In the past, I have occasionally gotten strange looks from other men when they hear that I do laundry, or that I will occasionally wash dishes, or vacuum. Most of these men are from the generation before mine, so I chalk it up to “traditional gender roles” and brush it off with a shrug.
The nurses in the NICU, when we were getting ready to leave, explained to us that Sage needed some formula mixed with breastmilk in order to get enough calories to keep growing, and they suggested that if a bottle was made up ahead of time, “maybe Daddy could handle one of the feedings during the night.” Ann told them that I’ve gotten up with her every time she was waking in the middle of the night to pump, so that I could handle our dogs (who don’t like to sleep through anything) and wash up some pump parts and get her a drink of water or whatever else she needed. They stared at her like she had just announced that our baby was going to be named “Harbinger of Doom to All Mankind aka Stankbutt.” (Side note: I was tempted to tell them that anyway.) One nurse said they needed to rent me out.
I’ve occasionally gotten that sort of reaction when women learn that I make cheesecake and that I like my in-laws.
While I appreciate that I get complimented on these things by the ladies and not too much open hostility from the men, there are three things that bother me about it.
First, why the gender roles still? It’s 2012. I like football and baking. I like kung fu movies and I cry when Sarah McLachlan tells me to save the animals. I’ll be first in line for Sage’s tea parties and I hope she can learn to change her own oil. And frankly, my oil too, because I haven’t got a clue there.
Second, why do I still have some of these gender roles still ingrained in me? I like to think that I’m pretty socially liberal. I’m in favor of gay rights and I think it’s ridiculous that Olympic sports are always divided by gender (unless I’m unaware of a sport in there somewhere). In fact, I even wince at this: sometimes parents of a little boy will have friends who are parents of a little girl, and they’ll all talk about how maybe someday their kids will fall in love and we’ll all be related YAY! …and every single time, I think, “How come you only say that to parents of a child of the opposite gender? What if your kids are both gay?” And yet it bothers me that when anything breaks in our house, we have to turn to Ann’s dad and brother who know how to fix stuff. I’m not sure what to offer them in return. Neither of them have a real need for a carefully researched theory paper on Kierkegaard’s views about Cartesian dualism, or the lyrics to Weird Al Yankovic songs. I can’t fix much of anything, and those who can don’t seem to know how to teach me. It does make me feel emasculated at times. What’s that about?
And third: Why does this make me so seemingly unique? This is my wife and my daughter we’re talking about here: the woman I have dedicated my life to and the child I have prayed for since I was twenty-four. Why are people so shocked that I want to do things for them? It’s not like it strips away who I am — I still do things I want to do for myself as well. It’s PART of who I am. THEY’RE part of who I am. Why on earth WOULDN’T other guys do these things? I’m not asking this from a soapbox, but from a search engine. I’m not suggesting that other people are bad husbands or fathers if they don’t do these things, I’m just saying that I don’t understand why they wouldn’t do these things given the opportunity.
Maybe I’ll get it someday… but if I do, I hope that it doesn’t make me feel like I have to change my ways to meet society’s expectations. Society isn’t family. Ann and Sage are family.