From my vantage point on the elliptical trainer on my front porch, I could see the four-way stop to my left as well as the entire length of the block. Here, I observe the parade of curious behavior as it goes past my house. Cars routinely blow through the stop signs in any of four directions; some drivers engaged in illegal (in my state) cell phone conversations, some too important to actually come to a stop, and others just oblivious to the eight-sided, blaringly red sign with a four letter word. The house for the handicapped halfway down the block has a steady flow of its clients meandering to and from the center of town. But really the most noticeable event is the sight of men pushing baby strollers mid day, mid-week. How can they do this? What changes have come about in our society to make this possible? How do they feel about their role?
My mind tries to curl its way around this phenomenon as I exercise away. Could it be that the wife has more earning power than the man? Instead of paying someone to watch the children, the couple decides that the alternative cost of the husband staying home is less than the day care costs. An intangible benefit is that the children actually have one of their parents in charge all the time and not someone who is in it for the job. So the economic benefits are a consideration. Could another possible scenario be that the wife is much younger than the husband and has a longer earning window? This again makes more financial sense than both working. In either case, it appears that the father has taken over the job of day care. Does that mean he takes care of the housework and cooking? I remember the Michael Keaton movie (Mr. Mom) about the stay-at-home dad, but the movie was made in 1983 so the long-term impact of that is negligible. I realize that Hollywood will do anything if it thinks it might make money so I discount this influence. If these possibilities have any credibility, then I am seeing a reversal of long-practiced social mores.
Do the friends of these men have any feedback for them? I bet they do and it’s not all positive: “oh, do you wear an apron while you’re cooking?”-“how’s diaper detail?”-and “does this contribute to your 401K?” They would never miss a chance to throw out some barbed remarks and I’m not even going to talk about the possible questions regarding positions. All of this might combine to make a man feel less than adequate.
Perhaps all that feminist talk of the 70’s is catching up to us and men are starting to feel the pressure to give in to women’s demands. After all, we all know the women hold the upper hand. They are the ones who say Yes or No to the big question-What’s after dinner?
Now that I’ve taken you through this seemingly self-pitying diatribe, I should confess. I am actually on the front porch exercising because I can. I stay at home during the day, vacuum, wash clothes, fix dinner, read chapter books, and generally act as the soccer dad. I’m perfectly happy doing this and, in fact, am thriving on it. I know that my little son will benefit from this attention and it also gives me time to exercise, write, read, and keep things in order at home.
I will never say that this work is easy because it is not. I’m sometimes relieved to go to a part-time job at Kinderopvang Leiden at night and let down my guard a bit and talk with other adults. I don’t know how women were able to do such a good job at this. It’s tiring; sometimes boring, demanding, and frequently, I feel inadequate at my day job.