Earlier this week The New York Times ran a story about a new father, who when his wife became pregnant with their first child, realized quickly that there are many groups and networks for moms to get to know each other, but very few — if any — for new fathers. The author wrote about how he got some fathers together to talk about the trials and tribulations of being a dad.
As a stay-at-home dad, it’s pretty hard not to think about gender and what it means to be an adult male in a role that has been dominated by women since the dawn of time. As I thought more about the article, I wondered, “why are we still talking about moms and dads or more realistically moms vs. dads?” From the moment this guy found out his wife was pregnant, they were immediately segregated by their gender, not by the fact that they would both becoming parents.
I found that specifically interesting because…all of my friends are moms.
That’s not entirely true. I have very good friends that are women, but not moms. I also have friends that are dads who I like very much. Some of them I only know online through a dad blogging Facebook group. And I have guy friends from work, my childhood, high school and college. We catch up every now and then, and it’s great. I talk to one dad every day via text but we cover only one topic…baseball. We almost never talk about our roles as fathers because he’s at work all day managing a few hundred people, or traveling, and my experience is well…different.
I love my mom friends. I didn’t become friends with moms over night. And I’m sure that my being a man played a role. I do feel like I had to prove myself over time, more than a mom would ever have to. I wasn’t immediately accepted into the “mom group” because of my gender, and was made to feel very much aware that I was different. I imagine it’s the same feeling my wife gets when she walks into a meeting at work and she’s the only woman.
When Alex was in his first year of preschool — it was co-op so parents liked me worked in the classroom — they scheduled a mom’s night out to get mani-pedis. I laughed because that is literally the last thing I would ever want to do. There was never a thought of doing something that fit for everyone — I would have been fine with drinks or dinner, or even painting pottery or something like that. When I casually, with a smile, mentioned something to the group about it, the response was that I could go to the dad’s night out; they were going out for beers at a sports bar. I found myself stuck in the middle. I had way more in common with the moms and I saw them all the time, but most of them just looked at me and saw a male. It felt like grade school when the gym teacher would split us up into girls and boys teams. Hell, maybe that’s where it all starts (hint: it starts much earlier than that). They assumed that I had more in common with their working spouses than I did with them.
This changed over time. Some moms would never spend time with a dad like me. Who knows the reason? Maybe I’m not funny enough? Afraid a husband might be jealous? I’m too old? Perhaps they just really don’t want to and that’s completely their choice. I have no idea.
But over time, a core group of friends developed. And it’s great. We text, we set up play dates, we go to breakfast, we support each other, we talk about our spouses (not you, honey, never, I would never do that), and mostly we talk about the triumphs and challenges of our children, and of being parents — we commiserate, we advise, we comfort. Exactly what friends are supposed to do.
And you know what….while I don’t think they ever forget that I’m a man, I actually don’t think they care. As one of the moms told Amy “we respect Neil because he’s not phoning it in — he’s always there.” In fact, I get the feeling that they might actually like it; one mom told me just this week that she likes that it’s easy to be friends with me because she knows I’m not going to judge her like other moms would (and all moms don’t, judge to be fair). They know as my son sits at lunch eating “carrots” (that’s his awesome code name for Doritos) that I’m the last person that’s going to judge them about whether or not they feed their kids organic foods, or how much time their kids are on their iPad watching Star Wars. I’m way more likely to judge the non-engaged dad, because that I just don’t understand.
We’re friends because we have a lot in common — and more importantly, I’ve found that while we obviously have differences as any friends would have, we have common experiences as we all had careers given up at some level, we are all over 35 years old (I think, I would never ask) so a random reference to Some Kind of Wonderful doesn’t fall on deaf ears, and we share values around important issues such as the balance of academics vs. play, developing well-rounded children, making sure our kids have fun, etc.
Despite what you might think, I’m no fool; there is always going to be a difference between moms and dads. I didn’t carry a living being in my belly for nine months, I didn’t give birth or breastfeed (thank god for that) but those differences are really present for basically the first 18 months or so. After that, I believe we’re all just parents. Mom or dad, it shouldn’t matter. In my experience, only people who don’t know our situation — like the receptionist at the doctor’s office — call my wife (despite my begging them to call me) when they need something related to our children. Everyone else usually respects my role even though I’m a man.
And that’s why I think it’s important that a woman become President because everyone — not just girls — needs to see that it’s possible. And I want to see girls become general managers of baseball teams — you don’t need to have played a sport to understand it. And my son shouldn’t be the only boy in his gymnastics class or be teased should he want to take a dance class. When Alex saw The Force Awakens, the first thing he said is “Wait, Rey can’t be a Jedi, she’s a girl.” You can bet we jumped all over that. It may or may not seem trivial to you, but it matters….a lot.
When a dad like me gets praised for being able to actually take my own kids to dinner by myself, it reinforces that it’s a mom’s responsibility to care for her children. Just like it shouldn’t be called a “Mommy and Me” class. I’m not about to protest my local junior gym class for calling it that, but the subtle and not so subtle language being used all around us matters.
As a society, we have a very long way to go until one is looked at as much for their role, as their gender. When I take one of my boys to the park in the middle of the morning during the week, you can bet it’s a rare event to see another dad there. The business world in most cases is the opposite. I think it will take a generation of kids seeing their dad get them ready for school as mom races to her car to beat the morning commute, or their two moms, or their two dads…to start seeing some true progress.
A few nights ago, Amy and I were sitting and talking to Alex while he was getting ready for bed. For fun, we asked him what he wanted to be when he grows up. We told him he could be anything he wanted and threw out a couple of ideas. He thought about it for a few seconds and replied:
“I want to be a daddy.”