A few years ago, I got laid off my job. Around that time, my 3-year-old daughter said to me, "Daddy, I want to have a penis when I grow up." My answer was simply, "OK." For all I know, advances in medical science will allow me to buy her one grown in a lab eventually. Or maybe I can bequeath her mine when she turns 18 -- by then it will likely be getting even less use than it is now. But really I just figured she'd outgrow her interest in having a penis. I'd read that when awareness of the dangling appendage dawns on many girls, they request to have one of their own. It's a phase.
Two years later, however, my daughter maintains her aversion to all things girlie, favoring shirts with trucks and dinosaurs printed on them, soccer shorts and boys briefs (she calls the y-shaped front the "penis pocket"). I approve. It beats the creepy, sexualized hyper-girlie stuff on the other end of the gender spectrum. I'd wager that girls who eschew traditional roles have far more interesting lives, too. Still, I didn't oblige when she requested a Mohawk haircut and I wouldn't mind if she drew pictures of something besides gun-wielding ninjas shooting each other in the face. Her twin sister, meanwhile, labors over intricate, miniature illustrations of bunnies and mice so tiny, I can only see them while wearing my bifocals in strong light.
With my wife working, I've become the default stay-at-home parent. That means picking up and dropping off the kids at school. That means arranging playdates and volunteering to help in the classroom and on field trips. That means dressing, feeding and wiping butts. That means parking myself on a bench at the playground for countless hours pecking at my smartphone trying to look as if I'm attending to important business. The adult company at the playground includes a growing number of dads who often avoid eye contact, regarding each other with the same deliberate indifference they might in the men's room. It's easy to spot who the real stay-at-home dads are. Working dads with a day off actually play with their kids, chasing them and throwing balls, trying to cram as much quality into their limited time together as possible. From my vantage it looks like they're trying way too hard, but that's probably sour grapes. Being unemployed I have oceans of time and can smugly espouse the developmental value of unstructured, grownup-free play.
Truth is, I have huge reservations about being a stay-at-home. For one thing, I didn't choose to lose my job. We could use more money, too. I've interviewed for something like thirty different positions and applied for hundreds more. A friend, perhaps trying to inject some levity to my unpleasant circumstances, lent me the novel, The Ax, by Donald Westlake. In it, a laid-off middle manager in the paper business summarily murders a handful of guys with his very specific work experience, thus narrowing the field. It's a great book, though besides getting me thinking about rivals I might ice, didn't improve my situation.
I do like spending loads of time with the kids during their precious, fleeting early childhood. No doubt there are plenty of dads grinding away at soulless, exhausting jobs that would kill to trade with me. Still, social forces frequently conspire to batter my fragile male ego. I recently came across an article about research finding decreased testosterone in men who are primary caregivers. I followed up online, eventually landing at the website for a pharmaceutical company advertising hormone supplements for men with "low t,"-- as if "testosterone" belongs in the lineup with the naughty 'n,' 'f,' and 'c' words. The site characterizes men with "low t" as essentially fat, sad, sluggish eunuchs. Despite a regular exercise regimen, I'd developed a roll of flab around my middle, and a set of jiggly man boobs. My energy and enthusiasm for life haven't been at exactly peak levels, either. I probably do have "low t" and at the current rate of "t" decline, before long I'll be lactating.
Fortunately, I have a daughter with no "t" issues whatsoever. She insists on taking off her shirt at the playground or pool, showing off a torso rippled from daily monkey bar workouts. The other day she asked if boys were allowed in the Girl Scouts. I told her they weren't, that boys instead have the Boy Scouts. "Then I want to be in Boy Scouts," she declared. And here I am fretting about my lack of a manly, income-generating career.
When I'm asked what I do for work, I often mumble vaguely about "freelance consulting." No more. Time to take my daughter's lead and man up. I'm working hard at my job raising great, self-confident kids. No apologies. Got a problem with that? Take it up with my daughter. But be warned. She can probably kick your ass.