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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, 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.