You've worked full-time since our daughter Lily was born 10 years ago; I had that first summer off to be with her, and then I too went back to work, in a complicated algorithm of multiple part-time gigs. As is true for most families with two working parents, this was dictated by the economy, not whim or simple choice. Day jobs notwithstanding, we both dove into hands-on parenting from the start.
But as I met other people with infants, I discovered that this was not universal, especially for single-worker families; often, whoever was employed (typically a dad) felt entitled to leave all concrete parenthood to the at-home partner (most often a mom). I've also watched this dynamic solidify as kids got older, even after the at-home parent returned to work. (And this is in a state considered the bluest of the blue!)
For all our flaws and failings (which Lily will surely recount in therapy someday), I'm glad that kind of imbalance is not our way of life, and that you don't see parenthood in those terms. Instead, you're modeling how to share the burdens and privileges of raising a child, teaching lessons I hope she'll recall in the future if she chooses to be a mom.
1. Parenting is work.
Any task you do for hours and hours, week after week, knowing that there are both high expectations and serious consequences for failure, qualifies as work (no matter how much you love it). In the first months, when I was home alone with the baby, and then during the year I only worked a few days a week, you never treated the time I spent with her as a "day off" for me. True leisure, the power of choice when it comes to one's use of time, is in short supply for stay-at-home parents, and you respected that. You made sure I got time out of the apartment, swapped out with me when possible, and never whined, "I had to work all day while you stayed at home."
2. Workers still parent.
I've observed a fair number of dads who think their real work is done when they leave the office, and that simple presence at home is good enough; some feel as if fielding requests for other contributions to family life implies that their daytime efforts are not appreciated. But even when you had that one miserable job with the co-worker from hell, you never questioned the need to go straight from work to pick Lily up from her after-school program, or to take your turn at doing the bedtime ritual. If Lily was sick, you were quick to offer up your own personal days to stay with her. Why? Because that's your job, too.
3. Chores don't know gender.
Coming home from paid work to face domestic chores is never a thrill. Cooking, laundry, housecleaning, helping with homework, packing lunches -- there's no holiday bonus for any of it. A fair number of my friends who are working moms have complained that the bulk of these tasks still fall to them, though their husbands could help if they chose to. We each have our default chores, but Lily isn't witnessing a division of duty by gender: in you, she sees a parent who can find time after work to wash her favorite dress for the school concert and repair her bicycle. As is demonstrated by many same-sex couples, and as stay-at-home dads prove every day, a Y chromosome doesn't render you physically incapable of cooking a meal or sweeping a floor.
4. "It's not my job" doesn't fly.
Because we both work, all of these in-house chores must be accomplished in the few hours between arriving home and falling into bed. Sometimes, it's just not possible for one dad to do all his tasks; instead of keeping a rigid mental tally of who-did-what, we pitch in. When the laundry ("your" task) started feeling endless a couple of years ago, you asked me to help fold it more often, so I did. When my work hours changed and kept me away from home longer, you picked up some of the dog-walking ("my" task). From dishes to dry cleaning, Lily sees a constant hand-off system -- which means that when she tries to duck out of a task that isn't "hers," she knows what we'll say: "We're a family. We all do our part."
5. Vacation time is required.
Few people love any job so much that they never need a day off. The reality of being a parent is that, unlike with other types of work, you can't predictably clock in and clock out. (And forget about setting your own hours.) But the healthiest, happiest parents are ones who do get breaks -- and whose partners consider this essential. You safeguard my writing time and send me off to the movies when I'm stressed. And I return the favor, making sure you hop on your bicycle and ride off into some free time. I know that having a few hours to yourself is restorative and makes it possible for you to keep doing all the kinds of work you do so well.
To Lily, none of this is unusual; it's just how parents are. I'm grateful that she has you for a dad.
Happy Father's Day,
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