Ballad of the Professional Dad

“Don’t worry. You’ll totally be able to explain the gap in employment.”

This sentiment was a common response from male (and a handful of female) friends when I told them I’d be quitting my job to become the primary caregiver for my four-month-old daughter, Marlow.

I expected platitudes — warm waves of bland Yays and Good Lucks washing over the fear region of my brain, convincing me that I needn’t worry. But I was worried about the gap. My friends, instead of offering the boring congratulations that they were supposed to offer, perfectly crystallized my fear.

In my two decades of work eligibility I’ve been unemployed only once, during my first semester of grad school, for just three months. From the day I found out my wife was pregnant, I’ve paid special attention to clickbaity articles warning men that those who take the family leave afforded to them under the law are making a mistake and will suffer silent judgment and put future opportunities for advancement at risk.

Here in the Bay Area, I tell myself, surely it’s different. We wear hoodies to work and get drunk with our bosses at happy hour. We’re progressive in so many ways, why not this one? Employers here will respect that I not only took 3 months off work to bond with Marlow, but that I made a larger career sacrifice to remain home with her through her first birthday. Maybe it’s true. Or maybe I’m in denial.

My wife returned to work this week from maternity leave to an outpouring of concern about her mental well-being. Co-workers stopped by her cubicle to say hello but also to make sure she wasn’t at her desk alone, eating a salad and sobbing. Friends texted to offer kind wishes and moral support. Family called to ask whether they could ease her burden by delivering a platter of lasagna to our house. The truth was that Emily likes her job, and was glad to be back at work (especially because I send her photos of the baby every hour on the hour).

We — the societal we — have to admit that the terms of the debate are perverse. Too many of Emily’s conversations compel her to fib about her career ambitions, and too many of my conversations have hinged on whether or not I’ve derailed my career. Marlow is extraordinarily lucky to have two parents who agree on the importance of taking a financial hit in order for one person to stay home. Marlow is lucky that her nanny is also her dad, and that he makes her laugh with his innovative dance moves. That should be good enough to put on a resume.