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Friday, March 10, 2006

Ah, LOD, you've assumed that all the evening duties are child-related, and that is an error. Who do you think is doing the cooking, the table-setting, and the after-dinner clean-up while Daddy plays trains, changes a diaper or two, and reads his cycling magazine while Toddler in Chief splashes around in the bath? My down-time is a break from child-rearing, not a break from domestic duties, or a sit-on-the-couch-eating-bon-bons break. Big difference. We are both still working until TIC is in bed.

And yes, this kind of teamwork is expected. We've both been working all day. And even though a drive to and from work isn't always a joy, it's alone time. And sure, running out of the office to grab lunch isn't always a leisurely jaunt or a relaxing respite from office politics, but it is a solo jaunt down the street, none the less. And it comes complete with a few whiffs of fresh air, without a stroller, a crying child, or a running nose in sight--or at least one that he's responsible for wiping (unless it's his own).

And yes, Father in Chief deserves some downtime to sit back and watch The Daily Show as much as the next hard-working-stiff. But his much-deserved downtime comes when we are both able to sit back with our feet up on the coffee table and enjoy the one-liners together. 

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MIC is right; I do feel lucky to have been so involved in my children's births, being a bigger part of their arrival has made me a bigger part of their lives. I'm lucky to have been home after I was laid off, because the shared experience of parenting helped me reassess my motivations and strengthen my marriage. I'm lucky I have a job that offers me a lot of time at home so that one boy can treat me like a trampoline while the other ties my shoes to the furniture. Good times.

The truth is now is a great time to be a father. Not only is the idea of a dad staying home with the kids much more accepted, but those who do have far more resources and networking at their disposal. Parenting can be a lonely business for anyone (especially when the kids are too small to go off on their own but too big to be moved without spectacular effort), but blogs have changed that.

Rebel Dad keeps a gimlet eye trained on perceptions of dads in the media, and his blogroll is full of SAHDs and GTWDs who defy the obnoxious TV stereotype that we're all a much of clueless lunkheads. The world is full of men who are just as committed and curious about parenting, and you ladies should do your part and marry only us. That way, the lunkheads who are unable to procreate will die off, taking the stereotype with them.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The evolution of fatherhood is a topic that I've discussed frequently with the women in my mothers' group. Is it the men who have evolved, the women who have evolved, or is it is a combination of the two? I tend to think that it's a combination. As much as fathers now want to be active participants in their kids' lives, I don't know many women who would be married to men who wouldn't be pulling their parental weight. Our expectations are higher than our mothers' generation and the women couple decades ago. We expect our partners to be involved and not hand-in-the-pants, couch-denting, channel-surfing Al Bundys.

I can't help but wonder if the scenario that LOD described--dads waiting and pacing away from their wives, while those laboring women performed their secret birth rituals--put up a barrier between some men and their children. Because that process was separate from men, did the result separate the roles of the parents? But times have changed, and hospitals allow and encourage dads to be a part of the birth process. Women physically become parents as they push babies from their bodies. For men, the process takes time, patience, and effort. I can only imagine that being a physical presence during that intimate birth experience creates a bond between father and child, while strengthening the one between husband and wife.

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Fathers are much more involved than they've ever been, and that's fantastic. Far fewer wage earners arrive home, demand a cocktail, wolf down dinner unappreciatively, and pass out on the couch. (That wage earner isn't even always male.) But as with every swing of the pendulum, trends can be carried too far. Since when does Daddy have to stagger home after a full day of work and take full responsibility for all the kid wrangling?

Don't get me wrong. Lots of dads (including me) look forward to tending to their children after a day's worth of soul-numbing office politics, but when did it become expected? The world is full of mommybloggers who proudly write how they foist their children on Dear Husband the moment he gets home, and any time I read that I cringe. I understand that Mommy had a stressful day, but dammit, Daddy just spent the day listening to blathering clients, or catering to self-important superiors, or putting out a bunch of fires he didn't start. He deserves a little downtime, too.

I think my wife and I have hit upon the perfect balance. We used to do what most couples do, I suppose: we alternated all the book-readin', bath-givin', meal-makin', dish-washin', etc., based on who's free to do what. Now, our live-in servants take care of everything while my wife and I spend our evenings living the high life among the glitterati and cognoscenti. Truly, if your plural doesn't end in i, we want no part of you.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Was there even such a thing as a stay-at-home dad in the 60s? I asked my father this, and for the look he gave me I might just as well have asked him if donkeys can do long division. The role of the dad has morphed so remarkably over the last couple decades that 21st-Century Father and his mid-20th century counterpart can barely be considered members of the same species.

Take birth, for example. Dad remembers fondly (or so he says) the day that I arrived, a sunny Sunday morning with the church bells ringing across the street. While Mom was sequestered among an army of medicos and doped-up out of her mind on painkillers, my dad spent his morning just as Darrin Stevens and Rob Petrie did--pacing, smoking his pipe, watching a bunch of other guys pace and smoke their pipes, and wondering if his son would get here before his noon teetime.

Fast forward to 2002, when I spent my morning walking my wife around Greenwich Village to accelerate dilation and effacement. She was in labor for a total of 36 hours, and I was there for every second until OneBert finally came. And I was there, holding my wife's hand, mopping her brow, and watching wide-eyed while 9.5 pounds of boymeat squeezed through her birth canal. Where was my dad? Probably at home looking up what "effacement" means.

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When I was a baby, my mother was in charge of every parenting duty--feeding, bathing, changing my diapers. I honestly don't know how she put up with it. My marriage works a little differently, and as soon as Father in Chief comes home from work, he's takes over. He's in charge of diaper duty, bathtime, storytime, and tucking TIC into bed. It's important together time for them and a fun diversion for FIC after being at work all day. Plus, after spending 10 hours a day with the kid, it's an important break for me.

Then there are the activities I don't feel like doing with Toddler in Chief. It's not that I think his dad should do certain things with him and that I should do certain things with him. It's just that there are activities that TIC should experience that I don't feel like experiencing. I call it selective parenting--I select the activities I want to do with my kid and then encourage FIC to do the other stuff with him on the weekends, like going to the aviation museum. There's also stuff around the house. FIC is an avid cyclist, for example, and TIC has a little bike with training wheels. TIC like to "ride" his bike and "fix" his bike with tools. He would like to do this every day, but I have no interest in tooling around with the bike or the tools. So this has become a special dad/son thing, which is good for everyone.

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