For those who don’t know, my husband is a grad student, writer, and stay-at-home dad; and I am active duty military. In the four years since our daughter was born, we have learned that this country still has a very long way to go in the arenas of gender equality, family structures, division of labor, and sexism.
We’ve seen moms shoo away their kids from the ‘strange man’ at the playground, and a neighbor who muttered remarks just loud enough for us to hear about him being ‘not a real man.’ The most common reaction I get when I tell people what he does is an incredulous, “And you’re okay with that!?”
People have told me I’m a bad mom because I might deploy and leave my kid – but no one would ever tell a guy he’s a bad dad for doing the same thing. Military spouse groups have been renamed from “wives’ clubs” to “spouses clubs” but the few he has attended have been less than welcoming. Military spouse appreciation events usually include things like fashion shows, free mani-pedis, makeovers, and afternoon tea.
I am here to tell you that I am, in fact, ok with my husband being the primary caregiver in our house. I am so ok with it. Because let me tell you a few things about my husband that might conflict with what the stereotype tells you.
He isn’t just a real man. He’s a good man. He’s the best man I know. He’s an incredible father. I wouldn’t have married him if I thought otherwise, and I’m fully aware that I’m pretty much the luckiest woman on Earth.
He is patient, thoughtful, smart, funny, and strong enough to call me on my bullshit when I’m being the pushy, loud, thoughtless person I’m unfortunately all to capable of being – instead of the smart, levelheaded, and caring person he helps me be when I’m around him. And yes, he is decidedly masculine. Being masculine and being good at parenting are not mutually exclusive.
He meets all the criteria for the best marriage advice I received throughout my life from my most trusted advisors. First, I was told to find someone who made me a better person when I was around him. I did. He does. I can be incredibly selfish and awfully obnoxious, and he helps me avoid both of those.
Second, I was told to find someone who I could picture raising my children with. I did. He does an incredible job at it. I will fully admit that he is the patient one in our relationship and he is by far the better parent. We also complement each other well in our child-rearing, and are good at the ‘handoff’ when one of us reaches the inevitable point where we have just had enough.
Third, I was told to keep careful track of the good and bad traits of men in my life – boyfriends, dads, brothers, friends, coaches, you name it. I was told to keep a mental tally of the good traits and how to recognize them. I did. Neither of us is perfect, but he comes closer than I ever will.
Fourth, I was advised to find someone who I have multiple common interests with, but not too many. That way we can enjoy some activities together, but also have our own interests, to allow for a nicely balanced relationship. This has worked splendidly for us – we both love books, sci-fi, space, general geekery, and good wine and food. But we can also quietly split off into our separate activities (writing, gaming, cars, and soccer for him; sewing, piano, blogging, hiking, and cooking for me).
But as amazing as he is as a husband, he is even better as a dad. He isn’t just a father, he’s daddy. That’s daddy pronounced with all the love and adoration a four-year-old can muster. He’s a full-time parent and partner. He doesn’t just show up and go through the motions. He crawls on the floor into the cardboard box fort, he allows himself to be the human jungle gym, administers much-needed timeouts in the face of wailing crocodile tears, teaches, cleans up, nurtures, loves, and always knows the right way to cut up sandwiches.
He does the things that all good dads should do, and many get a free pass on. Some dads get praise just for forking over their monthly bit of a check sometimes and occasionally remembering birthdays. Most dads get praise for taking the kids to the park or grocery store or sports practice once in a while. He does 90% of that kind of day-in-day-out stuff. He’s living, everyday proof that dads in this country can – and should – be held to a higher standard.
This Father’s Day, I want the world to know I’m not just okay with him staying home, I think it’s the best thing we could have chosen. Yes, there are days when I wish I could have more quality time at home with our daughter. But there are also days I’ll admit I’m relieved to be able to escape to work. There are days I come home and they are giggling over in their cardboard box spaceship and I am a little jealous. And there are days when I walk in the door and I’m met with a wailing kid and a grumpy husband who mutters, “Take the kid and the dog, I need a break.”
And I know how very, very lucky we are that we can even make the choice for one of us to work from home. Most people don’t have the luxury of flexibility that we have. I always assure people that this was, in fact, a choice. It was a very carefully thought out choice made by two people, together, equally, to do what we think is best for our family and forget what anyone else says or thinks. Forget the mommy wars and the sexist jerks and the busybodies, we have a kid to raise and things to do.
Marriage and parenting are tough partnerships, and I thank my lucky stars that I’m in a good one. So I would like to wish a Happy Father’s Day to the best dad in my life. Thanks for all you do, and thanks for breaking the mold with me.
And don’t worry, this is the mushiest thing you will probably ever have to read from me. At least until I start writing something similar for my daughter. Then I might even get a little weepy while I write. So I’ll hold off on that one for a while…
Do you have stories to share about a special dad in your life? Do you have preconceived notions about families whose structure is different than what you consider the norm?