day.”

“Oh,” he said, his smile disappearing. Put off by my refusal to be amused by his stupid comment, he turned his head away and quickly got back to his business. My son and I boarded the elevator, and I mumbled a variety of curse words as the doors closed.

I'm going to start hanging these around the house.
Then I have to change my name to Sarah.
That day at the hospital is just one instance. Over the years, I’ve been accused of babysitting at all sorts of places—the bank, the park, the grocery store, the mall, the library, the police station (don’t ask) … and the list goes on. That doesn’t include the times I’m not around to hear it. On the rare occasion that my dear wife gets a night or an afternoon out with her friends, some ditz in the group inevitably says it. “Where are the kids? Dad babysitting today?” she’ll smugly inquire.

Really? Babysitting? What the hell do I look like, a high school student? A neighborhood teen trying to make a few extra bucks so I can buy a used car? Do they think my wife pays me $9 an hour and tells me to help myself to anything in the fridge?

I’m their dad. It’s not babysitting if I’m one their two parents. That’s what I represent: half of their total parental team.

I just don’t get it. I don’t get how people in 2014 can still say such thoughtless crap and think it’s OK. The idea behind it is pretty clear: that it’s somehow not my place to care for my own children. That I’m just keeping things under control until Mom—their rightful caregiver—returns. That I’m waiting for my shift to be over so I can hand these strangers back to someone who loves them and return to whatever it is I do when I’m not working my part-time nanny gig.

Let me repeat: I’m their dad. Stop staring and smiling. And stop saying I’m babysitting.

Now, some of you might be saying, “Oh, lighten up, Dave. They think it’s cute. What’s wrong with that?”

Plenty. When I went to the oil change place a few months ago, I didn’t tell the woman who checked my tire pressure that I thought she was cute. I didn’t say, “Oh, pretending to be a mechanic today?” I didn’t say anything, because I assume she just wants to be treated like the rest of the employees. She’d rather I not notice—or at least not point out—that she’s a woman performing a job dominated by men.

And that’s exactly what I would like: to just not be noticed. Yep, I’m a dad alone with his children. Go ahead and treat me like any other parent. Not sure what to say to me that doesn’t involve the root word “babysit”? Try simply saying hello or chatting about the weather. Or—here’s an idea—say nothing at all. Just act like what you’re witnessing is perfectly normal.

By the way, I am by no means the first person to write about this topic. Google “dad babysitting” and you’ll find articles and posts aplenty, like this one from The Atlantic, which describes the phenomenon much more eloquently than I ever could. Here’s a taste: “The act of a man sharing parental responsibilities is highly desirable to women, but still relatively infrequent, and therefore elicits laudatory reactions.” See what I mean? You raised your IQ ten points
just by reading that sentence.

But, believe it or not, some people out there actually defend the “babysitting” label. Like the sexist windbag who wrote “10 Reasons Fathers CAN Be Referred to as Babysitters.” It’s a shitty little article that describes the majority of dads as men “who dance between being an extra child and a full-fledged partner” and warns moms that leaving children with Dad could result in a visit by a team of first responders. Feel that? That was your IQ dropping back down. If you’re reading this, Keesha (the “author”), please contact me. I have some words for you.

Here’s the thing about Keesha. By referring to me and her husband as babysitters, she’s not just insulting us—she’s teaching her kids a significant lesson. She’s teaching her sons that, when they grow up, they needn’t consider themselves caregivers of their own children. And she’s teaching her daughters that they shouldn’t expect the fathers of their future children to act as partners in child-rearing.

That’s unfortunate, because Keesha has the chance to break the cycle. If her dad was all thumbs with her and her siblings, or if her husband is a neglectful oaf who wouldn’t touch a diaper with a ten-foot pole, then I’m sorry to hear that. Maybe her kids can turn the tide. That begins with a conscious effort to keep her unfair preconceptions to herself. Otherwise, she’s just perpetuating the very problem she’s whining about.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

“Your Wife Could Probably Do It”

As I look back at my previous posts, I notice they’re all about women. I didn’t mean to do that; it just happened that way. It’s not that men never say dumb things to me. Quite the contrary. In fact, I’ll tell you about a doozy that happened just a couple weeks ago.
Recently, a regional appliance/furniture/electronics store was having a going-out-of-business sale. One afternoon, I had some time to kill, so I decided to toss the kids into the car and go check out the deals. I was hoping to score a small, cheap TV for the basement.
The trip was a bust. Hardly anything was left, save for a few scratched-up end tables and some giant microwaves that looked as though they had been on the sales floor since 1986. So, the kids and I abandoned our mission.
As we headed for the doors, some dumbass employee was inspired to crack a joke. He saw me carrying my 8-month-old daughter’s car seat in one hand while using my other hand to guide my 5-year-old away from something shiny and toward the exit. Apparently, my slight struggle was an amusing site for this guy.
“Hey, ya don’t wanna carry a ‘frigerator out too?!” he loudly kidded, motioning toward the appliance section. (Yes, in Wisconsin some people call them “‘frigerators.”) He then laughed much harder than necessary and continued with the following zinger:
“Your wife could probably do it! She’s better at multitasking!”
I gave him an annoyed smile, muttered some response and went on my way.
It was a lame joke, told by a guy I’ll probably never see again. But there’s a popular attitude behind his words—an attitude I run into all the time. It’s this idea that, as a dad, I’m out of my element corralling two kids while trying to complete an everyday task like shopping. That kind of juggling act is better suited to my wife, who no doubt has some sort of device connected remotely from her lady parts to her brain that enables her to handle such stress.
It happens at the pediatrician’s office, when the nurse directs every question to my wife while ignoring me. And it happens globally, like when a video entitled “World’s Toughest Job” went viral last week. Maybe you’ve seen it. Some guy in a suit interviews a bunch of eager job-seekers for a non-specified position. As he gradually reveals the outrageous stipulations of the job—you must be on duty 24 hours a day, the work can be highly physical, there’s no pay—the candidates grow more confused and indignant. It’s then revealed that the position they’re interviewing for is “mom.” It’s a clever and cute little video full of tears at the end, but would it have killed them to say “parent” instead of “mom”?
Now, if you’re a woman and you’re reading this, you no doubt have little sympathy for me, as you’ve probably been the victim of sexism more times in the last month than I have my whole life. Mechanics, repair technicians, complete strangers, bosses and certain politicians talk this way to you all the time. In fact, had my wife been with me in that appliance store, and we would have been shopping for a ‘frigerator, I’m sure that same employee would have looked directly at me when throwing out cubic feet measurements and energy efficiency numbers, figuring my silly wife wouldn’t understand such technical talk.
Maybe I don’t have much to complain about. Of course, I’ve never let that stop me before.
Anyway, back to the ‘fridgerator guy. My first thought was that I should attribute his cluelessness to his age. I’d guess he was about 50. Not ancient by any means, but not the typical age of a new parent in 2014 and therefore still stuck in an old-school attitude about gender roles. Then again, he might have been 30 for all I know. He looked like a heavy drinker and chain smoker, and it’s always hard to guess the age of those people. Actually, what he really looked like was a guy who previously wasn’t allowed to leave the stockroom for fear that he’d frighten customers but was permitted to come out this week because the store was closing anyway.
So I’m not sure how old he was. But does age really matter anyway? Is that a valid excuse? If anything, shouldn’t extra years give a person extra wisdom?
On second thought, he has no good excuse for his boneheaded remark. Get with it, ‘fridgerator guy. The times they are a-changin’. As parenting becomes more and more of a shared responsibility, your ideas about bumbling, clueless dads and multitasking supermoms—much like your once-mighty retail store—are rapidly becoming obsolete.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

“So, What Do YOU Do All Day?”

As my millions of fans know (millions, dozens, whatever), I write about dumb things people say to me when they find out I’m a stay-at-home dad. It’s been my intention from the beginning to focus on things people say to stay-at-home dads, not stay-at-home parents in general. Plenty of asinine comments are directed at stay-at-home moms every day, and I don’t mean to disregard that fact, but I’m going to stick with what I know. And I believe the two lists of stupid comments are distinct enough that I can dedicate a blog solely to the dad side of it.
There is, of course, some overlap. Today’s comment represents an interesting and ironic slice of that overlap. It’s one that stay-at-home parents of both sexes hear, but it means different things depending on the recipient.
When moms hear it, it goes like this: “So, what do you DO all day?”
It’s the last thing you should ask a stay-at-home mom. Look it up. They hate hearing it, and for good reason. It implies that their job is easy, conjuring up images of comfortable, makeup-less women relaxing on sofas, watching daytime soaps and eating economy-size packages of Double Stuf Oreos. Stay-at-home moms know that spending the day with screaming, messy, ungrateful, destructive kids who can’t give you two goddamn minutes to pee in peace, let alone wash the dishes, is a nerve-racking, exhausting job, and they don’t like to have their blood, sweat and tears come under question.
One of those clever Internet memes.
Stay-at-home dads don’t like it either. However, when we hear the question, it goes like this:
“So, what do YOU do all day?”
Notice the emphasis is on a different word. That’s an important distinction, because it carries with it a whole different preconception. And here’s the kicker. You know who says it every time I hear it? Stay-at-home moms.
Take this one time, for instance. I had just dropped off my son at school, and I was at the grocery store, buying some ingredients for that night’s dinner. I ran into one of my friendly neighborhood stay-at-home moms, and we had the following exchange:
Her: So, what do YOU do all day?
Me: Oh, pretty much the same stuff you do. Like, for example, here we both are at the grocery store.
Her: Oh! Well, I suppose so.
Now, I should probably explain the context a bit more. It was September, and my son had just started half-day three-year-old kindergarten. This was before my daughter was born, so for that school year, I did have it pretty easy. I dropped my son off at school at 9:00 and picked him up at noon. After I’d bring him home and fix him his lunch, he’d usually take a nap. I’ll be the first to admit that, of the four-plus years I’ve been doing the stay-at-home thing, those were the least demanding nine months.
Still, it wasn’t a vacation. The house needed to be kept clean, meals needed to be cooked, laundry needed to be done—all the same tasks as before, just without my needy, babbling sidekick.
The lady who asked me also had a child in school, but she, unlike me, still had a one-year-old at home with her. There was a hint of envy in her question, and she had the air of a worn-down prisoner looking through the bars at someone who had just gained sweet freedom. So I gave her a pass, figuring she was simply referring to the fact that I was now childless for part of my day and she wasn’t.
But then, that same day, it happened again. This time, it was a mom whose only child was also in kindergarten, so she was in a situation just like mine. We were picking up our kids from school when she said it: “So, what do YOU do all day?”
Same question, same unmistakable emphasis on “you,” as if to say, “Hey, I know I still have plenty to do even though my kid is in school, but what could you possibly be filling your mornings with?”
That time, it was harder for me to write it off as I had done earlier. Then, probably three days later, I heard it again. Same tone, and from another a stay-at-home mom. Then I heard it again. And again. And again. Every time, from a stay-at-home mom.
It’s an innocent enough question, and it’s not said with any malice. It’s just that, everybody knows it’s a question you never, ever, ever, ever, under any circumstances, ask a stay-at-home mom. Well, maybe not everybody knows that. But damn. You’d think a stay-at-home mom would.
I suppose I should be only half offended. The fact that these moms never asked me this question before my son was in school—and haven’t asked it again since my daughter was born—means they’re acknowledging that I take care of my kids the same as they do. But there’s something fishy about so many of them asking it when my son started school. Apparently they were assuming I was dropping off my son and immediately heading home to play video games, drink cheap beer, take a nap, make a mess for my wife to clean up or all of the above.
What a terrible thing to assume.
Me, apparently.
Number one, I would never drink cheap beer. Number two, my wife works all day. Do they really think I expect her to spend her nights and weekends scrubbing floors, folding my socks, and going grocery shopping? Do they think I’m that lazy or incompetent? And do they think my wife is that much of a sucker that she would allow her husband to pull that crap?
Maybe that’s the thing. Maybe they’re just not thinking. That’s how dumb things get said by otherwise intelligent people.
So, to the millions (or dozens, as the case may be) of moms reading this, when my daughter goes to school in a few years, please don’t start asking me again what I do all day. Just assume I’m doing something constructive, as you expect others to assume of you. We’re all domestic brothers and sisters in the struggle to be fully appreciated and celebrated, aren’t we? So let’s ally our forces to defeat the ignorance, not perpetuate it.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

“Mr. Mom”

In last week’s post, I referenced Mr. Mom, the uproarious 1983 motion picture comedy starring Michael Keaton and Teri Garr, in which a husband is imprisoned in his home with his children while his power-suit-wearing wife sips martinis and yucks it up with the boys in a fancy corporate board room. The husband, frazzled and flustered at first, ends up figuring things out at home and shows everyone that he can handle household chores just fine. In the end, of course, he gets his job back (whew!), and things return to normal. He gives up those silly domestic duties, and his wife comes to her senses about this whole “career” thing she had briefly toyed with.
Here’s the trailer, in case you’re the only person in the world unfamiliar with this movie.
The movie certainly didn’t mark the first use of the term “Mr. Mom,” but it did a lot to bring it into the mainstream American vernacular. And that’s fine. It was a different time.
But it’s 2014 now, and it’s time to put “Mr. Mom” to rest. You see, there’s already a perfectly good term for a man who cooks, cleans and cares for his kids. It’s “Dad.”
For those of you who don’t understand why “Mr. Mom” is a stupid thing to say, let me break it down for you. When you call me Mr. Mom, you’re telling me there are certain things I’m supposed to fail at or have no interest in simply because of my gender. When you realize I actually partake in these things willingly and competently, you’re surprised. I’m pushing a stroller, and you’re reacting as if you just witnessed a trained bear perform a juggling act. “Well how about that,” you’re saying. “You’re so good at caring for your kids, it’s like you’re a woman!”
Step right up and witness this rare and amazing spectacle!
That’s a pretty bone-headed attitude, and it’s one I don’t dare take with women. If I see a mom building a treehouse with her kids, I don’t say, “Hey everyone, take a look at Mrs. Dad!” When I meet a woman who’s a successful corporate manager, I don’t shake her hand and say, “How’s it going, Ms. Bossman?”
I don’t say those things because I don’t have this notion in my head that there are certain tasks women aren’t fit to take on simply because they’re women. And even if I did think such a thing, I would know better than to say it out loud.
Yet, “Mr. Mom” is said without hesitation all the time.
Let me tell you about one instance. It wasn’t the first time I heard someone say it, and it wasn’t the last. Its significance is that it’s the first time I corrected the dummy who said it.
One afternoon, I mentioned to a group of friends that my son’s fourth birthday was that day. “Oh, tell him happy birthday!” several of them cheered. Someone asked what we’d be doing to celebrate, and I briefly explained our plans for later that evening, which included a carrot-applesauce cake my son had requested.
“Carrot-applesauce?” some lady said, amused at my kid’s unorthodox cake choice.
“Yeah, three cups of shredded carrots,” I groaned. “I spent all morning making the thing, and look at my hands. I need to get myself a food processor.” I showed them my palms, which were died orange and clearly abused from the manual shredding they had performed.
“Oh, that’s right,” the lady giggled. “You’re Mr. Mom!”
“Or just Dad,” I replied flatly. “Because, you know, dads bake cakes too.”
She cocked her head to the side, briefly confused. “Oh, OK,” she said, rolling her eyes and shaking her head, as if I were being silly.
And from then on, that became my standard response. Not overwhelmingly clever, not especially rude, not altogether that polite. Just blunt and necessary. When someone calls me Mr. Mom, I simply correct them and remind them that dads are parents too.
Of course, you can’t correct everyone. For example, take CNN, one of the world’s largest news organizations. They were using the term willy-nilly as recently as 2010. See this article entitled “Mr. Moms become more common.” Beyond the headline, the reporter goes on to drop the term casually multiple times throughout the story. It astounds me that, in this age of political correctness, no editor stopped and said, “Hey, wait a minute. Maybe we shouldn’t refer to men who fully engage in parenting as some sort of mutated gender-bending part-man, part-woman hybrids.”
So, even CNN is in on it. It’s coming at me—and other dads—from everywhere.
Well, almost everywhere. You know who never calls me Mr. Mom? My kids. They call me Daddy. (Well, one of them does. He’s five and can speak English. My seven-month-old daughter just kind of babbles.) You see, to them, there’s nothing odd about Daddy doing laundry or making them breakfast or taking them along while running errands. It’s not emasculating or cute or temporary. It’s just normal.
So let’s work on that. Let’s make it normal. Hell, let’s expect it. Let’s make it so our own kids grow up thinking that dads can do anything moms can do—and vice versa—and that “Mr. Mom” was just some old movie.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

“Did You Get Laid Off?”

Here it is. The big one. Do a Google search of “things not to say to a stay-at-home dad,” and it shows up on every list. It’s a sentiment that stay-at-home dads run into repeatedly. That’s why the words can be found in the URL of the very blog you are reading. Testify with me, my diaper-changing brothers—we’ve all heard it.
“Did you get laid off?”
I'll show you, Teri Garr. I'll be Batman someday.
You see, the logic behind it is simple. There’s no way a man would subject himself to the daily duties of child-rearing and household management unless he were forced into it after getting canned. It was the premise of the movie Mr. Mom, remember? Dad lost his job, Mom was pushed back into the working world, and Dad was stuck at home, where he hilariously confronted foreign objects like vacuums and crying toddlers. And, because that movie was made a mere 31 years ago—I mean, practically yesterday—that must be how it still works, right?
Now, in fairness, I think I’ve heard these exact words only once. Few people are bold enough (or clueless enough) to come right out and say it. Still, I’ve gotten several variations of it, and it’s clear what these people are trying to get at. For example, take a look at this very common scenario, featuring a hypothetical woman named Doreen, who has just discovered I’m a stay-at-home dad. Because I live in the Midwest, go ahead and give Doreen a Fargo accent if you’re so inclined:
Doreen: “So, whadya do before you stayed at home?”
Me: “I worked at an ad agency.”
Doreen (with a look of great concern and pity, assuming she already knows the answer): “Oh. What happened?”
Me: “Well, I quit.”
Doreen (taken aback): Oh! So...wait...huh?
Me: “I work part-time from home now.”
Doreen (relieved, as if it somehow affects her): Oh, OK!
And then the awkward small talk continues. I explain the situation my wife, Christine, and I were in: Christine was making more money at the time, we had our health insurance through her employer, she’d never find a similar position if she’d quit, I had always wanted to work from home. Then Doreen tells me her own story, which sounds awfully similar to mine, a fact that might—but probably won’t—occur to poor, backward-thinking Doreen.
Here’s another example. This was an actual conversation between my wife and our next-door neighbor. It occurred shortly after our first child was born and Christine was preparing to go back to work:
Neighbor: “Gettin’ ready to go back to work?”
Christine: “Yep, pretty soon.”
Neighbor: “Who’s gonna watch the baby, then? Daycare?
Christine: “No, Dave’s going to stay home.”
Neighbor (shocked and genuinely worried, with one hand now over her chest): “Oh no! What happened?”
Christine: “He quit his job. He’s going to work from home.”
Neighbor: “Oh. Oh my.”
Those are two of many examples, and they both illustrate the most common form that “Did you get laid off?” takes: the more diplomatic but still presumptuous “What happened?” Because, you know, something must have “happened” for this man to end up in a park, playing with his kid the middle of the damn day.
When a chit-chatty stay-at-home mom tells me what she once did for a living, I don’t ask what happened. I can see what happened. She left her job—under whatever circumstances—and now she takes care of her kids instead. So, as is often the case when people say dumb things to me, I wish that chit-chatty mom would just assume the same of my situation.
Get a load of this poor sucker.
Then again, maybe I can’t blame people for their assumptions. I know a bunch of stay-at-home dads, and getting fired/laid off/downsized is indeed how several of them landed at home with the kids. In contrast, I don’t know of any stay-at-home moms who didn’t leave their full-time jobs willingly. I’m sure such moms are out there; I just can’t say for sure I’ve ever met one. So maybe people figure I got kicked to the curb because that’s the plight of other dads they’ve met.
Also, I realize some of the moms I talk to are drawing conclusions based on their personal situations. “Oh, my husband could never do that,” they say when I tell them I stay at home. They can’t imagine their own spouses feeding babies or folding laundry, so they figure no man would do it unless he had to. I can’t say this with complete certainty, but I imagine many of their husbands would do just fine.
So, all things considered, is it worth my time to get bent out of shape when people think I got laid off? Probably not. They’re simply basing their reactions on what they’re familiar with—and that’s what we all do every day, isn’t it? I just hope that, in some small way, I’m able to change what it is they’re familiar with. Then, maybe the next time they run into one of my kind, they won’t be so quick to assume.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

“Don’t Tell Mom”

This is the one that inspired my blog, so it’s the one I’ll begin with. It certainly wasn’t the first dumb response I’d gotten after telling someone I’m a stay-at-home dad—indeed I had lost count by the time this one was uttered. Its significance is that it was the last straw. The clincher. The remark that made me take to bloggin’.
It happened at the dentist. I was settling into the chair the other day, and the hygienist was making the usual small talk. I’m not sure what my hygienist’s name is, so I’ll call her Miss Hasenfuss. That was the name of Kevin Arnold’s hygienist on the TV show The Wonder Years. My hygienist doesn’t trigger the same hormone-pounding desire in me that Miss Hasenfuss did for young Kevin, but no matter. I have to assign her a fictional name, so Miss Hasenfuss it is.
Miss Hasenfuss
As I say in the introduction to my blog, there was a time when I didn’t particularly like telling people I’m a stay-at-home dad. But Miss Hasenfuss dragged it out of me.
“So did ya work today?” she asked.
“Uh, no, not today.”
“Oh! That’s nice. So whadya do?”
“Uh...well...I...uh...I stay home with my kids during the day.”
“Oh!” she said, clearly taken aback. “Well that’s so nice. That’s really great that you can do that.”
She could have just stopped there. And she should have. But she continued:
“Then the kids get to do all that fun daddy stuff.” And, with a wink and a nudge, she chuckled, “Don’t tell Mom, right?”
“Yeah, sure,” I replied. Actually, it was more like, “Ah hargh” because my mouth was now wide open.
Several thoughts ran through my head at that point, and many comebacks were forming. I didn’t say any of them. In fact, I couldn’t say any of them, as Miss Hasenfuss’s gloved fingers were in the way.
It didn’t really matter, because the moment soon passed, and we moved on to discussing my brushing technique and receding gum-line. I’m sure Miss Hasenfuss quickly forgot the whole thing. But I couldn’t forget, because I hate comments like that. Call me oversensitive or over-analytical, but I hate them.
“Fun daddy stuff.”
“Don’t tell mom, right?”
What exactly does she think I do all day? Is she envisioning my kids and me building elaborate, unreliable go-carts that are good for a few minutes of intense thrills but ultimately result in a covert trip to the ER? Does she think we buy cheap microwaves at thrift shops just so we can stuff them with scrap metal, turn them on, and watch them blow up? Or maybe she figures I pack up the kids once a week and take them to the neighborhood nudie bar for the lunch buffet special.
Some photo I found online. I don’t know these fools.
You want to know what I did that day, Miss Hasenfuss? I drove my son to and from school. I made breakfast and lunch for both kids. I went grocery shopping, did four loads of laundry, and ironed a big pile of shirts. In between all that, I exchanged emails with several clients and potential clients on behalf of the freelance editing business I run from home.
Wink, wink! Nudge, nudge! Don’t tell Mom, right?
I know, I know. Miss Hasenfuss didn’t mean to anger me with her comment. And really, what difference does it make if she thinks I spend my days tossing my kids around the backyard like a couple of volleyballs? Who cares?
Well, I care. First of all, nobody likes to be told their job is easy, and that’s one of the things her comment implied. “Fun daddy stuff” is just another way of saying “goofing off all day.” I would never suggest her job is easy (“You just brush people’s teeth all day, right? How hard can that be?”), because I’ve never done her job. Second, if I would dare suggest a woman would perform a job differently or inadequately simply because of her gender, I’d be labeled a sexist asshole. There’s a double standard at work here that’s always frustrated me.
So hear this, Miss Hasenfuss: While I always make playing with my kids a priority, I also have work to do. This is a job. The kids need to be fed and taken to appointments on time. The fridge needs to be stocked, the laundry needs to be washed, and meals need to be cooked. Yes, there’s time to build snowmen and play hide-and-seek, but at some point the work needs to be done.
And one more thing: My kids are never in danger. We don’t do whatever it is Miss Hasenfuss had in her head when the words “Don’t tell Mom” came out of her mouth. I’m a responsible adult who wouldn’t like to see his children injured or traumatized.
Yes, Miss Hasenfuss, there was a lot packed into your casual comment. I know it wasn’t intended as an insult, but that’s kind of what it was. So, the next time you’re telling a stay-at-home dad to open wide, try to see him not as a dad, but as a parent. Not as a man, but as a person. If you can’t do that, then (wink wink, nudge nudge) maybe you should keep your own mouth shut.