My Dad’s a Mom September 13, 2007Posted by Andreas in Life, Parenting, South Africa, Work.
This was part of a story I wrote for Fit Pregnancy magazine recently.
My Dad’s a Mom
Driving my sons to school the other morning, six-year-old Benjamin started an all too familiar interrogation routine: “Dad, why do you always take us to school and pick us up after, and why do you pack our lunchboxes? Timmy’s mom does that for him…” “Well, you see our mom works in town and she’s there all day and…” “But you work as well and why do you always bath us and…”
Just as I was beginning to feel a bit like the Big Bad Wolf posing as the Grandmother under Little Red Riding Hood’s verbal barrage, eight-year-old Josef came to my rescue: “In our house dad is kind of the mom, Ben”.
For the last few years I have been the primary parent in our family. I hate that term, “primary parent” – it practically makes my wife, Sam, sound like a second-rate absentee parent, which she definitely is not. There just doesn’t seem to be a more appropriate phrase to describe fathers who do the majority of the hands-on parenting work in a household.
Everyone knows what a working mom does, but a “working dad” is just a bloke who goes to work every morning, like every other guy. In fact, I remember being a working dad myself.
Sam quit being an attorney when she first fell pregnant and by the time Benjamin arrived, had built a successful new career in freelance writing. Pretty soon she was earning more than I was and had to shoulder most of the parenting work on top of it.
I never did get used to the angry and profanity-laden phone calls from Sam, terminated by an abruptly slammed-down receiver before I could get a word in myself. I felt guilty for abandoning her with this physically and emotionally draining double-job every day.
I gradually started taking over some of the kiddy chores: nighttime bottle feeding and nightmare-consoling (Sam sleeps like the dead, so I didn’t really have much choice there), bath time and so on.
Today, as Joey so perceptively explained to Ben, I’m the mom. Sam has successfully kick-started a new full-time professional career in town and I do all of the things that mom’s are usually expected to do: mom’s taxi, coordinating extra-murals and play dates, getting everyone, including Sam, up and ready in the morning, lunch boxes, etc.
My job is flexible enough for me to do the Mr. Mom thing without too obviously neglecting my work responsibilities (anyone from work reading this: if you don’t tell on me, I’ll keep quiet about you being pregnant, if you know what I mean…).
Other aspects of being a male-mom have been less straightforward. I have it on good authority that The Land of Mother may be a difficult enough place to break into even if you’re a woman. For a guy it’s like a fairytale castle with magically unscalable walls.
Mothers tend to be very protective of the safe-space they have carved out for themselves over the millennia and I’m the last person to begrudge them this haven. They have, after all, long been on the receiving end of patriarchal neglect and non-appreciation for the monumental task of reproducing and sustaining the very basis of our entire society.
I understand why a he-mom like myself would find it somewhat of a challenge to gain access to the circle of trust that mothers have established in nursery, pre-, primary and high schools around the country, but boy it can be trying at times – it’s like a driver’s test that nobody ever told you existed.
At kid’s birthday parties, most moms just don’t really know what to talk to me about. I tend to feel as though I’m wearing a conversational halo that sucks away anything a mother could possibly want to say to me. Maybe they think that I just wouldn’t be interested in the latest skinner about the headmistress and the buff new PT bloke, or in who’s kids are bullies or little bitches, or which hairdresser charges least for extensions, when in actual fact I really, really am (well, I could probably do without the hairdressing advice).
The great unspoken question that stifles all communication between mothers and the dad-masquerading-as-mom, especially at a new school, is: “Where on earth is the mother?” I can see the potential answers bouncing over their furrowed brows:
“He’s a widower – the poor man.”
“They’re divorced – the rotten bastard.”
Seriously. Having seen Sam join me a little late at a school play once, a fellow mother remarked to her during the interval: “You two get along amazingly well for a divorced couple.” Had it been the other way around, I would have been duly recognised as a hard-working and understandably late, husband and father.
And then, I guess there are just some things that mothers and even teachers are just not comfortable talking to a man about. The other day, Sam got a call from Ben’s pre-school teacher that she claims to have been the most embarrassing moment in all her life (a most ridiculous proposition, as anyone who has spend more than five minutes with my wife will happily attest to).
The teacher, who is the kindest person and wonderful at her job, and who speaks to me every day of the week but hardly sees Sam, just couldn’t get herself to tell me that two or three cockroaches had been emerging from Ben’s school bag every morning of the last week, to Ben’s great embarrassment and his class mates’ daily entertainment.
I’m probably being unfairly harsh. Being gender-challenged in the mothering league can’t possibly be as difficult as it is for a working mother to get a little well-deserved respect and acknowledgement in the macho world of “real” work.
I am glad to report that, given a little time and mutual acclimatisation, even a male-mommy like me will be happily accepted into The Motherhood. These are, after all, caring people by definition, and once you’re in, the sky, or in this case the chairwo/man of the PTA committee, is the limit.