This post originally appeared in The Forum.
When I signed up to become a stay-at-home dad late last year, a few friends and family members (and a surprising number of strangers) took it as an invitation to warn me about the consequences of my decision.
On a professional level, I was told the gap in my work history might mean a lifetime of unemployment. On a personal level, I was risking the complete loss of my manhood — I was asked to turn in my “man card” if I remember correctly.
While it was clear to me I needed a new team of advisors, one cautionary tale was repeated so often I had begun to believe it. “Good luck with the moms out there … as a guy, you’re going to be a total outcast.”
Normally, that would be music to my ears. I relish solitude. Outcast, you say? Sign me up! But in this case, I didn’t want my affinity for social isolation to affect the development and daily experience of my son. So, yes, I was a bit worried about the alienation he might face as a consequence of my inability to lactate.
After more than 10 months on the job, I can report that my fears have gone unfounded. I’m greeted more often with quizzical looks of intrigue than with suspicion. I’m an oddity, sure, but it seems the good moms of the Fargo-Moorhead community have evaluated my credentials and found me to be of no threat to them, their children or their yoga pants.
I can also report that stereotypes of overprotective, helicopter moms are largely overblown … with one definite exception. (I’m sorry, library ladies, but a kids’ play room, inside a kids’ library, designed specifically for kids to, you know, PLAY IN, is not the appropriate setting for your weird game of “Who’s got the most well-behaved kid?” And I will not be joining you in your silent judgement whenever the inevitable tantrum takes place.)
Despite being welcomed — or at the very least, tolerated — into the world of stay-at-home parents, I’m still regularly reminded that I’m operating in unfamiliar territory. Territory that wasn’t designed for men as the primary user.
Let me share a couple recent examples. As I write this, I’m sitting in front of a large poster advertising my gym’s daycare. Under the headline is a stock image of a mom embracing her son. Now, let’s set aside the fact that I go to the gym to write, and instead focus on this poster’s blatant, albeit innocent, gender bias. Why does it have to be a mom dropping off her kid and not a hot dad in glasses rocking a pair of skinny jeans?
At the park last week, Mack and I shared the playground with a mom and her daughter. I, as is my custom, pretended they weren’t there and avoided eye contact for as long as possible. Undaunted, the mom ruined a good thing and commenced with the small talk.
Right out of the gate, her first question was, “Do you have the day off?” Confused for a moment — I had forgotten it was Columbus Day — I said no and explained that I was a stay-at-home dad. “Oh!?” she said with that high-pitched tone that is full of both surprise and further questioning. It was obvious that my answer to her question was completely unexpected. I mean, how else could a super cool guy be at the park with his kid in the middle of the afternoon unless he had the day off from work?
Now, before any more conclusions get jumped to, let me be clear. I begrudge no one for their natural reactions, because I’m as guilty as anyone else. I took one look at that mom in her yoga pants and aviators and immediately assumed she was also a stay-at-home parent. I was right, of course, but that’s not the point. The point is, I don’t believe there’s any ill will involved.
I also feel it’s important to recognize the fact that she was the one who invited me into conversation. She opened up to me, disproving the theory that all stay-at-home moms are nothing but grown-up versions of “Mean Girls.”
The truth is most people can’t help but smile when they hear me talk about the privilege of raising my son on my terms. That he isn’t subjected to my alarm clock. That my schedule is actually his schedule and not the other way around.
Though there may always be a select few moms who get stuck on the idea that I’m intruding into their world, the great majority welcome me without hesitation and not for one second make me regret my choice to give up my “man card.”