It is 5:15 am. I can hear the beginnings of some quiet stirrings from my daughter’s room. Just little whimpering noises for now. I listen more intently. She might roll over, find her pacifier, go back to sleep. Some hope! The noises become more pronounced, more obvious; building to the inevitable, ‘Dad!’ But I’m already at her door, opening it. She sits up in bed. ‘I can’t find my dummy’, a typical refrain. My wife snores gently in the next room, undisturbed by any of these nocturnal goings-on. I don’t begrudge her, or this regular nighttime visit to help my daughter find her pacifier. Actually, I love it. I’ve always loved it.
It was only when faced with the superficial option of whether to play the traditional dad’s role, that I fully understood that I wanted no part of that world. According to lore, I should be the one asleep, my wife should be the one comforting our daughter and cosseting her back to peaceful slumbers. But that doesn’t happen. Similarly, bath time. I missed it when I was working late evenings but now I’m not and I love it in all its splashing, soaking glory. And bedtime. Stories that I can read the life into. Where I can carry my daughter to sleep on tales of Wild Things, Gruffalo’s, and Hungry Caterpillars. And when she wakes up, I am the best cheesy-omelet maker that you will ever meet. I am the preschool run, the playground attendant, the sole cheerleader at ballet class and swim lessons.
We live in a world where men are defined by our roles, where success is measured by your salary and your position. This has its cost. I used to work long hours as a senior marketing executive for a consumer goods company. I had status, peer recognition, a salary. When I was asked what I did, I was happy to tell people. I used to travel for work. Lead meetings in different countries and beat the competition. Now my wife is the primary breadwinner. She is the one who goes out to work, pulls in the money, has status. When I recently filled out my car insurance application, I put ‘homemaker’ as my occupation.
How does that make me feel? Am I somehow emasculated? Am I less of a man because I am effectively reliant upon my wife for my income?
When I take my daughter out to a playground or museum on a weekday, typically, amongst the parents I will be the only man. The mothers don’t seem to know what to make of it. I see some of the same faces around but they rarely say more than hello. Then it’s back to chatting amongst themselves. In a sense then, being the male ‘mom’ can be lonely. To not be asked around for coffee mornings because I am a man is irritating but a fact.
What of my daughter? She is three-and-a-half and likes having Dad around all the time. I’m way more of a soft touch than her mom; indeed there often feels something conspiratorial about us going around together. I’m also the only one of the ‘moms’ that is 6’5” and weighs 240 lbs. So she ends up getting picked up more, carried more. She wants to get up into that high tree branch? No problem! She knows that if she decides to take off her shoes I’m more likely to just pick her up and put her on my shoulders than stop and make her put them back on. In these small ways, I spoil her. I hope they don’t end up being to her disadvantage.
I will go back to work. But for the moment I could not be happier relying on my wife as, in the past, she has relied on me. I know a lot of men who would never for an instant consider being the homemaker. Are they more manly as a result? Perhaps in a narrow reading of masculinity they are. But I have found that this role has caused me to reflect on my maleness and ultimately to decide that rather than diminishing it, it has enriched it immeasurably. And after all, I can still make a table with a skill-saw and fix a tumble dryer.
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