About Me

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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.

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.