In most areas I prescribe to the idea that pride goes before a fall. Therefore, when it comes to discussing my writing, music, luche libre, etc., I tend towards self-deprecation. It's my little way of reminding myself that I could always be better at something.
That being said, I know I'm a pretty awesome dad. On the night after my wife gave birth and she was resting from her labor, my daughter passed meconium, a black, evil mixture of amniotic fluid, bile, and shed skin cells that looks like Hell in poop form. I rolled up my sleeves and said, "All right, let's kick this pig!" without flinching. There's lots more to being a good dad than changing diapers, of course, but I feel that first battle against the Black Tar Poo that you fight alone in the dark while your spouse lies recovering and unable to help sets the tone of your fatherhood.
There are some downsides to being an openly competent father though. Not from the angel getting the horsey ride in Kroger of course, and certainly not from my equally awesome wife. It's from the people you come in contact with who witness your behavior with your kids. Things like...
Most parents I know who regularly take their kids to the grocery store with them are blissfully oblivious to pretty much all other lifeforms until they get to the check-out aisle. All your focus is on either completing the task at hand, or keeping your child from dashing off in search of Goldfish and something vaguely hat-like to wear. You may nod to other people if you happen to make eye contact, but any more meaningful connection isn't really possible when you're busy being both supplies sergeant and curator of small mammals.
Once you get to the check out line though, you're trapped, and that's where the Childless Couple makes you wish you'd pretended you only spoke Swedish. Most times it's perfectly fine. The kid will say, "Hi," they'll say, "Hi" back, and a brief exchange will continue until you get through the line ("How old is she?" "Where's your daycare?" "Have you thought about the toddler cage fighting circuit?").
Sometimes though, all is going well until the husband says something like, "We're thinking about having kids, but fitting it into Sandra's work schedule has been hard," or the wife will say, "Tom's not sure he's ready for kids yet." There is no Hot Pocket in any freezer colder than the air between a couple that's decided to open up the kid debate in public using you as an example of their point of view. It rarely degenerates further, though we bet there are some raucous car rides home.
The question I get asked more than any other when I'm out by myself with the kid is, "So where's your wife?" The tone of this ranges from mild confusion to cautious condolences. The former seem to find it inconceivable that I'm out with a toddler by myself of my own volition without being supervised by my wife, and the latter that my daughter is a child of divorce or I am perhaps a widower.
If I respond with the truth, that day care is right next to my office so I'm usually the one running errands with the kid in tow I just get mild puzzlement. If I say that I'm keeping her out from under my wife's feet while she studies or simply that I had stuff to do while watching my daughter, the look becomes a little even worse. This is because...
We'd like to on record and say fuck you to every single single-dad comedy ever done. Hollywood has made enough money off of the hapless dude saddled with a baby idea that it could build a mountain of cocaine big enough to host Olympic ski events on. Even on the rare occasion that men are allowed to competently raise kids without women in Hollywood, it usually takes three of them. Full House, Three Men and A Baby, and Two and a Half Men if you count Charlie Sheen's ego as another person are good examples.
The result of the culture-wide delusion that men alone with kids are as lost as a pony trying to read Sanskrit means that strange, well-meaning, but definitely intruding women see nothing wrong with trying to touch my baby. I don't mean playing goo-goo, gaga peek-a-boo stuff. That's fun and cute. I mean things like if the kid throws a tantrum in a store, and I'm there doing the things that calm her down, women I don't know will actually come up to me and ask, "Do you need some help?" or worse, "Do you need me to hold her?"
I guess snarling isn't the best response to this, but it does seem to clear the immediate space around the kid and me pretty well.
This is the saddest consequence of the trained-monkey perception. I'm just not expected to be able to do things like calm a baby, feed her, pick out her clothes, handle doctor's visits, etc. by society at large. I'm by popular opinion the back-up parent, regardless of how our actual household is run. That means that when people see me taking a huge role in the rearing of my daughter, they think it's as amazing as a dog that can talk.
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However, the level I operate at is no different from the one my wife does. Same amount of work, but she gets a passing grade where I get an undeserved gold star. What's even worse is the way people will judge her, and not me for their own little pet parenting or reproductive dogma.
People divide into armed camps full of touchy feelings and barb wire baseball bats over childbirth and parenthood. If you had a c-section, be prepared to hear how your baby will never truly love you. If you breastfed you'd better have a letter from a licensed breastfeeding coach saying that it was OK to stop when you did. Don't use soy-based formula because it makes babies gay, and if anyone ever asks you about circumcising a baby boy, trust us, just... back... away.
The thing is... every important decision in our child's life my wife and I made together. She knew that she wasn't going to be much good as a parent without my full support and cooperation, and vice versa, so we calmly talked about what was important to us and what was best for our child. However, when people question our decisions, they don't question me, only her.
In conclusion, I wrote this article in the sweet-ass pillow fort that my daughter and I built, and in which she is currently snoring. Being dad is awesome. Don't let anyone tell you different.