I think being a father is a tougher proposition than being a mother.
I think mothers do more work, carry more burden, actual and abstract, and spend more time on a very sharp hook. But I think fathers have a harder row to hoe.
It’s not as clear what you’re supposed to do. If you’re the mother, you start with the premise that it is your job to do everything. You have the baby, you give birth to the baby, you feed the baby, but most of all you decide how it’s going to go with the baby. If there is a ‘decider’ with child-rearing, it’s the mother nine times out of ten.
Sure, fathers weigh in. But unless the power balance is way out of whack, bringing up baby is going to start as the mother’s complete and total turf. Smart men quickly realize that there’s little to be gained by competing for ownership of that turf. She owns the turf, fine, let her mow it. Oh, she needs some edging work done? Okay, I can do the edging. I don’t mind, he says to the mother. Just tell me when you want me to do the edging. You decide.
After a while, though, most mothers get tired of being the deciders and wish their partners would decide a few things. But because they don’t have a lot of practice in deciding, like an adolescent who never made an actual decision before some 14-year old boy offers her a beer, a lot of fathers mess it up. They bobble and weave, do what they think they see other fathers doing, improvise based on their vague memories of having been a child under the wispy supervision of their own fathers. What was it my father would do in this case, they ask themselves? Nothing, buddy. Your father was at work.
So I think it’s tough for men to figure out their role beyond that which is delegated to them. They kind of stand around waiting for the task list while their partners get increasingly irked that they don’t remember the task list from yesterday or the day before or the day before that. Not a lot changes with raising children. It’s repetition city. Carpel tunnel of the brain.
Even though so much of day to day child-raising is the same, fathers tend to wait for instruction, lurching to the fore when prompted but otherwise lying on the couch listening to the ball game. The sad news is that a mother’s command and control strategy makes their partners parenting eunuchs. Useless for anything important.
Every time my husband looks at this picture, he says, “That’s the first time you let me take Joe anywhere by myself.” I tell him that’s ridiculous. Why would I have not let him take his own son anywhere by himself? When I say this, he looks at me over his glasses like “are you serious?” Twenty-five years ago and he remembers the day I decided my son was sturdy enough to survive his father’s care.
I remember this day. They went to a neighborhood street fair in the not so great neighborhood where my husband worked. I think I was parked around the corner when this picture was taken, maybe, I don’t remember. Actually, I was probably home preparing the interrogation. You know, getting the right watt light bulb swinging from the ceiling. Did you buckle him in? What did he eat? Did he cry? Questions to assuage my anxiety or to reaffirm the chain of command? Like the nutty parents of new teenage drivers, I wanted to install one of those dash cams aimed squarely at the car seat, if, in fact, he’d actually put the boy in the car seat. I had no way of knowing.
My husband has had many heroic moments as a father, times when he ran into crazy traffic to rescue some or all of our kids from terrible situations. He forgot then that I’d taught him to stay in his lane. Thank God for his poor memory.