Sunday, June 15, 2008

Some Stay-At-Home Father’s Day Thoughts

[Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

 It’s now been a full school year since I officially ended my stint as a full-time stay-at-home dad. I was Fiona’s primary caregiver from the day her mom returned to work (about three months after her birth) until she enrolled full time in first grade in the fall of last year. The ensuing near-year has given me enough distance and time to think about the meaning of that six-year stint.

I haven’t yet managed to seriously organize my thoughts, but the distance has led me to a number of random observations:

– There is, of course, the whole masculinity issue involved in such an undertaking. I’ve written previously a little about this. Mostly, as I said then, it can be a struggle at times, particularly if you’ve been culturally hard-wired with the whole man-as-breadwinner thing; but the real rewards dwarfed any of those insecurities into insignificance.

– People’s assumptions told me a lot about the stereotypes people have about fathers. I was assumed to be a divorcee enjoying my custody days with Fiona; a grandfather (comes with being an older parent); a husband taking days off to give Mom a break; and a dirty fucking hippie. Guilty on the last count.

– There is a profound realization you have about the meaning of love that comes with being a parent; I know this is all a cliche, but it’s something that smacks you over the head no matter how much you hear about it in advance.

Now, some people are smug about parenthood because of this and conclude that they have a special insight into the nature of love and meaning. But I for one am not so certain. Love comes in so many shapes and forms so many different kinds of meaning for different people that it’s impossible to make an adequate comparison to anyone else’s life experience.

But fear, I can talk about. You never really know the meaning of fear until you are a parent. Really.
– I’m still flabbergasted by men who don’t want to be involved fathers. Dudes, you have no fricking idea what you are missing. A deep bond with your child is a treasure beyond any material object on
the planet; that’s not sentiment, it’s fact.

– There is a certain amount of resistance on the part of some women to stay-at-home dads. Some of this felt like simple old territoriality to me, but there was also a comfort zone attached to the all-female state of my child play areas (after all, who wants some guy hanging about while you discuss breastfeeding issues with your fellow moms?). On the other hand, there were always women who were openly envious of my wife. I managed to mostly navigate these waters by playing the part of a clueless dopey male. (I’m really really good at this.)

But I couldn’t help feeling that many of these mothers, as I noted before, saw child care as drudgery, whereas for me it was an intriguing adventure. And it occurred to me that if stay-at-home dads were more common it would be less intriguing for men but also a lot less drudgery for women. It would be a sign that the work of raising children was being given the value it deserved.

– It’s probably not an easy role reversal for women, either. Who wants to come home to a frumpy mate covered in baby food and reeking of changed diapers? Though it can’t be easy taking on the role and responsibility of chief breadwinner, either (especially when you work for a famous software company most famous for wringing 70-hour workweeks out of its employees). I was very fortunate that way — especially since along the way my wife, Lisa D., wound up subsidizing and almost wholly sponsoring my blogging and book-writing career. Even on Father’s Day, I owe her a world of thanks.

– A simple summation: Best job I ever had. Or ever will have.

Happy Father’s Day to my fellow dads. And for those of you thinking about staying home and taking the role of primary caregiver, and wondering if they really want to do all those diaper and feeding and stroller things … well, all I can say is: You will not regret it. Because in the long run, those memories just fade away. And the good ones, the ones the matter, they remain.

No comments: