In Praise of the Good Dad Working a Second Shift

08/25/2016 06:46 pm ET Updated Aug 25, 2016
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I write this with a little bit of embarrassment, a little bit of guilt, and a whole lot of pride in having married so well!

My husband is a saint. No, really, he is. Not the card or cape carrying kind but the kind that blends in with everyday folks, just going about his business in the most natural and nonchalant way as possible.

Now I am a feminist who strongly believes in fair distribution of household responsibilities and yet, I sometimes feel like I just don’t do enough of my part in our family’s equation. This is especially true when my husband starts his second shift - at home.

In her 1989 groundbreaking book, The Second Shift, author Arlie Hochschild introduced the concept of the second shift. She was referring to the seemingly unending list of chores that inevitably fall into the women’s (mothers’) metaphorical (and sometimes literal) laps once they return home from work. While men appeared to have a distinction between work and home, with work specifically referring to labor outside the home in a differently located space, for working women, particularly working moms, the second shift of work began as soon as they returned home.

Dinners had to be cooked, books had to be read, the day’s play and dirt had to be washed (or hosed down) away, lunches for the next day had to be packed…essentially it didn’t matter what the tasks were, mothers shouldered the majority of them and hence participated in the second shift.

In our household, my husband works a full-time job while I get to live the privilege of being a stay-at-home-mom – a new identity that I have only recently come to accept and embrace albeit with trepidation, and some reluctance. During the weekdays, I take the kids out to museums and zoos, to parks and playgrounds, and to library story times.

In addition, I cook, feed the kids, get them to nap, take them for walks around the neighborhood, dabble in amateur gardening, and write during the kids’ naps and after they go to bed.

Although I do all of this sometimes, I don’t always clean, do laundry, unload the dishwasher, take the trash out, or bring it in. There is no demarcated distribution of household duties in our relationship so basically, my husband and I just do what needs to be done and usually without keeping scores of who did what and when. Until now, that is.

We are parents to an infant and a toddler – this means that at any given time, we have to deal with a whole lot of chaos, tears, diapers, tantrums, sleep issues, and messy floors. While we share some or all of these tasks depending on the day and what else is going on, my husband is our toddler’s primary caregiver before he goes to work and after he returns home.

Because our infant child is a baby and exclusively breastfed, there is not much he can do with her schedule of eating and sleeping but he does entertain her and change diapers during her wakeful hours if I am occupied with something else.

Just to put things in perspective, let me give you a run down of my husband’s schedule:

Our toddler wakes up any time between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m. and starts calling out for daddy (that alone is a strong indication of his expectations that dad is the one to go to in the mornings) – This means that even if my husband is up working late, he still has to wake up and entertain the toddler so his screaming doesn’t wake up the baby or me.

Because I wake up multiple times a night to feed our baby, my husband’s spending the early morning hour with the toddler allows me to catch a few winks if the baby is still sleeping. This time he spends with our toddler is spent reading to him, helping him brush his teeth, changing his diaper, and dressing him for the day. Then they head downstairs so he can get breakfast – either oatmeal or eggs – that my husband makes and then feeds our toddler while telling him stories. I know, I know…I did hit the husband jackpot!

After breakfast, depending on how much time he has or if he has to make any work-related conference calls, he engages our toddler in play, reads to him some more, calms tantrums, disciplines, or threatens time outs…not everything all the time, of course, but as is appropriate. At some point, he makes himself a cup of espresso. He is lucky if he gets to drink that espresso hot. Then, he gets dressed, and heads off to work after showering all of us with kisses and many I-Love-Yous.

Upon his return, our toddler insists on daddy chasing him around the couch with a dump truck on his head, or play trains with him, or go water the plants in our little garden, or do some old-fashioned wrestling and piggyback riding. My husband will willingly do any or all of the above, laughing and rolling on the floor, being a child with our child no matter how mentally exhausting his day has been.

As if all of what he already does isn’t enough, he also vacuums our carpets if he thinks the Roomba did not do a good enough job, gets the laundry out of the dryer and folds it if I have been too lazy about leaving it there for days, always unloads the dishwasher, and feeds our son dinner while telling him stories. 

There is a lot more he does as part of his second shift that I could keep writing but at some point I have to stop making myself look like the worst wife in the world so I might as well stop here.

I recently got to go out with some girlfriends, fellow moms, and watch ‘Bad Moms’ thanks again to my husband, who inspite of having returned from a business trip to New York that morning and being very exhausted (we live across the country in California and three time zones away), still enthusiastically put our son to bed like he does every night (except when he is away) so I could go see a movie and get a break (I had already put the baby down for the night).

While I found the movie entertaining, I also felt that movies like these do a huge disservice to the good dads in our society who do more than their share of household chores, shoulder equal or more of the caregiving responsibilities, and contribute significantly to the family unit.

I understand how any case for celebrating good dads or dads in general can be misconstrued as anti-feminist seen from a narrow definition of “feminist” or undermining of all the work that women do at and outside of the home – after all, how many women do what my husband does everyday and get celebrated or get blog posts written about them? Probably, not very many, if any at all.

Like most female-dominated professions like teaching and nursing, where the few men in it rise to supervisory positions sooner than women despite being in the minority, my post may easily be interpreted as something of that nature, and perhaps it is.

In fact, I am sure had I been the one doing everything my husband does, there would be no odes written in my honor, there would be no awards given to celebrate my contribution to my family unit, and my husband would certainly not be writing a blog post praising me. Our societies, or at least the ones I associate with; Indian, Canadian, and US-American, would simply accept what I did in my second shift as a natural extension of my role as a woman, as a mother, and a wife. Period.

I am well aware that I have it really, really good. There are millions of stay-at-home-mothers who do much, much more than I do and never get so much as a pat on their back, not that, that is the goal. My point merely is to express just how blessed and fortunate I feel in having such an amazing man in my life.

I believe in expressing gratitude where it is deserved and yes, as a stay-at-home-mom or simply as a mom, I do, do a lot for my kids that I haven’t listed here but I can tell you one thing, my life would not have been possible, had my husband not been my partner, sometimes a more than equal one, working with me as a team, in raising our kids and keeping our family functioning as well as it does.

So, in appreciation of that man, I say, let’s at least momentarily set aside our biases, our stereotypes and expectations, our feminist prerogatives and intellectual commentaries, and thank the men in our lives who make our own lives so immeasurably possible. Here’s to good dads (and husbands)!

This post first appeared in the author’s personal blog at www.thephdmama.com

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