19 May 2008

Can't I be a Stay-At-Somewhere-More-Fun Dad?

The select few people older than 4 who I meet these days sometimes openly wonder what it's like to be a stay-at-home dad, often with either a sympathetic or subtly tortured look on their face.

I can promise you that certainly being one is much less remarkable now than it was decades ago, but that doesn't mean that nowadays, even in a place as diverse and culturally amorphous as the particular Chicago suburb where I live, you won't become a stare-worthy oddity akin to a dog walking down the street on two feet with a cat on a leash.

For example, the other day when we arrived at a park we’d never been to before (there are probably at least 20 parks of varying sizes within a half-mile of our house), two kids saw me approaching unchaperoned with the kids, and once we got to within 3 feet of them, the older girl asked her dad (while staring into my eyes, bewildered), “Is their Mommy at the doctor today, too??" In all fairness, what other possible explanation on Earth could there be for a man to accompany children to a park at 3:30 in the afternoon? Just go ahead and try to think of one, before you judge her... shame on you.

I’ve only hinted at this kind of thing here and there, but that’s because a) it’s been done many times before, and better, b) it doesn’t really bother me all that much, and c) it doesn’t come up as often for me as it does for others, because we don’t go out much during the day beyond the park, library, and my parents’ house (my dad is semi-retired and works mostly from home). That’s still enough, though, to generate a healthy inventory of stares, comments, and other encounters to make sure I know I am living a bizarre, unnatural life, and even that I only may or may not be providing any tangible benefit for my family or its well-being. And that I am merely lazy.

Actually, that very last part was just me projecting, because I got confused into thinking this was a confessional. Sorry, world.

So what does it feel like to be a man spending more than a few hours each evening with my children? (I’ve done that too, and will do it again, so I’m not bad-mouthing it.) Well, most days it feels an awful lot like moderate groin pain (moderate is an average of all days), because abusing groins is how children seem to amuse themselves. I think digging deeper into this area (no pun intended) may clue scientists into how we humans developed our traditionally rigid gender roles. Women have to be “fancy on the inside” (thanks, Mr. Rogers) as a measure of protection against our species’ sadistic and conveniently-heighted children.

That, or children are directed by women to help even the groin-pain score.

I’ll spare you any gory examples, because no one wants to hear about such things... wait, I’m just getting word that people LOVE to hear about such things… news to me. Okay, well, I already mentioned one in #5 of this post, and of course there’s the usual kneeing, stepping, and standing that kids of all ages make sure to do when climbing onto laps, particularly whenever a computer might be a momentary rival for parental attention*.

A more specific event, or ever-whimsical series of events, as it were, involves M-'s new habit of getting my attention (even when I'm already looking at her) by reaching up and quickly grabbing fistfuls of my pants until she finds something good to rupture inside. You may say, "But Dan, this just means you need to stop laying around blogging, playing videogames, watching movies, refusing to feed your children, and all the other things you clearly spend your entire day doing!"

Well, I will say to that that while I do obviously blog each day, and I occasionally play videogames, I generally do the latter with my children (that makes me a good father, right?) and only very seldom. That’s why I talk about it so much-- I’m pining. But most importantly, I promise you that while I may spend time doing some unconventional things, I make up for it by dedicating almost no time at all to cleaning or general household upkeep. So the time spent playing with my children or taking them places ends up evening out. So there.

In closing, my points are as follows:

Most people are inherently suspicious of stay-at-home dads (I'm sick of that term).

If you're thinking of becoming a Male Homemaker (is that better?), I'm not going to lie to you-- prepare to be ridiculously emasculated on an almost-daily basis. It's a good exercise, by fire, in beginning to truly not care what other people think (in the good way). This has been a difficult experience for me, but definitely rewarding.

Being a stay-at-home dad is a lot easier if you're bad at it, but you have to resist that temptation and find a balance. At the same time that society's expectations can put a lot of pressure on you, it also conversely takes a lot off, so much so that your wife will become insanely jealous of the behaviors people tolerate from you that might be ruled child neglect if she engaged in them.

4) We rarely clean our house, so I don't know when our kids might have friends come over.

I really wish my kids would stop hitting me in the nuts.

* As an aside (I know it’s uncharacteristic), let me just put the word out to any kids reading this-- when you knee me in the groin, even when I’m sitting down and semi-protected, while you will definitely get my attention, you will not win my affection. The computer certainly has never done that to me, and notice how many blog posts I’ve written-- get the message? I should expect this from M-, but I'd think D- would at least have an inkling of the need to be more careful. Maybe I’ll just have to hold out for that sympathy until his friends gracefully descend from the antechamber, as it were.


TerriRainer said...

#1 You are a DOMESTIC ENGINEER!!!!

#2 Women LOVE to hear about your (any man, actually) er, mishaps south of the border. There are multiple reasons:

a) we don't have those particular sensitive body parts, and are therefore curious

b) we suffered through child birth, and feel it's your duty to suffer a bit too

c) you guys make the most hilarious noises/faces mere seconds after an assault...admit it, you laugh when OTHER men are injured in such a manner

:) Terri

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you get weird looks. Men with kids are like men with puppies...so darn cute!!

As for the pain in your nether-regions, all is can say is that you need to invest in some protection and reinforce that God only meant for that area to be treated nicely!! If that does not work I'd move to bribes.

Rikki said...

I looked for alternative names for you but 'House Husband' is all I could come up with. I will keep looking. For what its worth, I agree with mamaneena, seeing a secure man playing with his children is a definite attention getter!

SherE1 said...

My husband used to work Sundays and have Tuesdays off so he would take our (then) baby girl to Starbucks with him and talk about CHICK MAGNET!

I like "Domestic Engineer". That keeps it manly.

And my husband flinches around the kids ALL the time. They've got him good on an occasion or two (or three or four) so you aren't alone!

Mrs. B. Roth said...

If I had "boy-parts" I would wear a protective cup every day. My husband gets hit quite frequently and seems shocked every time it happens - what do you all expect, the kids know your weakness. Quit'cher bellyachin' and get the appropriate gear for your job - construction guys wear hard hats.

Or not. It is pretty funny to see that look of shock and pain and know you're helpless to retaliate.

I don't like the term stay at home mom/dad either ... or when you fill out a survey and it asks about employment, giving options like full-time, part-time, or unemployed ... not getting paid, but definately putting in some overtime.

Anyway, I hear the boys tearing up the ONLY room in the house that is clean, so be off with me.

Fiesty Charlie said...

I can relate to a kid finding your weakness... My lovely, and extremely active two year old has decided she has not one, but two trampolines.... which are located on my chest...

I always hung out with the "dads with kids" at the parks, simply because all the "girly-girl" birthing talk, made me queasy...

I am too butch for words, and just can't deal with the discussions about leaking breasts, and all that other stuff that goes on with new moms.... SO glad my partner wanted to be the birth mom...

You rock... and seem to be doing well in the Best Daddy Blog contest!

Bilary said...

When Bill got hit the other night in that area, he nearly threw our four year old across the room. When I told him that it was a bit rough, he said he wasy sorry..."It was just a reaction." Next time a kid elbows me in the chest while trying to climb off my lap or if I ever go through childbirth again (which I am NOT planning on), I call that I get to throw him across the room! Then he can see my "reaction."

LiteralDan said...

TerriRainer: 1) Domestic engineer... hmm... 2) I accept your reasoning and humbly promise to try to videotape one of the next incidents.

MamaNeena: I guess people are just puzzled or suspicious. I do get plenty of nice looks, though, and lots of "oh, you guys get a fun day with Dad, huh?" I just go with it so the kids can feel guilty for not appreciating me more lol

I dunno about wearing a cup all the time, but I am getting better at deflecting incoming shots. I reject the proposal of paying protection money to preschoolers!

Rikki: House husband somehow sounds like a step backwards, to me lol

SherE1: Yeah, babies are definitely attention getters, but toddlers can only pull it off when they've had a nap. Apparently Domestic Engineer may be the term to go with.

The kids like to keep me in my place by making me flinch now and then, too.

Mrs. B Roth: Regular cups aren't comfortable enough to wear all the time, but maybe this could be an area waiting for a genius invention to make someone very wealthy. Too bad I'm too lazy to make it be me :-(

I suppose the look would be funny to someone immune to a sympathetic experience.

I had to write down Homemaker and it was an odd experience-- I was branded one by a market-research person who called recently.

Fiesty Charlie: Yeah, girl talk has never drawn J- in too much, either-- try to find us next time you're at the park. Hint: there won't be a big crowd around us.

I do seem to be doing well, thanks to all of you. I'll keep my fingers crossed that you guys aren't backing a loser. Or, at least, a loser who loses a little blog contest.

Bilary: Yeah it's hard to restrain those Reactions. The funny thing is, though, a four-year-old would probably enjoy being thrown across the room. Or at least mine would.