“Don’t be a pussy.”
What guy hasn’t experienced an attack on his self-worth via feminine equation? Men are raised to be tough and despise tenderness, taught from early age to view the feminine as soft and submissive.
In March of 2015, Rachel and I founded our business. The very next month our second child was born in the same house that sheltered our fledgling enterprise. Our family of four shared one room to allow space for a jewelry studio in the other room.
As soon as Rachel was able, she returned to the bench and set to work building jewelry. She could only work a few hours at a time before the needs of an infant daughter recalled her. During this time I did my best to support and facilitate her recovery while taking care of the endless household tasks and the administrative needs of the business.
As our daughter grew less dependent, Rachel spent more time with her silversmithing practice. This meant I had to take on increasing responsibilities on the home front. Caring for an infant daughter was the most challenging experience of my life. The patience and attention she required were incredible. This was new territory for me as Rachel did the majority of the work raising our first child through infancy. I struggled to balance my business ambition, my personal health and the needs of my kids and wife. I could have done better.
Over the past three years, by way of excuse for my struggles as father, I would often tell myself that women are just naturally better at childcare and have more extensive support networks or at least more peers with whom to seek guidance or affirmation. Growing up in middle America these gendered views are the norm; a rather believable opinion constantly reinforced by the absence of dads at the playground. I would often be the only man at the various children’s activities, receiving accolades from grocery store clerks and librarians who innocently asked, “where’s mommy today?” No harm is meant in this question but when I was feeling alone and inadequate it only served as a reminder that my wife was expected to be doing this and I, as caregiver and not provider, was under-performing at my role.
During much of the last three years I was miserable and lonely. I was overwhelmed, anxious and fragile. Maybe you saw me during this time and didn’t think anything was wrong. You’ve heard the phrase ‘fake it til you make it?’ Well I deserve an Oscar.
In the course of those years, three significant realizations resulted in a somewhat changed attitude. First, our children have aged out of their most dependent and demanding stages. Secondly, our business has steadily grown to the point that I no longer fear the eminent demise of our finances. But the most important revelation I had regarding my loneliness, isolation and fear was more subtle. I realized that I was not alone in my feeling of inadequacy. Women, in particular mothers, had been quietly going through all of the same feelings for years, generations. They have been selflessly sacrificing personal ambitions to support hard-working spouses while also taking care of home and family for so long that I had become callous to their suffering. It was only by walking the path myself that I began to understand the immense pressure women must feel. It doesn’t matter what gender or sex you are, the sacrifice in giving daily care to a baby is superhuman.
With this last realization I lost the imaginary standard to which I was comparing myself. This allowed me to empathize with my own predicament. I gained appreciation and this increased the pleasure of the still challenging experience.
More men need this humbling insight.
I pass a billboard here in Tulsa on a regular basis. It shows a big panda bear holding a smaller one. In big letters it commands: “Take time to be a dad today.” We have apparently found ourselves in the presence of such debilitated men who need a thirty foot sign to remind them on the way home from work to get in touch with their kids. We have failed to raise men who can be tough and self-sufficient as well as tender, patient and caring.
I refuse to be the role model. My own abilities are limited and I cannot point to my experiences as exemplary. Nonetheless, it was an enlightening endeavor which should be put upon more men until they understand. I did not cheerily choose to learn this lesson but it came through anyway. Men need not only the opportunity but also the expectation to rise to the occasion of fatherhood, a title that should be earned by excelling at what is commonly dismissed as “Women’s Work.”
So call me a pussy.
I’ll wear the title with pride.