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There are a few ways I identify myself. Interestingly enough, they all revolve around my professions.
I think of myself as a writer.
I call myself a comedian.
Both of these ventures are new enough that I still think of myself in terms of what I’m not: I often refer to myself as a former teacher.
What I don’t think of myself as is a stay at home dad.
Which is interesting, because that’s how most of the people I see on a daily basis immediately identify me.
I’m not looking for any sympathy here. It’s just that as a white male, it’s not often (or more accurately, ever) that I feel uncomfortably in the minority. But doing the grocery shopping in the middle of the day on a Thursday, sitting outside my daughters’ dance classes, and often picking my kids up from school I am the only man in sight.
I’m quite comfortable in this situation. Most of my closest friends in my life have been women. I’ve worked in jobs where women outnumber men and have gotten along fabulously with almost all of them. (If you believe in predestination maybe all my life has just been training for my reality of raising 3 daughters.) Occasionally, though, I’m struck by how uncomfortable my presence makes the other women. And that’s when I realize, despite everything you read and hear about the increasing presence of stay at home dads, I’m still something of a rare breed. At least in this area.
When my wife and I were both working full-time I used to joke with her that when the time came I would love to stay home with the kids. After our first daughter was born and I had to go to work again following some time off with the new baby, it was no longer a joke. I loved being home taking care of the baby. Summer vacation was a dream, and going back to school in September became more and more difficult.
It still feels like the expectation is that mom will do all the work and dad should just swoop in for an hour of bedtime routine-upsetting fun.
Two more daughters followed and I was the full-time worker while my wife scaled back to part-time work. And then 2 years ago we switched roles. She became the primary breadwinner and I was home with the kids.
We’re still figuring out the balance of who should do what. My wife is the one who registers the girls for activities, but I’m the one taking them there. So sometimes I am the stereotypical bumbling dad dropping off a check because, “My wife told me I need to give you this,” kicking at the ground like a shy second grader. Our daughters figured out early on how to put their hair into ponytails on their own because their mom was on her way to work before they were ready for school. (I did try, but my girls are smart. They decided they’d be better off doing this themselves.)
But if we’re still unsure about our roles, other people have no clue how to handle us. I was made aware of this when someone who worked at the dance studio delivered news to the other moms, then came over to me, prefacing her delivery by saying, “You seem like an involved dad, so I’ll tell you…”
It reminded me of a family acquaintance who, while watching me play with my daughters when they were very young, turned to my wife and said with surprise, “He’s so involved.”
It still feels like the expectation is that mom will do all the work and dad should just swoop in for an hour of bedtime routine-upsetting fun. I know a lot of working dads who are just as involved as I am, and in fairness I know a number of other moms who don’t bat an eye that I’m the one picking up my kids and shuttling them to and from activities.
Those moms are good moms. But they don’t get the kind of credit I do. I’m still referred to as “a good dad” for doing what should be expected of a parent. I’ve never heard my wife called “a good mom.”
Despite the way others see me, I’m not a stay at home dad. I’m not a good dad. In the end, when I consider my identity through the eyes of others, the most important view is my daughters’.
To them I’m just dad.
John Sucich is a writer and comedian living in Massachusetts with his wife and 3 daughters. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter, or find out more at his website,www.johnsucich.com.