Prelude to The Fourteen Points (skip to bottom to get straight to it)
Whenever I look back over my ongoing run as a primary caregiver and ask myself what have been the greatest challenges I've faced, two things immediately leap to mind. The first is that I am not a morning person, whereas my son is a morning person. Eighty-percent of the anguish of my life -- and perhaps his -- resides in this contradiction.
As for the second greatest challenge, it can be summed up in one word: moms.
This post is about a stay-at-home-dad's experience dealing with moms, a topic that I've treated before and to which I now return with the following list of Fourteen Points That I Think It Would Be Helpful for Moms to Know About Dads Like Me. This, in the hope that I can contribute to a reduction in the unmistakable awkwardness with which every group of moms typically receives a specimen of the modern parenting bestiary, the Cyclops of the playgroup set, the Quasimodo of preschool pick-up: the stay-at-home-dad.
I put this list together because, to be frank, the difficulty of dealing with moms -- with stay-at-home moms in particular -- has come as the greatest surprise of my 3.5 year stint as my son's primary caregiver. As far as the moms in my neighborhood go my life has, during this time, become segregated like the orthodox synagogues to which I have never belonged, with men and women praying to the same god on either side of a dividing curtain. A sort of breast-feeding, stroller-pushing version of the Shriners, Elks, or Freemasons has absorbed all but the most independent of them into ritually pure conclaves which stand out as the most homogeneous social groups I have ever encountered.
The magnitude of my surprise stems from the contrast with what went before. Whatever gender balance may have obtained in my place of work or in my social life, however many female friends and confidants I may have had, as soon as the women around me are assigned responsibility for the survival and upkeep of one or several munchkins, somehow a collective step is taken through a Way-Back Machine to the American 1950's, or closer in time but further in familiarity, to the post-revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran, with veils and de jure segregation in public.
So easily does a new gender segregation seem to dissolve the happy gender mixing I once knew -- in graduate school, in corporate and non-profit places of employment, and in the halls of academe; so quickly do the moms who chose to stay at home shift comfortably into the ancient routines and traditions of gender segregated motherhood; so quickly is the network of venerable ladies' institutions known as "book clubs" re-purposed, refitted, and rejiggered into bright and shiny new "playgroups" -- that I have occasionally wondered if the women with whom I seem to share little but physical space on a playground might be more comfortable donning a veil, hijab, or chador, thus removing any ambiguity about their Social Preferences While Parenting.
This regime of "separate but equal," as I mentioned above, stands in bracing contrast to my life-before-parenting. I've always had lots of female friends. In my freshman year of college, I immediately became best friends with a woman living across the quad. We shared coffee, gossip, and travels in Paris and Madrid, all without ever crossing the Rubicon of intimacy. She was one of several such female friends, some of them regular dance partners whose boyfriends didn't like to dance, some of them coworkers united under the yoke of the same eccentric boss, some of them academic companions with a shared set of intellectual pleasures and pursuits. I still have these friends. But, with the transition to parenthood, the rate of female-friend accumulation has hit a concrete wall and fallen onto the floor like a dead fish.
Sweet baby Jesus, ladies --what gives? Why the wall? We can all clamor for the de jure institutional structures of parenting equality, but they are undermined if what we practice is de facto gender segregation. At some point, social attitudes contribute to the drag produced by social institutions on the progress towards equality. Until those attitudes change -- until the book-club-turned-playgroup comfortably admits its first Male Member, a separate but equal sphere of women's domesticity will be preserved into the 21st century.
So ladies, I give you a Stay at Home Dad's Fourteen Points and say "Tear down that wall!"
I've got some damn good recipes to share with you, when you do.
The Fourteen Points
#1. I don't want to sleep with you. So can we please just chill about that.
#2. I've noticed that you rarely invite me to your functions or friend me on Facebook. Please see #1, which I hope will clear things up a bit.
#3. Your kids will probably like me because I actually enjoy playing with them. So if you're friendly, I'll watch them so you can go take a coffee break with your SAHM-pack and talk about mom-stuff, like how you want to lose those extra 15 pounds.
#4. Although even if you do lose those extra 15 pounds, I still won't want to sleep with you. Nothing personal. So again, let's please just chill about that.
#5. I can be just as catty as you. (Eye-roll, then See #3-4)
#6. I am not a pedophile. I mean, really.
#7. I am actually a very good cook, and enjoy the conceptual overlap with chemical engineering, or how the strategic application of heat denatures molecular bonds.
#8. Every time your kid sees a SAHD with a stroller in the park, packing his kid's lunch, handling visits to the doctor, picking him up from preschool, or hanging with their own mom on a playdate, she's that much less likely to grow up believing that these things must always be women's work.
#9. If I never see your husband doing any of the above-listed things on weekends, days-off, or after work, I start to think you've got a bum deal and maybe think they really are women's work.
#10. If I never see your husband at after-school potlucks or fundraisers or Sunday afternoon birthday circuits, I start to think he may just be a loser.
- #10a. Unless he works for Goldman Sachs and really is out making millions -- but then why don't you have a nanny?
#12. Setting up a date with me on behalf of your stay-at-home-husband probably won't work. Just invite me to the next preschooler birthday blowout and see if maybe we hit it off.
#13. I am capable of talking about episiotomies, natural birth, VBAC's, IVF, male and female infertility, breast feeding, doulas, food allergies, sleep training, disposable versus cloth diapering, developmental stages and delay, what you should pay babysitters and nannies, sippie cups, vaccinations, and how lazy your husband is.
#14. I also really enjoy, and maybe even prefer, talking about things that have little to do with parenting.