December 22, 2004

The travails of the stay-at-home father.

The NYT reports that it's a hard life for the man who stays home with the kids and has a wife who's a good provider:
"If I were a woman, people would say I was amazing," he said, sitting in his kitchen on a gray day this month. "But I'm a man, and so this is seen as weak."

And they are left out of play date arrangements. They've had to go out of their way to find other stay-at-home dads to arrange play dates with. Some of them, anyway. Then there's this guy (who, I suspect, is more the usual stay-at-home dad type than those play date guys):
"I would like to get other people's tips and hear how they handle things, but I'm not really interested in finding men just to talk to..."

[The man's wife] has encouraged him to make more male friends near their home..., but he says he is content to doze or play video games during his downtime in the day.

I have nothing to say individually to the particular couple in that anecdote. But just generally, guys, when your wife says something like that to you, maybe she's not just trying to prod you to derive a little more enjoyment out of life. Maybe she's letting you know that you are not a very interesting person to come home to. People imagine that women will think it's just great to have a man who devotes so much time to taking care of the kids. But will this dozing, video-game-playing man remain attractive to the woman who is out in the world interacting with lively, career-driven men?

The Times article concentrates on the way the men feel and drags in the pop-culture reference of the day:
And while the desperate housewives on Wisteria Lane have their exciting trysts with teenage gardeners and mysterious neighbors, there are seemingly few worries that these stay-at-home husbands have any potential for steamy affairs with their female counterparts. After all, what is threatening about a man loaded down with diapers?

"It takes one's manhood, chews it up, spits it out and does it again," said [a man] who has taken care of his daughters for two years. "You really need a strong marriage and confidence. I don't have a lot of friends who could do this."

Hmmm ... let's see. Who is more likely to have an affair -- the man who feels secure in his masculinity or the man who feels his manhood has been ground into a pulp?

UPDATE: Nina writes that the dozing, video-game-playing guy was probably already inherently boring, which is way he's satisfied to doze and play video games. This is a chicken-and-egg conundrum: do people do boring things because they are boring or are they boring because they do boring things? I'm inclined to think boringness is a big complex interactive mix of inherent tendencies and acquired attributes. But if the question is not are you really boring but will your spouse lose interest in you, the context matters. Picture two boring men: one is dozing on the couch when his hardworking wife comes home and the other comes home to his stay-at-home wife after a long day as the most boring man in the office. Which marriage is more at risk?

ANOTHER UPDATE: I've been asked whether I'm simply trying to justify traditional sex roles. Not at all. I'd like to see the most freedom for people to decide who stays home with children, who goes to work, and whether both go to work. I'm only saying that choosing one approach or the other does not insulate you from the hard feelings or the erosion of the relationship that may follow. There is nothing about choosing a nontraditional division of labor that insures that you will not have retro-feelings that hurt the relationship.

1 comment:

Manny Stiles said...

Sure, I'm rebelious and a little lazy.... but I'm also an awesome father to my kids. So being Stay at Home Dad is my dream job.

Whether a man goes to work or a woman goes to work is irrelevant - you're in it together; you're a team.

Taking care of your children and their influences and developments as kids is a daunting task. And hard work. Sometimes, it's way more challenging than juggling perceptions and your soul at a corporate job.

My wife stayed at home a couple years ago while I worked and now due to luck/circumstances, we switched roles. So lucky for me, I'm married to a woman who not only has empathy for the Stay-at-Home role, she also understands why I was pissed off every night I got done work!!!

Following in Dad's shadow is something that any human child can never get enough of... Dad is Safety, Dad is Crazy and Fun, Dad loves me; and Dad is Home.

Excuse me while I go finish the laundry...