“What about me, Dudicle?” I asked my eleven month old as he balled his eyes out, staring longingly at the empty stairwell where my wife once stood. She left for work, and I was left with what I’m always left with at this time of day: tears and an overwhelming urge to quote the late, great, Rodney Dangerfield. Yes indeed, when it comes to my son, “I get no respect!”
Never mind the fact that I have been nothing if not a humble servant to his majesty for almost a year. Never mind all of the shit explosions I’ve cleaned up. Never mind all of the clothes he’s ruined with his toxic drool and puke exorcisms. Never mind the daily dance parties. Never mind the songs I have to make up on the spot. Never mind the hours spent teaching him how to crawl, walk, and bang on stuff. Never mind the constant task of cleaning up Cheerios out of every nook, cranny, and crevice. Never mind the books read, meals fed, and less time in my own bed. He doesn’t care. He only cares about his mother. To say I get taken for granted is being polite. I’m merely the opening act, while she shows up late, skips the encore, and always keeps ’em wanting more. Yes, she’s Axl Rose circa 1989 and I might as well be an undocumented nanny.
You should see his face light up when she gets home from work. He can’t get to her soon enough. He’ll force himself out of my grasp and sprint across the house climbing over couches, hurdling obstacles, and squealing with delight. No, he doesn’t walk yet, but he sure runs to her at the end of the day. Days that I’ve spent dealing with his mood swings, the failed naps, the inhumane diaper loads, the one-sided food fights, the constant cat and mouse games, and of course, the crying. Days all said and done by the time my wife comes home to all smiles and fireworks and the beloved noises he makes when he’s so excited he can’t control himself. Even the dog thinks he goes a little overboard. She can’t even compete. So we retire to a game of feel sorry for ourselves fetch while the mother-son love and laughter-fest continues in the living room. Then he goes to bed.
When my wife had to split town for two weeks to deal with a death in the family, I held down the fort, nursing him through a cold and the emergence of two new teeth. Waking him up, putting him to bed, personally entertaining him 24/7. When she returned, his face lit up like I’ve never seen. Daddy who? I was immediately forgotten. However, when we both took a few days off to play tourist in Chicago, my return was met with utter indifference. He couldn’t have cared less. I was a bit let down, I must admit.
To make matters worse, one day he decided to break his silence with his first real word used in the proper context, “Momma.” He said it as he climbed up her legs in the kitchen the other day. It was crystal clear and deliberate, unlike the random collection of syllables tossed out at me on a daily basis. Now, I know it’s not a contest. My wife and I are a team. I know that she knows all I do for him. I know that he doesn’t really take me for granted, no matter how it looks. But, I will admit that it stung just a little bit underneath the joy of hearing him finally grasp some aspect of the English language. For all I do for that little fucker, it’s a bit of a let down to know that she is now “Momma” and I am still “chopped liver.”
“I figured that would happen,” my wife told me later that evening in reference to the “Momma” incident, stifling her desire to flaunt. “Studies show that most of the time ‘Daddy’ or some form of it is usually the first word kids say because they hear their mothers saying it while the dad’s at work and especially when he comes home,” she continued, trying to console me with her scholarly wisdom, “So you shouldn’t be surprised or feel bad about it.” It seems that the traditional gender roles have been reversed. I guess it’s official: I have become Mr. Mom.
“‘220-221, whatever it takes,'” I replied, then sulked into the couch with the dog.
The primary “stay at home” caregiver typically gets all of the work but none of the credit. Yes, that’s a mild exaggeration, and there are countless perks that I have discovered in the past eight months. However, it can be a bit disheartening sometimes. Other times, even if just for a second, you wonder why you put in the effort at all. You spend hours dealing with the trials of a crabby kid and end up handing off a bundle of joy to the working parent when they get home. Then the bundle has the nerve to not even look back. I know moms…welcome to your world. I realize that I’m new here, bare with me. I feel your pain.
At least those of us on this end of things have our expertise to rely on. It’s nice to have my wife defer to me on issues related to my son. The questions come from all angles. When do you do this? What does he eat then? Does he get a bottle now? When should I put him down for a nap? I used to be clueless, now I’m the go to guy. When I’m not around, sometimes the well oiled machine that is our household starts to derail. I’ll come home to dirty bottles, empty formula containers, no baby food in the fridge, overflowing diaper pails, a frustrated mom, and a cranky baby. It’s nice to swoop in and be the hero. At least those of us in the same house slippers can fall back on that and savor a bit of consolation. Some things are better left to the experts, I suppose, and we are the experts.
I still, however, have nothing but love for the parents that go off to work on a daily basis. The parents that allow us to stay home and experience the day to day growth of our children and explore options we may not be able to if we had to go to an outside job. The parents that have to leave the home to spend time with people they may or may not want to, doing things they may or may not want to, instead of doing the things they do want to with those they love. The parents that miss out on the little things. The parents who deal with having to feel out of the loop, out of practice, and out of place in their own homes with their own families. The parents who are truly making the biggest sacrifice a parent can make, for the good of the family. Parents like my wife, who make the whole damn thing work. They deserve those precious moments in the morning and evening, the tears when they leave, and the honor of being the recipient of the first words. They deserve so much more. It’s good to keep that in mind. I try to.
Lucky for me, my wife and I seem to have it worked out so far. We’ve figured out how to operate as a team, get past our misgivings, and make sure we let each other know how important the other is to the success of the whole. It took us the entire year, but we’ve figured out how to blur those traditional gender lines and share the work and the wealth. She even had me speak to her Sociology of Gender class the other day. The fact that there needs to be classes like that and that a discussion with me would be enlightening at all, speaks volumes as to where we are. Talking with her students was eye opening, to say the least. What I’m starting to learn is that in addition to the uphill task of rewriting the gender rules, if more people realize how much of an actual job staying at home and raising your child all day is, then we’ll really start to get somewhere as equals, partners, parents, families, and citizens. It’s something “Stay at Home” moms have been trying to get people to understand ever since before the two income family became hip or necessary.
Unfortunately that won’t happen until more men join in on the experience and until outdated gender roles are finally recognized as such. We’re getting there. It’s something I’m more proud of doing each day. It’s something I would highly recommend. I’m glad I’m able to set this example for my son. I’m glad I’m taking part in trying to erase the lines between gender roles. Perhaps the idea won’t seem so odd to the next generation of men being currently cared for by stay at home dads, single dads, and most importantly, empathetic dads. Equality begins in the home. But, it’s not going to happen until we as a society put more value into being an active parent in general, getting our priorities straight, and acknowledging that child care and the work that goes into being a stay at home caregiver (male or female) is a proper and noble profession, even if the child may not offer up that same respect. But hey, that’s how it goes. Kids are selfish bastards.
Despite my slight jealousy, it’s still great to watch the two of them together at the end of the work day. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and I cherish it everyday. Today was no different. I took in every second of my wife sitting on the back deck, my son, on her lap, eating Cheerios and peas on the hottest afternoon of the year so far in Omaha. The first strong Spring sun, my son, my wife, and myself listening to The Hold Steady, contemplating breakfast for dinner, and waiting on the twister. Then my wife ran inside to pee and Jack turned on the tear faucet, destroying the peace of the scene. “What about me?” I asked him as he looked up at the door and I looked for the dog who was barking at a squirrel in the corner of the yard. Go figure. I get no respect!
(Photos courtesy of Christina Reinicke-Chicago)