Mr. Mom in the 90s
The birth of our daughter in 1989 coincided with two other major events in my life: the end of my ten year career in post-production sound for film as digital technology disrupted the industry, and a worsening of depression symptoms from Bipolar Disorder that made it difficult for me to keep a job. Meanwhile my wife’s private psychotherapy practice was growing dramatically. For most the first year of our daughter’s life, I worked as a professional audio salesperson. However, when my wife pointed out that we were paying the nanny more than I was earning, the logical decision was for me to stop working and become Mr. Mom. At first I wasn’t happy with the role forced on me by circumstances. Looking back, it was a sometimes idyllic period in my life, sometimes it challenged me in the core of my being.
I adjusted to the routine. I prepared breakfast while we watched Biker Mice from Mars and Sailor Moon, then I transformed our living room into my wife’s psychotherapy office, and dropped off my daughter at school.
During school hours, I practiced and learned building web sites at the public library (there was no such thing as wifi internet access then). At 3 pm I picked her up from school. Sometimes my coder obsession made me late for the pickup, occasionally the school called my wife to pick up the left-behind kid. Usually I got to the school before my wife did, but sometimes I had to rendez-vous with my wife to pick up my charge. There were no cell phones then to coordinate these things. Once my wife left her office, there was no way to communicate with her. I have regrets about my irresponsibility but my obsession led to a successful career as a web developer ten years later. It was the exception when I arrived late to pick her up, but in hindsight we tend to remember the dramatic exceptions rather than the mundane routine.
After school, we had to kill time until late in the evening, when my wife’s appointments were finished.
During good weather we went to the playground, where I sometimes brought group arts & crafts projects, like building kites. I think the moms and nannies felt a little safer with a man in the playground. I don’t think the other kids treated me any differently than the other caretakers. Occasionally there were other dads there too.
We spent many afternoons in museums, particularly the Museum of Natural History or Metropolitan Museum of Art, or childrens’ museums which were more like indoor playgrounds. We also went to see a lot of movies.
We had routine “shopping days” when we went to Toys “R” Us, where my daughter picked out a toy, and we also looked for “treats” for my wife, who collected female action figures. The 90s were classic times for those. For dinner, we often went to a McDonalds with a playspace, where we hung out for hours, also we did homework.
Bipolar depression sometimes caused narcolepsy. I fell asleep in the playground, or McDonalds, or sitting in some other public place, or while on a bus or subway. Sometimes the sleep was deep and I was unrousable. I know that I am extremely fortunate that nothing terrible ever happened. My daughter understood that I was “sick” but it must have been very difficult for her. I regret that she had to cope with something so dangerously scary and difficult to understand, but it was beyond my control. Sometimes I was able to bring her home where we stayed in the back room while my wife saw patients. By the mid-90s the narcoleptic symptoms subsided. Now I am symptom-free.
We spent hours and hours in fantasy role-playing. Sometimes she was Barbie and I was one of Barbie’s friends, often Ken, but I also got to be Skipper. Sometimes we played scenarios from Sailor Moon. Her favorite make-believe was me as Biker Mice from Mars tough guy Modo, married to her as Princess of the Jewels (a name she invented). I don’t think there were any parent-child Freudian implications, it was just a game to pass the time. For the holidaze last year I gave her a vintage Modo action figure, and told my son-in-law, “You know there was someone before you…” — he knew all about Modo. Once in a while I refused to play the rather tedious and formulaic roles. Most of the time, I could not refuse. I wonder whether this rich fantasy life helped my daughter become an exceptional writer.
Playdates were touchy. Besides the fact that I was often in the house with someone else’s wife while the husband was away at work, I occasionally had a narcoleptic episode sitting in their living room. The moms and nannies did not converse much with me, I think they were unsure how to relate to a Mr. Mom. My wife thought that I have some mild form of autism, perhaps something like Aspergers, so I was a little socially awkward myself. Anyway, we were usually not invited back after a couple of playdates. Sometimes it was awkward when “the man of the house” came home from work and I was there. Most people didn’t understand why my wife worked and I handled the child care. It was also unusual that we could not reciprocate hosting a playdate at our house during the week, because my wife was working. There were too many unusual factors, and they made my daughter’s friends’ parents uncomfortable.
There are species in which the males primarily handle the child-rearing. Humans are not one of them. But we do what we have to do.