Everyone wants their day in equality court. Let’s get one fact in order right off the top; I have no experience in being discriminated against. I do not get pulled over for the color of my skin. I am not paid less for a job than someone of the opposite sex. I have never had my life threatened for my sexual orientation. My closest experience with discrimination was being rudely kept out of a piano bar for wearing sandals. I tried to organize a grassroots protest the following day, but got sleepy and ordered a Starbucks. I have lived a sheltered life away from the judgment of societal norms. I had no idea my first experience would come as stay-at-home dad when I was shunned at the playground…by moms.
It was a brisk morning for April in Texas. I pulled up to the local playground and felt a sobering chill go down my spine. Per usual, I was putting on an impressive dad-ing display when two, seemingly innocuous, moms approached the play set where I played with my children. My kids jumped out of their skin at the sight of other children to play with and darted to greet them. I assisted my children in introducing themselves to the children. The moms responded by snatching their offspring’s hands and darting away while yelling something about gathering the menfolk to kill the beast.
Surely, this was the lone action of some man-hating, wart-infested females. After all, I live in Texas which is a bastion of progressive thought, so this had to be an isolated incident. The snub hurt a little, but that was no reason to give up. There had to be play groups in the area, I’ll simply find one to join. After the first three that had “NO MEN” printed in bold like signs hanging outside their tree forts I opted to look elsewhere. Regardless of my attempts, I kept getting the impression that moms had no time for a man amongst their ranks. I was simply looking for my kids to be able to play with other kids and for me, maybe to talk to another adult about something that does not involve broken kid logic. I mean, I’m hip. I’m cool. I love my wife and have no desire to get busy in a burger king bathroom with anyone else; and she assures me that if I continue to call myself “hip” and make references to 80’s rap songs that she has the utmost faith in my fidelity.
I was at a loss. Had I doomed my children to isolation because of my gender and love of movies with explosions? I decided to take my case to the highest court in the land. The presiding judge is fair and known for a grace that is rivaled only by her beauty. My wife listened attentively while making dinner, as I laid out my cruel, discriminatory suit. She threw in “hmmms” and “uh-huhs” at just the right moments to let me know my plea was going well. She even stopped dinner prep during a particularly egregious offender’s story and gave me an “oooh.” Obviously, I was not the problem here. The maniacal coalition of stay-at-home moms were being unmasked to a fellow female. Each incident of my mistreatment snapped in it’s place of the grand puzzle of her decision. Finally! Justice! She banged the meat tenderizer three times (I thought a bit over the top) and stated her decision. “The problem here is you.”
That was not what I was expecting. Instead of sanctifying my oppression she told me what she would be thinking in the same situations. She said, “Women believe most men want to bust a move and push it, push it real good. You may not be looking to do the wild thing and they know it takes two to make a thing go right, but that does not stop their friends (or worse their husbands) from thinking that they want to pump up the jam. They can fight the power, but it’s easier to say you can’t touch this than to tell everyone,”Don’t believe the hype”. Take it for what it’s worth, that’s just my prerogative. Have I mentioned I love my wife?
She went on to say that my best bet was to continue to go to public, group settings and do not try to initiate conversation. Be consistent and when they feel comfortable they will talk to you. It was hard to hear, but true. I need to understand that these moms do not know me and societal norms do not change overnight. Being a stay-at-home parent means a great deal of isolation. We do not have co-workers around the office or a helping hand when things go wrong. Our deadlines come up instantaneously and our progress goes unrewarded. Being a stay-at-home dad amplifies the isolation because the societal perception dictates men cannot control their urges and therefore must be avoided to eliminate temptation. I get it, though. For every one of me, there are ten men tuning out from their families and/or looking for an opportunity to fulfill at short term sexual desire. I cannot change other people. I can only try to understand where other people are coming from.
Luckily I found a dad’s group online. It’s not in person, but as stay-at-home dad that does not live in a major metropolis you take what you can get. I have had conversations ranging from football, to behavioral issues, to mom bloggers’ opinions on stay-at-home dads at the playground. Through all of this interaction I realized something; these men were not all from Texas. These men were from all over the United States. Blue states, Red states, a true mix of the population and quite a few are having this same issues. Although I have a lot to learn about navigating the current climate of dad-ing, I cannot help wondering, has the pendulum swung so far on women’s equality that they cannot remember what it’s like to be shunned or discounted? I mean, same team, moms. Same team. I want my kids to be able to play with other kids. While we are at it, can stay-at-home parents talk about the news, discuss parenting techniques or share a recipe? I draw the line at talking about The Bachelor, though. I’d rather be alone.
The point is, we are all hesitant about things that are not commonplace to us. The question I ask myself is “Am I the kind of person who is willing to listen to ideas I do not understand and maybe learn something or am I content to wade around with blinders keeping my world nice and easy?” I think the same question could be posed of all equality. A mixture of dads and moms is the future of the stay-at-home community. My day in equality court is a long way down on the docket, but it’s on there.