During the Thanksgiving break, I took my son Alex to a place called CuriOdyssey, which is a small “children’s museum”/zoo type of place with a number of animal exhibits – think a bobcat, not a lion. We were walking around and came upon a volunteer sitting on a bench. I noticed that he was cradling a small rat in his arms (the staff at this place often bring out animals for the kids to see up close). I half jokingly (mostly to myself) said “Gross!” and the following exchange occurred:
Woman standing nearby: “Gross? Really?”
Me: “Yes, I’m from NYC, have taken the subway too many times, so yeah, rats are pretty gross.”
Woman: “Well, I just don’t think that’s what we want to be teaching our children.”
Me: Blank stare
First off, I was so taken aback that I can’t remember what I said. I’m sure it wasn’t nearly as clever as I imagine it now. And second, let’s be clear about this, rats are gross (read this and see if you disagree) and YES, I do want to teach this to Alex. We aren’t going to approach a rat on the street to pet it. It’s not a golden retriever puppy.
As I thought about this interaction – words conveyed with a condescending tone implying I have no idea how to parent –I have started to wonder if this woman would have said the same thing to another mom vs. a dad who was alone with his son. I imagine that many moms reading this might say “yes” she would, but I’m not so sure.
Which brings me to the real point of this story. Following college, I spent 18 years in the corporate world – a man in a man’s world. For the past 18 months or so, I’ve been a dad in a mom’s world. And let me tell you, it’s Bizzaro World. And perhaps this will get me in trouble, but I feel like the workplace has come along much further for women than the parenting world has come for men (likely due to sheer numbers and the will of Marisa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg – girls please shut up).
When I work at Alex’s co-op nursery school each week, I’m the only dad among 17 parents. The other 16 either are stay-at-home moms or work part time. I imagine that the feelings I get are exactly the same ones that my wife, and many other women in corporate America, must feel when she walks into a meeting with 10 male executives: are they staring at me? How do I prove that I have just as much game as they do?
I know my wife follows sports mostly so she can “throw down” in a meeting of men, the same way I now know the latest research on how to get 2-year olds to share. My wife likely works harder than a lot of her male counterparts to demonstrate she’s “fully committed” — in the same way that I go out of my way to show moms that I can soothe a crying child too. I can sing “Wheels on the Bus”, change a diaper, wash a kid’s hands before snack time. I am fully committed to this job.
This is a very long way of telling you, my loyal readers, that this Bizarro world is a topic of immense interest for me because it’s my life right now, and I think we can all learn a lot from thinking about things from different perspectives. Men may “own” the corporate world, but moms “own” the parenting world. We need to make in-roads in both directions, not just one. And, I think, I hope, that I have a unique perspective because I’ve lived in one, and am living in the other. Both worlds generally share the same behaviors. A group of corporate men will go out for beers to bond and discuss what happened at work, maybe watch a football game. For similar reasons, I imagine I’m not usually invited to play dates with Alex. In the parenting world, the role of moms as the primary caregiver is pervasive – we have a long way to go. Let me give you one quick example (many more to come in future blogs):
If you’re a parent, go get your copy of “Wheels on the Bus” pop-up book (come on, you all have it) and check out the men in the book. 1) the bus driver and all he says is “Move on Back” and doesn’t even say please or thank you 2) there’s the older guy reading a magazine 3) the creepy guy with the guitar who apparently is playing his songs at the library. Now look at most of the women on the bus – what are they doing? That’s right — they are all caring for their children. They are parenting (“shhh, shhh, shhh”).
We have a long way to go, and I hope you’ll like my upcoming blogs (don’t worry, I also have other topics planned) on this subject currently titled “Real Men Can’t Have It All Either” (take that The Atlantic article). And you won’t want to miss my mom’s guest blog later this week on this very subject.
But there’s one major advantage of being a stay-at-home dad. Check out this article by CNN – or just ask my wife and she’ll confirm.
Bizarro World photo courtesy of Flickr/BLNBRD