I don’t know what was going on. Had they all read that recent Newsweek cover story about how men need to step up to the parenting plate to survive the rigors of the 21st century? The one rehearsing those awful statistics about how even unemployed men do less housework than their wives, and including a choice and characteristically hopeful quip from the founder of this blog?
Or is it that Daddy Dialectic has succeeded in guilting all those late 20- and early 30-something dads into giving up whatever the hell it is they are so devoted to doing on Monday evenings, once every three months, at 7 o'clock in the evening? Reorganizing their tool box? Lowering a new racing engine into the chassis of their pro stock car? Founding a charter school? Or maybe flying back from Africa where they have performed free surgery on thousands of needy children? Perhaps these worthy projects were all put on hold for this one modest event in late September, because suddenly, strewn among the current generation of neighborhood toddlers, there were dads everywhere. And for the future of this generation of preschoolers, I don’t think that is a bad trade-off.
I should give some specifics as to the sample size and metric upon which I base these remarks: having attended a number of preschool potlucks, I now feel like I have a good sense of which dads can be expected to attend these events, which dads would probably rather not -- but can be prevailed upon approximately once every 9 months to do so -- and those who will just never show, because they need to … well, do whatever the hell it is they need to do.
A number of the latter have nonetheless found the time to encumber their wives with at least two children, a toddler in one arm and a suckling infant in the other, a situation that is usually best witnessed around 7:45PM in January, at the conclusion of the winter potluck, when it’s past the kids’ bedtime, frickin’ freezing outside, and mom has to belt the kids into the back seat. As far as I’m concerned, the Chicago Police should be stationed outside the building door, issuing violations for “Being Too Much of a Male Douchebag for the Conditions ,” or, “Failing to Yield Your Wage Slave Ubermensch Identity” in order to help out with a quarterly ritual of some significance. Fines would range between $100 to $150.
The question naturally arises, what exactly is it that prevents dad from going to the preschool potluck? That is indeed the mystery. Might it be answered by that classic alibi, work? The one reason rooted in real, inescapable, hard-core, survival-of-the-fittest economic imperatives (such a string of conventionally masculine adjectives!) The realities of a globalized, Great Recession world that make it virtually impossible to break out of the centuries-old division of gender labor that decrees: And man shall work, so that woman shall attend potluck dinners.
Pondering this, I envision the deals doubtlessly being struck around kitchen tables across the land: “Look, honey, I bust my ass at this job that I can’t stand (and at least I still have one) to make sure that you and the kids have a roof over your head. So in return, it’s your job to take the kids to the potluck, while I, well, while I whatever.” And the wife nodding her head in agreement, or just nodding her head, and thinking to herself, “So… (even though I have a law degree) we’ve decided that I’m going to stay home, so … and you really are doing important stuff and earn more money, so… OK, I’ll be the one who takes the kids to the potluck tonight, and then again … Every. Single. Time.”
Fair enough. Or is it? Obviously, it doesn’t apply to those unemployed men who aren’t helping around the house. But what of those who are working? I do in fact know some super-achieving males, those who make over the infamous $250,000 threshold doing such things as cutting-edge medical research, and therefore are usually in a clinic or somewhere in China or South Africa advancing the field in ways that will probably benefit all of humanity, or at least the minority with health insurance. You could argue that guys like this deserve a pass. Go, Great Men, go save the world. I’ll take the kids.
Yet aside from this conspicuous minority of Great Men who might – might -- deserve a pass, the interesting thing is that this alibi is not deployed by my wife, whose earning power stands to my own as does the Pentagon’s latest fighter jet to a paper kite. She can run with the best of them and does run, back and forth to the train station every morning and night. In fact, of the moms who never fail to attend these modest potlucks, I can think of a half dozen of them who work at least part time and a few that, like my wife, are full-timers. Somehow, they are always there. They would be ashamed not to be.
And here is where the double-standard comes in: working moms are more insistent about cutting out to be there for the events in their kids’ lives, but they get dinged for it, and make less than their male counterparts. Their employers mistakenly anticipate lower productivity from their female workers, let them cut out, and pay them less. Their husbands don’t get off so easily. They think – assuming they want to cut out from work, which is evidently still an open question – “I might be able to do this once or twice, but much more than that and it will hurt my career.”
The dad who checks out of the meeting for an early flight, so he can get back in time for his daughter’s softball game, might be fawned over by the women in the meeting room, but one too many such departures and his boss might pull him aside for some words about his future.
Which brings me back to the $250,000, heroic medical researcher. Maybe I shouldn’t give him a pass, even if in reality he happens to be a neighbor to whom I have entrusted the care of a very sensitive portion of my insides. Why not? Because until guys like him conspicuously demonstrate that they will not automatically trade family time for career advancement, until they insist that the well-being of their own children is just as important as the well-being of future generations to whom their scientific labors are dedicated, it will be harder for Joe Spreadsheet to make the case that he has to cut out in time to get to the softball game. And easier for Joe Douchebag to get out of a potluck just because he wants to.
In which case, I say, write that last guy a ticket.