I told my wife I loved her on our wedding day. If anything changes, I’ll let her know. ~ Unknown
I have always secretly envied men. They seem to have such a worry-free approach to life compared to most women. When I was a teenager it seemed to me that guys had more fun; guys got more freedom; guys got the really cool jobs. Guys could also be more irresponsible, although we are taught that is a bad thing. Women seem born to worry and manage and care for others, while men seem born to have fun, get dirty and blow shit up.
Last week I saw a man pushing his toddler-aged daughter in a stroller. It was raining lightly and he was pushing his little girl in circles, dancing with the stroller in the rain. The child had both arms and legs outstretched, wiggling her fingers and toes as the raindrops splashed on her. Her face turned up to the sky, eyes shining, she giggled and squealed as he spun her around. Everyone he passed was smiling at them.
How would this scene have played out had the child been with her mother? It’s a safe bet that the stroller would have been covered with a plastic rain shield, the child’s bare legs carefully wrapped in a blanket for warmth, and the mother holding an umbrella over both of them as she hurried to get her child to shelter. Careful, prudent, admirably health-and-safety conscious. But fun? No.
All aspects of parenting are important, and like everything else, women and men bring different strengths to the job. Children need to learn responsibility, but they also need to learn to enjoy life. Sure, women can have fun, but it’s harder for mothers to have the carefree abandon of fathers. We are the protective mother bear, teaching and guarding our cubs 24/7, single-minded in our purpose – often to our own detriment. Men are the lions snoozing in the sun or blinking lazily at the horizon, getting up only when the Mrs. brings back a kill (which he gets first dibs on even though he did none of the work involved in landing that damn gazelle), prodded to action only when his family is faced with danger.
I have no special memory of having fun with my mother, just the two of us. I remember haircuts, trying on school clothes, parent teacher meetings, doctor and dentist appointments…the humdrum routine of everyday family life. By contrast, I can remember my dad playing with me in the pool, taking me for walks on the beach and building sand castles on holidays, catching sunfish under the bridge at the Wye River, playing piano, taking me to the park, and watching Laurel and Hardy on Sunday mornings. I have only a few memories of my mother really letting go and having fun, but on none of these occasion was she exactly having fun with me – I just happened to be there. The rest of the time she was working; at her job, running the house, or caring for me.
A man always seems ready for a good time. He doesn’t care if the house is clean when he has his buddies over for beer and football. He will not pause to consider the piles of laundry that need washing if he has a chance to go fishing. Women seem forever at the mercy of their own perfectionist micro-managing natures. They can’t just sit and have a drink with their friends unless someone is watching their kids, their work is done, and nobody needs them. Women are born to worry; men don’t even think there’s something to worry about. When my husband is out with his buddies he’s not looking at his watch, or wondering if he should get home in case he’s needed. A woman out with her friends would be texting her husband asking if the kids were in bed yet and if he’s remembered to take tomorrow night’s roast out of the freezer.
This female tendency to over-think everything is particularly prevalent in relationships. Women are constantly agonizing over where the relationship is going, what his feelings are, what he wants, what do his actions mean. Men have no idea what we’re talking about.
Men can spend an enormous amount of time doing absolutely nothing, which is mind boggling to a sex with a never-ending to-do list. Men’s ability to sit silently and not think about anything is often the butt of jokes, but it is actually an amazing talent, one today’s mega-stressed, overworked woman could stand to learn. Ever watched a group of men around a campfire? They will sit and stare at the flames for hours, drinking beer, with hardly any conversation. My husband has often sat in our backyard for five hours, alone, just sipping his beer and staring into the flames, usually with the radio on. If you ask him what he’s thinking about, he says, “Nothing.” I have tried on several occasions to join him as he likes me to sit with him, but I never last more than half an hour because I get bored. If I try, my mind is quietly reciting my to-do list in an ever-increasing anxious tone. A woman’s brain is never quiet.
There is a societal shift occurring in today’s workplace. Women are fast outpacing men in acquiring higher education and the careers and salaries that follow. Men are falling behind, their old standby jobs in manufacturing and manual labour are disappearing, and they seem uncertain of their place in this changing world. The question some are now asking is, do we even need men?
Anyone who thinks we don’t need men anymore is looking at the question through a very narrow lens. Of course we still need men – we just don’t need them for what we used to need them for. Women no longer have to get married, and we don’t need a man to support us. But men bring more than money and security to a relationship. Maybe this will be the era where men get the chance to be all that they can be. To drop the macho façade and show their insecurities and sensitivities. To be a stay-at-home parent without others making him feel like a failure or slacker, joking about “who wears the pants.” Preconceived notions of what a man is supposed to do and be must be just as straight-jacketing for them as the preconceived notions of womanhood are for us.
I tried the stay-at-home mom thing; although I was emotionally fulfilled and loved looking after my babies, it was not intellectually stimulating enough. I didn’t have enough to do and became bored and depressed. My husband, however, is perfectly suited to be a stay-at-home dad. He kicks butt at a ton of things that would benefit our family, like home repair, gardening, cleaning etc. If he was home the house would be clean, dishes done, kids cared for, which would save me a ton of worry and stress and I would then be more interested in my job, instead of constantly worrying about what’s going on at home. We would also save a bundle on food with his canning and preserving all the vegetables and fruit he grows, and he would still have time to run his business as a little side hobby to bring in some extra cash and indulge his own interests. But he is driven to work, to provide, even though it keeps him running seven days a week and he is exhausted and getting run down. His ego and the opinions of others won’t allow him to stop working at a “real job.”
That father dancing in the rain was imparting a valuable lesson to his child, as well as simply having fun. We need dads, to show our children, and moms, that the world won’t end if your dishes aren’t done or your coffee table is dusty. That it’s okay to make mistakes, to make a fool of yourself, to have a good time without feeling guilty. That you can be silent for hours without something being wrong.
Steve has often played in the rain with the kids, and once I caught him showing my youngest how to work a hula hoop. Some of our neighbors think he’s nuts – one guy, the self-appointed “street warden,” started a petition on us last year because Steve’s garden was “messy” (he planted sunflowers that grew ten feet high). If fate ever separates us, it will be his fun and loving nature I’ll remember and miss, not his income or job title. The next time he dances in the rain, I intend to stop whatever boring chore I’m doing and join him.