There’s a lot of baggage associated with being a stay-at-home father, and not all of it has to do with what’s really important: Trying to raise a child who isn’t a raging, overfilled douchebag. There are issues with shame, guilt, and fear that come from dealing with preconceived notions about masculinity and gender-norms, and not all of them relate to how you now use terms like “gender-norms” without smirking.
Children are rad. Marriage is rad. But going from “Work’s finished/I’m bored/You yelled at me/I yelled at you/It’s Friday/MY TEAM WON I’m going to the bar with my mates now byeeeeeeeee!” to cleaning up spilled food, doing all the housework, raising a scream-factory fueled by a refusal to sleep and hours of peek-a-boo, and then having to do it all again the next day is a massive change-up in both your life, and your understanding of stuff you simply just assumed were man-things men did because you got born with an extra appendage and so get to take advantage of millennia of patriarchy. It’s a hell of a switch, but you learn some good things while dealing with the not-so-good, like…
“You’ll never slow down once you have kids!” is a thing you hear constantly from the time you find out your girl is pregnant to whenever she becomes unpregnant. You imagine yourself covered in food and poop, chasing a naked infant through a messy house, diaper in hand, treading on toys and cursing. “Big deal” you think, “I’ve been to college. Replace “infant” with “Steve,” and that’s a typical Saturday.
But it isn’t always like that. A lot of times, it’s just guarding a bookcase so the rambunctious baby can’t pull them all out and pulp the pages. So you get into a standoff where your kid is simply pretending to play with a Weeble while eyeing you off, and you’re sitting in front of a bookcase thinking stuff you never thought would cross your mind, like “I wonder what the ink used in the ’70s reprints of Butts, Guts and Nuts contains? Is it toxic? And was the paper-making process back then the same? I wonder how they did that? What kind of chemicals are used turning trees into pages for use in such a masterpiece?” Of course, the internet no doubt has all those answers, but the second you check your phone to find out is when the devious, craven baby-mind knows you are weak, and the next thing you know the chapter Nut-Stuffed Butts is reduced to so much drool on your kid’s chin. You’ll find yourself having moments like this a lot; children require constant supervision, but that doesn’t mean they’re entertaining.
Tolerance! Oodles of it. All of it! Seriously, having to listen to whoever drone on and on about whatever-the-fudge is a breeze now! No more telling your wife’s friends to stuff it with a peed-on sack! No more getting yelled at in front of everyone! No more being made to sleep in the doghouse while she calls immigration to try and get you deported! It’s simply a better way to live. Your colleagues, friends, and especially your wife’s friends will thank you for being the $#!+-soaker everyone needs in their life, and you’ll be that; not because you should, but because you can. The beating of a gnat’s wings bothers you more than uninteresting, undesired hot air.
Newsflash: Raising kids is hard. Even if you’re only mildly diligent as a parent, you still try and make sure your child has the basics, like manners, appreciation for kindness, and a bangin’ hairdo.
If you have a daughter, it can get very messy. Is she getting too bloke-y? Can I teach her to girl right, but not in a way that’s only a man’s idea of what a girl is? As with a lot of parenting, your best source of advice is from people who have already instilled those basics into a tiny human. Finally, all those friends who turned into boring jerks because they had kids will be useful to you for a change! However, as a man, it’s hard to swallow your pride and call your male workaday friends to ask for advice. Why? Here’s an example, based on some responses I’ve received:
•”The first thing to do is to not be a &*$$%. Marry a quiet woman you kind of hate, and then make her do it. Problem solved!”
•”I’m trying to work. Isn’t there a sewing circle you can hit up?”
•”It’s all about the language you use. Here are some key words and phrases: &*$$%, period, big girl’s blouse, no balls, dogsbody, um… did I say &*$$%? I’m pretty sure I said &*$$%. Wait, you know this is just me calling you a &*$$%, right? Christ, don’t say that stuff around your kids!”
Meanwhile, chatting to female friend-parents is great, and comes with amazing advice, but there is a divide there. Moms do certain things with kids, and Dads do other things. Moms know what it’s like to carry a growing life around for nine months. Dads do not. There are some aspects of parenting that simply do not translate.
You learn. Advice or no, you learn. Your child is a person, and he or she will always be that wilful, choice-making human being no matter what; all you can do is guide them as best you can. There’s a freedom in this that keeps you from freaking out too bad about whether putting berets in your kid’s hair is patriarchal and instils the pre-supposed values of society blah blah blah.
Another thing you learn? Not to give a single good-goddamn about living up to what men are supposed to be doing, like, I dunno, cutting down lumberjacks and building a Home Depot with them. Do I tea-party now? I tea-party like a legend and champion of noble causes. And I don’t care about answering the door with ribbons in my hair and teeny-tiny tea cups dangling from my pinkies. I love my daughter, not what you think.
While there is a certain kind of freedom that comes with abandoning certain male stereotypes, there’s just no way to unlearn everything you’ve picked up. You cannot divest yourself from decades of trying to live by that stuff, it’s impossible. So while you’re busy trying to make sure your child is around good influences, it’s really hard not to think, deep down, “Is my kid going to think I’m a gigantic &*$$% when they become aware of how things usually work? Will they respect me less? Will they joke and snicker with their friends as a way of channelling that shame into humor, calling me “Mum” behind my back?” It’s a concern I have, and it troubles me deeply. One person telling her it’s okay for the Daddy to be the primary carer is nothing compared to all the evidence around them that says otherwise.
And, as mentioned previously, I just avoid calling a lot of my male friends now for reasons that should be clear. Though I worry about how that kind of reaction affects me, because that means it affects my kid. If I become embittered and cop a “Ah, who needs ’em?” attitude, what does that teach her?
I used to smirk so, so hard when I’d hear women talk of “gender roles.” I’d think “That’s adorable that you think you need to talk about this! Just go and do what you want! I’m not oppressing you, and I’m not stopping you!”
But I totally understand now how what society thinks you should be doing is a huge, huge thing. I can’t speak on it from a woman’s perspective, but I can see now that what “society, man!” thinks isn’t just a crappy excuse for whatever you need excuses for. There are expectations placed on you from the culture-at-large, and if you don’t live up to them, you’re judged to hell and back for it.
And it’s all so, so stupid. I’m grateful for that realization, for getting an actual idea about something I thought meant nothing. I know that other parents will judge me if my daughter wants to wear a G.I. Joe outfit to storytime at the library. But I could not give less of a crotch-thrusting helldamn.
I’ve touched on this in a few of the other entries, but this is what it all circles around to, why I’m writing this for in the first place: I am a man, and I should be earning a wage for my family, not taking the easy road of raising a child. So, first thing’s first: Eat a crusty %!(% if you think that.
Seriously. After a few months of stay-at-home fatherhood, I used to daydream about digging ditches. At the time, that sounded like the easiest kind of heaven there was compared to dealing with a teething child day-in, day-out. It also assuaged my feelings of guilt and shame just thinking about working and making jokes about how crazy women are with my workmates, even though I had a goddamn female child within three feet of me.
I’ve relaxed some, but still, everywhere I go with my daughter I have my eyes cast downward a little, so as if in agreement with the little voice in my mind saying “Everyone knows you’re worthless. They talking about you. You should be at work right now, but instead you’re shamelessly out in public!”
That little voice gets easier and easier to ignore, and now, if called upon to do so, I will dance the hell out of my daughter’s current favorite jam, “Turkey In The Straw,” with a stuffed rabbit taped to my head and my shoes on my hands. In public. It took a while to start to learn, and its still sinking in, but this has nothing to do with me. Other people’s perceptions, my shame and guilt, it’s all a load of crap. This is about the fact that my daughter gets to eat thanks to one working parent, and gets to be raised primarily by the other. We’re trying to grow a decent person here, and judgements, mental self-abuse, caring what others think (within reason), and unsolicited opinions do nothing but get in the way of that.
So here’s to you, judgemental manly-man making yourselves feel more masculine by denigrating others. This “Turkey In The Straw” dance is for you.
Aaron Dennis-Jackson is Man Cave Daily’s Australian Correspondent, though not for much longer, as he’s moving to America to make it a sexier, funnier place. You can check out more of his stuff here and here.
Aaron restored the magic of childhood when he taught you Why Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere Is Amazing.