My name is Jason and I’m a stay-at-home dad. What that means to my wife is that I, as a prideful yet selfless man, have stepped up to the plate, putting my manliness aside to do what has to be done for our child, nay for our family, without question. How I see it, however, is that I wasn’t successful enough in my line of work when we got pregnant to justify her not going back to work. In essence, when I look at my kid between the hours of 8-5 on weekdays, all I see is that I am a huge and utter professional failure.
OK, fine, I love my kid (always), I love staying home with him (most of the time), I still get to work a bit (…rarely), and I feel as if I’m appreciated (never). But it’s hard not to think of what you could be doing when all you’re currently doing is making food and wiping butts. This was so true for me in the beginning. My son is 10 now, so the wiping butt part is over, but when he was around 2, I was in a personal hell a good portion of the time. So, that’s why my wife suggested that I find a toddler playgroup or, at the very least, meet some parents at the park.
Meeting other “stay-at-home” dads at the park
When you’re a stay-at-home dad, as much as you might hear that, in general, more dads are staying home with their kids, you find that on a micro level, that’s not really true. That was the case in my neighborhood anyway. Sure, I met some fathers at the park. We would chit-chat about our kids and what it’s like being a stay-at-home dad. But usually at some point they would reveal that they were actually not a stay-at-homer but, say, a successful screenwriter who had just happened to have that day off or, maybe, perhaps, an actor in between 2 long term gigs. In other words, dads living the life I had imagined for myself.
I rarely ever met another dad at the park who didn’t make my jealous blood boil as they talked about “just being thankful they got to have some time at the park.”
Yeah, because you get to have your dream job and get some time with your kid at the park? Who wouldn’t love that?! Try being here day in and day out, man! It’s nice, sure, but it’s often really frustrating and extremely stressful! Now pay attention to your kid! He just pushed that little girl off the swing!
Seeking my parent village at the park
Ah, sorry about that. Clearly, I needed to find other, more relatable adult parents to talk to. I needed a kid’s playgroup or maybe I needed a parents’ playgroup. They say it takes a village to raise a kid. Well, I needed a village. Which, as it turns out, was trickier than it seemed.
First of all, it’s not always easy to make friends at the park. If you don’t follow a strict schedule (I don’t), then you end up being there at different times than the other parents who do follow a very strict schedule, like good parents. And second, when you’re the only guy, it’s really tough to not look or feel like a creep.
Because, and this for me was the hardest part, every single mom I met at the park was hot. Sorry, that’s just a fact. In general, it’s already awkward to just walk up to strangers to spark a conversation, especially when your opening line is, “Hi, do you need someone to talk to too?” So, you almost have to rely on meeting people through whoever your kid wants to play with. And my son, God bless him, somehow, some magical way, always picked the kid with the hottest mom. Almost without exception. Not on purpose. He would just see a kid, play with him, then the mom would approach, and I would see her and immediately become a tongue-tied mess, due partly to my awkwardness but mostly to her extreme attractiveness.
Let me just explain why this needs to be mentioned. I am not a “playa” or a “dawg,” I’m quite the opposite, actually. I love my wife and I have no desire to cheat on her in any way. But when moms at the park start wanting to give you their numbers for playdate purposes, you can’t help but imagine the look on your wife’s face when she finds out what Cassandra, recently added to your phone contacts, looks like. And while I might have a hard time speaking normally around them at first, I’m a nice non-threatening dad with a sweet kid. I always get along with people.
So, when I tell you I was getting digits, I was getting digits! But it was terrifying. This one mom was so hot, I just grabbed my kid and ran away claiming a potty emergency, just to nip it in the bud, never to interact with her again. This was becoming a legitimate problem.
Being lauded as a model dad
But inevitably, over time, I calmed down. I settled into a routine and I eventually found myself attached to a group of parents that I would hang out with at the park and I learned to live with the fact I was the only dad. Which, in a lot of ways, was pretty cool. I was revered as a good father and husband.
Men before me have put our gender in such a bad light that I was benefitting from this idea that men must all be aloof and bumbling parents. I was being praised for the simple things, like always having a snack at the ready or being prepared with bandages and kisses for boo-boos. One time I felt like I was about to get a medal for having extra diapers to share with another mom. Because, in their skewed eyes, I was an anomaly. I was the elusive urban dad thriving in his unnatural habitat.
The boob problem
Sounds like a dream, right? Being surrounded by hot women who look at you in a positive light? Well, let me tell you, it was very stressful. I was constantly worried that I would say something stupid, something insensitive, like anyone would in a new group of acquaintances, but this feeling was multiplied by 3 for me because I was the only guy.
Saying something perceived as sexist would have been exponentially reviled. Now, I am very much not a sexist. However, when you are around moms who are constantly talking about their bodies to each other, with an emphasis on their boobs, as a man, you must walk on eggshells. You must offer no opinions and you certainly need to refrain from answering any direct questions about boobs. Any boobs, their boobs, your wife’s boobs, your boobs. As crass as that may sound, a new mom is very boob-focused for natural and scientific reasons, so it becomes a big topic of conversation. But as a man who doesn’t need to make his opinions on the subject known, you have to learn to just deflect and regroup.
Remember when I said if my wife found out how hot some of my new phone contacts were, she’d flip? Well imagine her showing up to the park one day to surprise you at your “playgroup” and she sees a sea of hot women surrounding you. After she lays into you later that night, you better never say the words, “but you were the one who said that I needed to find a kids playgroup,” lest you want your head separated from your body.
Friends with parenting benefits
Now, I’m not like Harry in that famed movie where he meets that Sally lady. I definitely think that men and women can just be friends. I have always had more female friends than men. I find them more interesting. I already know what makes men tick and there’s only so many conversations about the housing market and car engines that I can stomach, let alone barely even keep up with as I know nothing about either. Not that women can’t talk about things too. Mostly they just wouldn’t. Because those topics are boring! At the time though, I had just thought that maybe, in this case, being a new, clueless dad, I would need more of a dad group to be able to commiserate with.
But as it turned out, just being around other parents regardless of their gender was all I needed. When your spouse works and doesn’t experience the ups and downs of stay-at-home parenting, they are hard to complain to. Sometimes, as is the case with my wife, they really want to be home. So anytime you want to confide in them the struggles you are going through, you always know that there is a part of them that is jealous of you. Having the support of other parents, outside of your home, who can relate to everything you’re going through is everything.
And as a dad, I also had a unique perspective to give. I wasn’t just benefitting from my newfound friends, but they were benefitting from me too. I think there being one dad thrown into the mix changed the dynamic of the group in a positive way.
One day, after coming clean to my wife about the median attractiveness of my new friends, we all went to the park with our spouses. I turned to my wife to point out that our son was the only boy playing with all of the girls in the park. She then pointed out to me that all of the dads were in a group on the other side of the playground and that I had stayed with her and all the moms. So, it seems my boy is just like me. He doesn’t care about boys and girls. He just cares about friends. And isn’t that the way it should be?