“Spending a special day with Daddy?” the cashier at Whole Foods asks my toddler son.
“Sounds like he misses his mommy,” says the taxi driver taking us to a doctor’s appointment, as my son resists being belted into his car seat.
“I know the mothers have already gotten to know each other at pickup and drop-off,” says the rabbi at my son’s preschool, “but I’m hoping to have some events in the evenings after work so that the fathers can get to know each other too.”
I suppose by now — two years into life as a work-from-home father, with a flexible schedule as a writer that means I’m almost always the parent who’s running errands with my son, taking him to preschool, going out with him for pizza on a weekday afternoon — I should accept that I’m a novelty.
Because it’s not as if I feel like the world is hostile to fathers who take the lead on child care. It hasn’t felt hostile at all. It’s just felt a little lonely.
My son and I went to the Post Office one afternoon to make an appointment for him to apply for a passport.
“We have appointments Monday through Friday from 11 until 2,” the clerk told me. “Either both parents can come in person, or your wife can come with your son and if you’re at work, you can fill out this form and get it notarized.”
“Okay — are there any appointments later in the week? I’ll have my wife fill out the form and get it notarized.”
“No, she doesn’t have to fill out the form. She can just bring him. You would need to fill it out and get it notarized.”
One of my biggest surprises over these past two years — seeing the world through the lens of fatherhood, noticing how other families structure their lives — has been how much the burdens and sacrifices of parenthood seem to fall on women and their careers and how unusual it is, at least among the people I know and encounter, for the majority of the burden to fall on the man. Or, in a lot of cases, much of the burden at all.
“I promise, you will never see my husband at drop-off or pickup,” laughed the mother of one of my son’s preschool classmates.
There’s nothing so terrible about that — I’m sure it’s just that he leaves for work early and would never be home during the day. But if I said that about my wife, laughing or not, it feels to me like it would be a very different kind of comment.
Andrew Moravcsik writes in the Atlantic about these issues too, as the “lead parent,” while his wife, Anne-Marie Slaughter, has taken on high-powered jobs that have kept her away from home most of the week. I related to his piece (to some degree — though when he writes that caring for a baby or a toddler was “a welcome change of pace from our day jobs,” I kind of wondered how much parenting he actually did), but what I can’t quite grasp is that my wife and I are a generation younger than he is — and it seems like nothing has changed.
In a world where nearly 50% of all law students are female, and nearly 50% of all medical students are female — I just wonder why I’m the only man in the music class, with a bunch of mothers, at least three of whom used to be big-firm lawyers (a world I know something about), now staying at home.
“Wait, you have a law degree, too?” one of them asked me. “Then why are you here?”
Not an unexpected question. But I don’t ask her the same one, because I already know the answer.
In my case, I’m there in music class because I want to be, and because I can be. I went to law school because I wanted to be a writer but didn’t want to starve, and so I figured a law degree would make sense regardless of what happened with the writing. I was fortunate enough to start a blog that went viral, which enabled me to get a book deal, and let me carve out a professional existence as a writer of my own work (including a second novel coming out next year), a ghostwriter and editor of other people’s, and a freelancer for a number of companies and publications.
I was working from home before my son was born, so, with my wife a doctor (and unable to work from home…), it only made sense for me to be the parent taking the lead, and available to go to things like music class.
Obviously my work is far more flexible than most people’s. But, still, I feel like there’s a disconnect. My wife and her peers were raised to believe they were just as good as the boys, that they could compete, go to Ivy League schools, embark on great careers. And then they turn 30 and society says — wait, do you really think you should be working full-time instead of being at home? And it seems like men just don’t have any of that.
I know my wife and I are in a fortunate position that one of us — either of us — is able to be flexible during the day. But when I look around at other educated professionals I know who spent a lot of time in school getting degrees and training for serious careers — a huge percentage of the women seem to step off the career track when they have kids. For many men, I’m not sure it’s even on the radar screen.
Too often, I feel like a novelty. Though I guess the truth is that most of the time, I don’t really mind feeling like a novelty, because it’s a small price to pay for getting to spend a ton of time with a really neat little man, and forming a bond with him that I know is stronger than we’d have if I was working long hours out of the house.
And I didn’t think about this before becoming a parent, but the side benefit of being the one who’s at home is that maybe my son will grow up a little more conscious of these issues than some of his peers. Before my son was born, I never really thought about the sacrifices so many women make as parents. But my experience has enlightened me, at least a little bit. We bought our son a place mat with pictures of all of the Presidents on it, and, unexpectedly, I found myself a little angry when I looked at it. Why have they all been men?
“It’s too bad your wife can’t come,” one of the mothers in music class said.
“It’s too bad your husband can’t come.”
I didn’t say it, but maybe I should have. Dads, please come to music class. Even just once. You get to bang on stuff, dance with your kid, and maybe your wife can even get a little break. Come on, I’ll save you a seat.
Jeremy Blachman is the author of Anonymous Lawyer (Henry Holt) and the forthcoming novel The Curve (Ankerwycke, June 2016). He is also a freelance editor and ghostwriter, with humor pieces published regularly in a variety of publications.
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