I’m a Stay-at-Home Dad, but People at the Grocery Store Call Me “Hero”

Snapshots of life at home.
July 10 2013 8:30 AM

I’m Not a Hero for Taking Care of My Kids

I’m also not baby-sitting them. I’m their dad.

Father holding sleeping daughter at carnival.
I can be your hero, baby—just by parenting you, according to strangers.

Photo by Creatas/Thinkstock

At the zoo, my 3-year-old daughter whines about wanting hot cocoa. On my lap, my 9-month-old infant shrieks, too tired to eat and too hungry to sleep. I feel for her. Actually, I’m right there with her.

I glance up in exhaustion and see an old man grinning at me from his place in line at the zoo’s coffee shop. Now, I’m 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, and have a shaved head. My brow owes more than a little to the Cro-Magnon, and I don’t shave very often. I look, in short, like a burly Serbian nightclub bouncer. The old man is grinning at my wailing offspring and me anyway.

Then he says, “Daddy’s day with the kids. Enjoy it!”

And I want to throw the half-empty carton of chocolate milk at his head.

It so happens I’m alone with one or both of my kids—9-month-old Sadie and 3-year-old Anna—at least 50 hours a week.

It so happens every day is Daddy’s day with the kids.

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People are still talking about “mommy wars,” 25 years after Child magazine first coined the term to describe the clash between working and stay-at-home mothers. “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” was probably the Atlantic’s most controversial cover story last year. And earlier this week, the New York Times ran a lengthy profile of a working mother fighting not for the corner office but for more flex time, with barely a mention of her husband/child-rearing partner. No matter how many dads you might see at the late-morning singalong, the default thinking remains: Moms are the primary caregivers, whether they work outside of the home or they don’t.

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Well, it’s not the default in my house. My wife, Jen, spent six months with the kids while I was working full time, and now I’m spending six months with the kids while she works full time. For a number of boring logistical reasons, this was the best decision for us financially. We’re just trying to allocate our resources in the smartest way possible.

Wanting to make babies and take care of them is fairly standard to the biological blueprint of both men and women. Trying to do a good job raising your kids is also not wildly uncommon. That one partner might need to remain with the kids while the other forages for money or berries or mastodon meat—this, too, is standard biological stuff. Especially in lean times. And, as it happens, we live in lean times.

I’d love to put my kids in day care five days a week, but we don’t have the extra $30,000 a year that such care would cost us here in Seattle.

I mentioned that Atlantic cover story about women not being able to have it all to Jen a while back, and she said, “Imagine what would have happened if the cover had been about men and work—a picture of a man in a suit and the image had otherwise been the same. Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if people started asking the same kinds of questions about men?”

The following month, as if on cue, Esquire ran an endlessly long story called “Why Men Still Can’t Have It All.” Instead of posing difficult questions, Esquire seemed eager to complain about women complaining so much. The author, Richard Dorment, wrote that “among those who traffic in gender studies, it is something of a truth universally acknowledged: Men are to blame for pretty much everything.” The other take-home was that men have it really, really hard. Dorment cites studies that show that in dual-income households, men spend more time working outside the house, and the same number of hours as women at household tasks. Yes, apparently men are being exploited.

Reading his plea for the besieged male, I was reminded of that Louis C.K. joke about the joys of being a white man: “God, I love being white. I really do. Seriously, if you're not white, you're missing out. … Let me be clear, by the way: I’m not saying that white people are better. I’m saying that being white is clearly better. Who could even argue? If it was an option, I would re-up every year: ‘Oh yeah, I’ll take white again, absolutely. I’ve been enjoying that, I’m gonna stick with the white, thank you.’ ... And I'm a man! How many advantages could one person have? I'm a white man! You can't even hurt my feelings!”

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