I still haven’t figured out how to answer the question.
When we meet someone for the first time, one of the initial questions of the getting-to-know-you phase is this: What do you do?
By that, we’re asking what the other person does for a living. What is their job? Strangely, we, as a society, tend to define people by what they do, rather than what they enjoy, or who they are. While I’m sure there’s another whole post in this somewhere, I’m more focused this time around on what the answer to that question really is when it’s directed at me or people like me.
See, as might have been obvious sometime in the last six years, I’m a stay-at-home dad. For the past 14 years, I stayed home being the principal caregiver to our three boys while my wife, known to me as She Who Must Be Bringing Home The Bacon Etc., worked outside the house.
For us, it wasn’t even a question what would be happening when we had kids. We both believed that kids would benefit from having a parent at home. She’s a doctor, which meant her first paycheck as the lowliest of doctors (an intern) was far more than what I was making at the top of my pay grade as an information specialist for the state of Florida. Yeah, no question I was staying home.
Now, I’m pretty cool with the idea of a woman making more money than I do. Just like it doesn’t matter that she beats me at H.O.R.S.E. every time we play. (Of course, in a real one-on-one game, I thrash her without hesitation.) She’s just a better set shooter than I am. I’ve been beaten by girls in races and never worried but for one thing: A person was faster than me. The gender of the victor didn’t matter. Same thing here.
But, apparently, it does matter to some people.
When I’m meeting people for the first time and I tell them that I’m a stay-at-home dad, I get responses that vary in the specifics, but all contain the same condescension.
“Oh, that’s so wonderful.”
“You’re so lucky to stay at home.”
“That’s such a hard job and so important.”
“I don’t know how you do it.”
And, worst of all, “Good for you. You should be proud of that.”
It’s a good thing none of these people are playing poker for a living, or are actors, because, dudes, they just can’t pull it off. In their eyes, in the tone of their voice, in the way they subtly lean back away from me as if they’re afraid stay-at-home-itis is catching. . .
In their eyes, there’s something deeply wrong with what I’ve done for the past 14 years. In their eyes, it’s easy to read what they’re thinking: “Thank God it’s not me.”
I realize that moms in my position also are getting something similar from other women. Staying at home, either for a man or a woman, can be a controversial choice to some people.
Men, I think, might get it a bit worse. Because we’re supposed to be the breadwinners, the ones who work outside the house. I’ve even been asked, “Doesn’t it bother you being the woman?” and “Does she let you wear shoes and leave the kitchen?”
Okay, yes, those were extreme examples and they might have said they were kidding, but there is that old saying about there being more truth in jest.
Over the years, just to avoid arguments in a pleasant setting, I’ve begun telling people I work from home instead of stay home. And, yes, that won’t be a problem much longer as I’m moving back into the outside work force as Hyper Lad grows older.
But, still, shouldn’t staying at home — whether because of a money issue or that you’re just more at ease taking care of kids — be a valid choice for any person, male or female?
There were a (very) few times in the beginning when I felt resentful that I wasn’t working every day at a newspaper, which had been my dream. But then I would look on my napping sons, or hear them laugh, and realize it’s possible to have more than one dream, to find and follow a new dream.
A man or woman choosing to stay at home to rear a child is a valid choice, dudes and dudettes. Respect that.