Nice try, New Yorker cover. Hey, can you tell me where to find that park where there are so many cool dads that moms feel left out, because I have a feeling you need to live in a cartoon in order to get there. I’ve been doing the stay-home dad thing for going on three years now, and I still feel like Marisa Tomei at Hillman College, if you know what I mean.
According to the 2010 census, there are 154,000 stay-home dads in the U.S.
154,000? That’s not even a lot of people in Delaware. Isn’t that exactly the number of Wayans brothers? We couldn’t take over Lichtenstein with those numbers. You really think we’re taking over parks?
Look, I’m not one to cry “oppression”. I’m a middle-class white male, after all. My kind have had it pretty good for the last few millennia or so. Yes, I’m also gay, but let’s put that aside for a minute. Other than that, I’m fairly demographically charmed.
Still, I’m in a minority group because of what I do for a living, and as a result I face a particular kind of prejudice on a daily basis.
That’s right. I’m talking about “Dadscrimination”. There may be more of us than there used to be, but in a lot of ways, the world still doesn’t get us. We’re second-class parents, a joke or an afterthought. Yo, it’s hard out here for a Daddy.
From the serious to the semantic, here are just a few of the ways dads get the shaft:
- The Mommification of Everything Parent-Related
You never see “Men at Work” signs anymore. It’s always “Crew Working In Trees”. We don’t call them “Policemen” or “Mailmen”, they’re “Officers” and “Postal workers.” But when it comes to parenting, everything’s “Mommy”. “Mommy movies”, “Mommy & Me” classes, “Mommy wars”, “Mommy Zumba”. It’s as if the M-word is synonymous with “parent”. No matter what barriers we break down in terms of gender inequality, inclusiveness goes out the window once you have kids.
I’ll admit I’ve never been to a Mommy movie, mostly because neither my kids nor I are interested in a film whose title is preceded by the words “Katherine Heigl in…”.
I did take a Mommy & Me class when my kids were young, although I think the kids and I all snuck in through the “Me” loophole. Some parenting groups won’t even allow men. I get it. Ladies want to talk about breastfeeding (and do it) in privacy. But until there are enough stay-home dads to sustain a decent-sized get-together, we don’t have a lot of places to turn for information. I’m going to vouch for straight dads, too. They’re not trying to look at your boobs. We’re all just doing it for our kids, so please let us crash your party.
- The Boob Tube.
My only role model
If you’ve ever turned on TV between when school starts and the work day ends, you know it’s slim pickins for anyone with a moderate amount of testosterone in their system. Good thing we have Tivo, On Demand and Netflix Instant or we’d be stuck with nothing but endless infotainment featuring doctors, judges and chattering coffee-sippers sitting on stools. You know what I’m talking about . The “The” shows. “The View”, “The Talk”, “The Chew.” Yes, there’s really a show called “The Chew”, and if I didn’t love my kids so much, that alone would be reason enough to go back to work and throw them in day care.
And what about choosy dads? I’m all ears, Madison Avenue!
Of course, no one is blinder to the existence of stay-home dads than advertisers. Check the commercial breaks during those aforementioned shows, and you’ll see what I mean. Look, I buy the Lemon Pledge in my family. Would it kill you to show a dude dusting his fine wooden surfaces now and then?
- The Great Potty Disparity.
Nowhere is the disparity between dads and moms more obvious or extreme than in public restrooms. I’ve already written about one bad experience I had at a children’s play center, but it’s an ongoing concern. Too many businesses only put changing tables in the women’s bathrooms, which is not just dadscrimination but sexist, too. Who says wiping poopy tushies is just a woman’s job? If dads aren’t changing their kids, they should be.
There’ve been times I’ve had to wait outside a women’s bathroom until the coast was clear so I could go in and change a diaper. Other times, I’ve had to lay my kid down on a scummy men’s room floor in the shadow of a urinal or take them back to my car just to get the job done.
Nothing makes me happier than seeing a Family Bathroom, because I know it’s well-equipped and Dad-friendly. I know a lot of small businesses don’t have the funds or the square footage to add a third bathroom, let alone one with curtain-shielded rocking chairs for discreet feeding. But at any public establishment that welcomes families, Koala Kares in the men’s room are a must, or personally, I’m going to find somewhere else to pump my kids full of chicken fingers.
- Perv stares at the park.
I don’t hover over my kids at the park, but I’m always watching them closely from afar, for two very important reasons: 1, so they don’t get seriously hurt and 2, so they’re not snatched up by a perv.
We all know public recreation areas are pedophile smorgasbords, but here’s the irony: While I’m standing there by myself, eyes narrowly focused on a child who’s frolicking far off, then turning occasionally in a different direction to eyeball my other kid, what do I look like? That’s right…
A LOUSY, STINKING PERV.
Ask any dad, and he’ll tell you: In a Mommy’s world, you are assumed creepy until proven otherwise.
Stay-home dads often fit the perv profile — middle-aged guys who look tired and unshaven, wearing yesterday’s Spaghetti-O-stained t-shirt and seeming as if they didn’t have time to take a shower that morning. We spend a lot of time at playgrounds and toy stores. And if you catch us in a moment when our kids aren’t eagerly tugging at our pant legs and begging us for some Dora the Explorer fruit snacks, we might look like we’re just there to case the joint.
In researching this piece, I came across this post from Daddy Dialectic, who faced the ultimate indignity. Someone actually asked him to leave a park because she assumed he was a predator. He did a survey and found out it was more common than he thought. Having read that, I consider myself lucky that that’s never happened to me.
When I get a perv stare, I’m always quick to establish contact with my kids, just to prove my credibility. Of course, that only works when your kids back you up. One time, while my daughter was throwing a tantrum at Target, she yelled out, “Where’s my Mommy?” That’s the only time that’s ever happened, but if the wrong person had been listening, I could’ve ended up in a one-on-one with store security. Thanks, kid.
- Mommy cliquishness.
I thought my days of feeling hopelessly uncool ended with high school, but that was before I tried striking up conversations with stay-home moms. Anywhere moms gather, dads are outcasts.
At least this is one area where gay dads have an edge. Once I out myself, moms tend to get friendlier. Maybe their real fear is that I’ll be some suave male homewrecker like Patrick Wilson in Little Children.
I suspect it’s something deeper and darker. Most women just don’t respect men who stay home with their kids. They see other women raising kids and think, sure, she’s a traditionalist or a post-modern feminist proving she doesn’t need a career to be a strong woman. Go, sister!
When they see a man raising kids, they think he’s lazy. They can’t help imagining his poor wife busting her ass trying to make partner while he stays home wearing flip-flops and eating Fritos on the couch.
- The presumption of cluelessness.
When Drew and I were exploring our parenting options, we saw a counselor to help us sort things out. She was smart, supportive and extremely helpful. She quickly became one of my favorite people I’ve ever met.
Then, after the kids were born, I lamented how hard it was sometimes to soothe them when they were crying. Our counselor just shrugged and said, “Well, you’re a dude.”
I was stunned, but I’ve since realized that’s how a lot of people think. “That poor guy, alone with his kids. He must be in over his head.”
Thanks, I’m doing fine, and you can spare me your advice, strangers. I prefer to screw my kids up my way, not yours.
OK, fair enough. Moms get unsolicited advice, too, and they hate it just as much. Maybe this is one area where dads are catching up to moms faster than we’d like.
I know dadscrimination isn’t the worst form of bias. Nobody’s making us sit in the back of any buses or denying us the right to vote. I won’t be leading any marches on Washington or trying to become daddyhood’s Malcolm X. Mostly, I just wanted a chance to vent.
Aren’t dads allowed to complain once in a while, too?
OK, gotta go. My kids are waking up.