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Jeffrey Shaffer Headshot

Men At Home? I'm Already There

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In a column that ran in the September 4th edition of the Los Angeles Times,
Gloria Steinem discussed the candidacy of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and
one of Ms. Steinem's points leaped out at me:

"... American women, who suffer more because of having two full-time jobs
than from any other single injustice, finally have support on a national
stage from male leaders who know that women can't be equal outside the home
until men are equal in it. Barack Obama and Joe Biden are campaigning on
their belief that men should be, can be and want to be at home for their
children."

I feel a tingle of personal validation racing up and down my spine now that
"men at home" is becoming a topic of national interest. To all the
candidates and the mainstream media pundits, let me say, "Welcome to my
world. I knew you'd all show up sooner or later."

Please don't call me "Mr. Mom" either, because that movie didn't conform to
any reality I've experienced and it had the unfortunate effect of turning
the entire subject of household responsibilities into a cavalcade of
slapstick sight gags and tired cliches.

Being home also involves a lot more than bonding with your children. Of
course the kids are wonderful and they must be Priority One. But If anyone
in the TV business is looking for a new show idea here it is: Me, in my
house, one day at a time. I'll shave my head so I look like Michael Chiklis
in The Shield and I will project the same type of raw, on-the-edge
intensity in a domestic setting and my show will be called The Grind.

Sorry if my tone is a bit harsh. There's a quote attributed to Louisa M.
Alcott which I have adopted as my personal mantra: Housekeeping ain't no
joke. My TV show would be simple and straightforward. No script, no
subplots, nothing that would qualify as "the over-arching narrative."
For me and thousands of other home dwellers, male and female, who cannot
afford to hire personal assistants, it's all about getting through the day
and trying to meet each unexpected event without losing momentum or the will
to live.

As a member of the baby boom generation who has been fascinated by World War
Two since childhood, I'm able to view almost any aspect of everyday life in
suburbia through the prism of that conflict. Erma Bombeck meets Ernie Pyle.
My organizational template is based on the command structure of a typical
American infantry division.

There are four categories I oversee. G-1 is Personnel (the occupants of the
home), G-2 is Intelligence (news of the neighborhood), G-3 is Operations
(keeping the living space livable), and G-4 is Logistics (food, clothing,
fuel, and all the stuff under the kitchen sink).

One of my favorite role models is the late General James M. Gavin, commander
of the 82nd Airborne in the liberation of Europe. He roamed the front
lines, slept on the ground, and dealt with his troops face-to-face.
Like him, I remain alert for surprises at all times.


Over the years, for example, my ears have become acutely sensitive to every
unusual or inappropriate noise upstairs and down. Can you, or anyone in
your family, lie in bed at night and hear the sound of water running in a
remote part of her house when it shouldn't be? Having that ability has
twice saved me from plumbing disasters.

Here is some advice for all college seniors who will graduate next spring.
At your commencement ceremonies, visiting speakers will trumpet plenty of
upbeat platitudes such as "aim for the stars" and "be true to yourself."
Those are great ideas. I would also add, "the more you do, the more you
need to do."


Anyone in the Class of 2009 who achieves the goals of home ownership and
parenthood will probably be juggling numerous mini-careers in every 24-hour
cycle. If someone came up to me right now and asked, "What have you become
now that you¹re all grown up?" I could offer plenty of responses.

1) Motor Pool Supervisor. Which car is lowest on gas? Are all the tires
properly inflated? Automotive reliability can¹t be left to chance. Oil
changes must be performed, insurance premiums paid, and vehicle exteriors
kept clean to avoid the appearance of owner incompetence. It¹s a never
ending ride and I¹m in the driver¹s seat.

2) Appointment Secretary. Car needs require scheduling. So does hair
cutting, window washing, furnace maintenance, commitments of every size and
shape. The calendar must never be misplaced; all clocks need to be
synchronized; phone messages must be written down and not entrusted to some
haphazard memory bank.


3) Bus Boy. Cups, plates, and cereal bowls appear everywhere during
daylight hours as if spontaneously generated. Shuttling them into the
dishwasher is my version of an ongoing ceramic harvest festival.

4) Locker Room Attendant. Any wet towels on the floor? Soap dispensers
working properly? A good day is when the shower drain doesn¹t back up. A
bad day is when the toilet tank starts making that funny gurgling noise.

5) Ranch Hand. The old west is gone, but there are still trees to trim,
fences to mend, holes to dig, patios to power wash, and roof gutters to
clean out. Shane had his six-shooter. I¹ve got my leaf blower.

6) Animal Psychologist. Dogs are territorial. They need to be taught that
not all territory in the house is theirs. They must be taught to respect
their owners. In my case, I strongly suspect they consider me little more
than a walking kibble dispenser.

7) Environmental Engineer. Glass, plastic, paper, metal--clean them, sort
them, manage the ongoing flow. This house is a waste stream and a river
runs through it.

8) Labor Mediator. There's an ongoing bargaining process to hand off some
of these tasks, but the negotiations often stall and the cooling-off period
is open-ended.

It all adds up to quite a show, and if we got the green light to start
production immediately I would insist on a laugh track as part of the deal.
I'm not kidding. There are a lot of times during my waking hours when a
laugh track would provide a huge emotional rescue.

But even if nobody at TLC or Discovery Channel is interested in putting me
under contract I have to keep moving and get ready for tomorrow's episode.
I'm an army of one in this campaign. And I'm in it for the duration.