Back in the long, long ago. When I was a younger, more enthusiastic, obliviously optimistic dad, the idea of being a stay-at-home parent seems to me to be the most natural, fantastic adventure. Obviously now, as I’ve just clocked up two years of SAHD-ing, things are different; I’m older, probably a lot more than two years older – and I’m not sure what space/time/vomit continuum contributed to that! Mimi is similarly older, smarter, cheekier, more defiant than the helpless six-month-old dot who I first had all to myself.
One thing that doesn’t seem to have changed, however, is the general attitude that I encounter to the lesser-spotted phenomenon of stay-at-home fatherhood. One would wonder how, in this day and age of gender equality, or at least the attempt at such, that for a man to be the primary caregiver would be just another element in a fair, balanced, forward-thinking society.. But no, we SAHDs are regarded as strange, rare creatures, most especially here in Ireland.
The reason for me bringing this up now, and I should really be used to my dodo-like status by now, is a simple phrase used in a recent conversation.
While chatting to one of the excellent capable caregivers at the creche Mimi sometimes attends, she mentioned that her partner had recently suggested, jokingly, that he should stay home with their (as yet imaginary) children, while she worked. When she told him that she knew a stay-home dad – me – it was his response that stuck with me:
“How does he get away with it?”
(Excuse the bolding up, felt it needed it.) Get away with it!?? Pardon me. Am I getting away with something here? Am I somehow playing the system to my advantage? Am I just having a jolly? Playing Lego and eating jelly babies while the rest of ‘normal’ society go about their worthwhile pursuits in industry? I doesn’t f***ing feel like it!
Ok, calmer now.. Absolutely, the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks, I’ve always said that. I get a unique opportunity; to be the formative influence on this amazing brand-new person. I get to revel in every achievement, every milestone reached. But I also get to see more poop, puke, and laundry than I could ever have imagined! I get to fret and worry, to monitor wheezy sleep, to sit anxiously at her bedside with thermometer in hand, torturing myself with nightmare scenarios. I get to agonise over every calorie and incur the wrath when I refuse to hand over lollipops. In short, the exact same battles as almost any other parent. Are they ‘getting away with it’ too?
Now I’m not furious about this, or even hugely offended, just curious that it should be seen as a dodge, a scam. I’m sure the lad who used the phrase most likely meant that his mates wouldn’t let him ‘get away with it’. That they’d consider it an affront to his masculinity. But for feck’s sake, is that not probably worse? Eh? I’m well into my forties now so that sort of male super-ego is long gone from my list of concerns. So are today’s generation of breeding-age men really so insecure in their manhood that childcare is likely to damage their fragile millennial facades? I despair if so.
Harping back again to that long, long ago, I remember a conversation with one of my closest mates, himself as newish dad at the time. On hearing of my stay-home plans his response was; “That’s amazing, you’re going to be such a big part of her life. I’m kinda jealous. But honestly, I wouldn’t do it myself.” And that’s cool, I can totally understand that it’s not for everyone. But right now, two years in, it’s still for me.
As long as I can get away with it..