Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Male Trouble

I met a man the other day who told me, 'Well, I've got two kids--one's still in diapers. They won't stay with me. They won't let me take care of them by myself--they only want their mom."

It seemed like something he'd said before, as a way to do three things at once: wriggle out of doing any childcare himself, get his wife to do the extra work, and keep his wife at home. His wife was nowhere to be seen--he was speaking for her.

I told him he should find another shoulder to cry on.

If he had just wanted a little sympathy from me, that might have been okay. Before I was a dad, the thought of changing diapers was ghastly. If he had wanted understanding, I could have just said,'Brother, I don't understand you. Maybe you ought to try spending some time with your children--you might actually like it.' But he also seemed to want some sort of favor from me, though I'm not sure what. And this was too much.

Look, I know every mom and pop make their own Deal. Maybe he makes all the money and she stays home and works with the kids--that's a deal I don't love, but, okay, fine. Even in that situation, though, if you want to call yourself a father, you've got to be able to care for your kids. Period.

BTW, I only know one couple like that, and they're rich. I suspect that's the only way a woman can be a housewife in the US these days: if she or he is a millionaire. But even my (one) rich friend can take his children in a pinch.

And even if you were a rich workaholic, what kind of a man would want trophy kids? Children to show off, pat on the head, then hand off to mommy? Who would want that?

Look, I'm aware of the different choices people make (and don't make) because of differences in class, race and culture. That doesn't mean I have to accept lame male excuses, or behavior I find to be toilet. At many times during the Years of Shit--otherwise known as the Bush Administration era--I thought that he would not have gotten the US (and the world) into half of the trouble he did if W. had not been an absentee father. If he hadn't outsourced his childcare, and had actually spent some time with Jenna and whatever that other one's name was, he might not have fucked up their future (and that of our children) so thoroughly.

But...well, I digress. Back in this dimension, the other day, when I bumped into this man a second time, he had his wife and kids with him.

I looked at his daughter, and asked, 'How old is she?'

'Two,' he said.

'Mine's three,' I said, still not feeling the bon homie. 'And she's a lot louder.'

The wife, in the meantime, looked like she might enjoy handing the kids over to her man every once in a while. Maybe she's the one who needs a break.


Tricia Mitchell said...

I have heard a lot of fathers--of kids younger than 3 or so--voice the same complaints as that dad. I think the hard part is that, if a father is going to "get over the hump" in bonding with his child, he will have to endure some distress on the part of the child.

It's a stage, it passes, and kids learn quick--but it's pretty inevitable for a child to regress back to the "the Mommies" at some point.

The dudes who can't tolerate feeling helpless and incompetent, who can't just receive their child's feelings and hold them, don't ever get to the reward. They'd have to know on some level that, beyond being someone who does, who works, who fixes, their presence itself is inherently valuable. But I don't think most men are taught that.

pat said...

To know that ones' existence alone is miracle enough. Thank you, Tricia Mitchell.

Kat said...

Here's another side of that coin - believe it or don't, there are also a lot of women of our generation who are super attached to the idea that they are the ONLY ones who can give their kid what he/she needs.

It's a twisted martyr complex, a weird Leave-It-To-Beaver virus fifty years after the fact. When I hear my female peers complaining about the fact that "he's never spent an entire weekend with the kids", when they are obviously emotionally dependent on the idea that the kid can't survive two inches from the apron strings, I've got no empathy, either, except maybe for the children. The kids need all of us -- mom and dad AND other adults who aren't relatives.

It makes me sad to see these patterns played out in a generation where we shouldn't have to reenact the past. When you are a parent, that becomes your primary job, forever. AND our kids need to see us doing other things. They need to see us tending to our interests, immersed in our work, involved in the world beyond them. That's how they learn to be interested and involved.

(I'm so happy for my kid, and grateful to my husband, that he's in the lovely muck just as much as I am.)

(and FWIW, there are many times when I can't tolerate feeling helpless and incompetent, and have trouble just receiving my son's feelings and holding them, ha!)