It all started during one of our regular early morning people-watching seshes in Laurel Village. The Little Lady is in an aggressively friendly phase and saying “Hi!” is her absolute favorite. She delights in greeting passerby as well as trees, dogs, mailboxes and people on television. (Not to worry: MENSA has been contacted.) To help the Little Lady hit her “Hi”-per-day quota, we’ve taken to parking ourselves outside of our local Peet’s most mornings with coffee, a bagel and an unobstructed view of the bustling sidewalk. It’s a “Hi” target goldmine.
As you might expect, I meet a lot of new people with such an exceedingly friendly sidekick. Just last week, we met two darling little boys and their father who had been drawn in by the Little Lady’s greeting. (Her sweet, high-pitched, breathy “Hi” really is irresistible.) While the boys shared their toys with the Little Lady and cooed sweetly at her, I inquired about their plans for the day. Their father offered that they were spending the day with him, and the boys added that their mom was “at work.” I responded brightly (and here’s where it gets weird): “Guess that means it’s break the rules day!”
The father responded quietly but firmly: “I actually run a pretty tight ship. I’m a stay-at-home dad.”
BURN. We deserved that. His boys were polite, well-behaved, dressed in clean, matching, weather-appropriate clothing *and* their hair was perfectly combed. (Which is more than we can say for the cream cheese face mask and bedhead our kid was sporting.)
Here’s the thing: we KNOW that men are just as capable as women at being responsible, thoughtful and diligent parents. We live with one. (Hi, dear.) So why was our first, irrepressible instinct to assume otherwise?
As much as we may pop off about modern motherhood, some dark corner of our brain harbors 1950’s prejudices about fathers. If women can now equal and surpass their male counterparts at work, why can’t men enjoy the same upward mobility at home? Is it that we’ve heard too many (cave)men joke about the pampered, bonbon eating existences of stay-at-home mothers? Or are we afraid that men might become such competent parents that they (gasp) don’t need us?
Perhaps we want it both ways, to be the MVP at the office *and* at home. We may complain about how daddies don’t load the dishwasher properly or tie hair bows just so, but men being perceived as incompetents might actually feed some subconscious female desire to be needed by one’s family. Wanting to feel needed, necessary, is a pretty normal human emotion, but to recognize it as expressed by our recent, ugly behavior was a reality check.
So, anonymous stay-at-home dad with the two darling sons: we’re sorry. You’re clearly doing a kick-ass job and don’t deserve our condescension. And to the Hus-b (and all the other fathers who parent capably on a daily basis): we’re sorry to you, too. Being born without breasts doesn’t automatically make you less likely to enforce household rules, comb your kids’ hair or remember pediatrician appointments. We’re all on the same team, really, trying to raise great kids and live meaningfully. Co-MVPs for life?