Being a stay at home dad has given me a lot of wonderful experiences and insights that I never expected. At the same time, it also has caused me to have a lot more insecurities and doubts about my significance in my family unit, and to my own self image as a man as well. Even though the United States is a pretty progressive country in comparison to the rest of the world, we still have a lot of pretty entrenched beliefs when it comes to gender roles in our society. Women have done a great job in the last century redefining what it is to be a woman, but men have pretty much stayed in the same capacity in regards to what our purpose is, and what’s expected of us in society and in our personal lives. Even though men have evolved emotionally (not just in our acceptance of women’s expanded role in our culture but also in the way we act and think about ourselves) we still haven’t really received any recognition or widespread acceptance for our own transformation. This is never more evident than it is for stay at home dads.
While stay at home dads are a minority among men, we are a steadily increasing trend in modern society. However, while women are given respect for pursuing careers and financial independence in a “man’s world”, men are quietly disrespected for their desire to let their wives make the money and handle the responsibilities of the house that are still thought of as “women’s work”. I’ve had to suffer through a lot of awkward silences, and befuddled looks from people, when I tell them I don’t work and stay at home to take care of my boys. Offering explanations to people usually results in the response, “So you’re like the mom and your wife is like the dad.” But, whatever. Right? Who cares?
I’m of the same mentality that I grew up with, which is to ‘just be a man about it’ or ‘take it like a man’. I mean, I don’t want people to think I’m a pussy or anything. And this is fine for me, but I never realized that I would have to let my sons suffer the same treatment as me. This last year I was shocked at my own stupidity for not thinking that my boys could bear the same dead weight of male stereotypes on their shoulders, and at such a young age too. The moment of realization came this last Christmas when we bought my 2 year old a toy kitchen. My youngest son loves to cook with me and he’s always by my side when I’m cooking dinner each day. It was just natural that my wife and I thought to buy a small kitchen for him and, to be honest, I never had a clue that it might be a questionable present for a boy (it being 2018 at the time and all). The awareness that a toy kitchen might still be considered only for girls – came when I observed the reactions of some of our family members when they saw that we had bought him a girl’s toy. There was never any direct condemnations or spoken words but, just like I often experience, there were awkward moments and strange looks that couldn’t be passed off as ‘just my imagination’.
Instead of anger, my first first reaction to all this was guilt. I knew that it was my fault. It was my fault that my son was now the object of concern to some of these people. It was because I’m always in the kitchen. Even before I became the stay at home dad, I did most of the cooking in the house and I enjoy it too. It wasn’t my son’s fault for emulating me. He has no idea about what is considered manly or girly. He’s too young. It’s my job to show him how to be a man. I’m his role model. So after the guilt, the anger did come, but it was anger at myself. Why couldn’t I be more of a man? How could I have let myself become this way?
However, it only took a few days of my son playing with the kitchen, preparing me pretend meals, and watching that big smile he had on his face every time, that I began to direct my anger in the correct direction. I was mad! All these gender stereotypes were one thing when it was about me, but it was something completely different when it was about my son. But what could I do? It’s not like I could change the beliefs of an entire society and, if I were to try, it wouldn’t be affected by the time my son would be of an age to be aware of such things.
As white males it was hard to think of my son and I as victims of prejudice. Although, it was the stories of other such victims that gave me the insight about what to do in our own situation. Remembering the narratives of African Americans, homosexuals, and women throughout history, I realized that, in the times when they could not affect change in how society perceived them, they changed the way they saw themselves so that they were shielded from the bullshit around them. So that’s what I’m trying to do now, and writing these posts is one of the ways that I’m trying to force myself to be ‘me’, even though there might be critics out there who will think I’m something I’m not. I would never have done this for myself, but I’m sure as hell going to do this for my boys. If my sons witness other people treating me badly because of the things I do, that might be considered girly. They are also going to see their dad be unfazed and proud of himself at the same time.
So yeah, I don’t make any money. I do all the cooking and cleaning in the house, and I clip coupons for when I go to the grocery. I cry every time I watch the Pixar movie Inside Out with my sons (where Bing Bong dies toward the end, it’s just so sad!). I’m constantly nagging my wife when she leaves the milk out or when she uses too much fabric softener while doing her laundry on the weekends. All these things are definitely not considered manly by others, but I think they are. Because I’m the man who’s doing them. I’m proud of the example I’m setting for my sons, and I’m done feeling guilty about whether I’m being a bad role model for them. No matter what, I’m still the guy putting food on the table for them. I’m just not the one with a job paying for it.