When the maternity leave was up, we faced a common problem. About 80 per cent of my full-time wages would have to be spent on daycare if we both worked. But my wife's income was significantly higher than mine, and my wife was going stir-crazy after 12 months being mostly housebound. She's never been one for sitting at home and, as any parent knows, that first year means you have a squalling, wiggling, demanding anchor that keeps you from wandering. Even a trip to the mall requires planning and organization and a mule train's worth of luggage. Me -- the writer -- I like being home and indoors. It was a simple decision.
If you are in a similar situation, don't let popular myths sway you. Your child doesn't care if you are male or female, so long as you are there to provide food and comfort and protection. Everything else is just learning and, believe me guys, women don't have some secret users-manual for children. Just like us, women start off in the dark and learn as they go, on their own and from family and friends.
Mothers, however, have to cope with something we don't: expectations. Because of the myth, women are expected to know everything from diaper changing to saving for university from the moment they conceive. Men aren't expected to know anything. In fact, men, currently, are popularly held to be completely incompetents with kids. If a mother is chasing her toddler around in the supermarket, she'll get a whole lot of bad looks. If a father is being taunted by his two-year-old daughter from the top of an open staircase, everyone chuckles.
Dads get incessant advice from well-intentioned women. In that same grocery store, I rounded a corner with my son wailing and was instantly descended upon by The Helpful Woman. She advised, quite forcefully, that he was tired. I countered that he was mad that I had just taken away the butcher's knife he'd pulled off the shelf. She went away.
My son is now six. I do the school runs. I do much of the cooking. My personal failings at housework have nothing to do with my gender.
It's Doctor Dad in this house -- I tend the ill, dress the scraps, and apply the kisses as required. Until recently, I carried the essential caregiver item: the purse. Call it a knapsack, kitbag, whatever you want -- a friend of mine went so far as to buy a gas mask pouch -- it's all still the same thing: a child-maintenance kit. Tissues, Band-Aids, spare drinks, emergency rations, diapers, toys, books, spare clothes... Some women keep their makeup in it as well. I kept my media player in mine in case in needed Ozzy's screaming to drown out more localized noise.
I haven't spent 100 per cent of my time locked onto my son like some parental cruise missile, either. I've worked. I've written. I've built playhouses and swing sets, done home maintenance, and even managed squeeze in video games and the odd party.
And one morning recently, when I was out of town for a job, and my wife was getting him ready for school, my son burst into tears and declared that he wanted me. Wife asked, "Are you upset because I'm doing things different from the way Dad does?"
"No," he wailed, "I want him because I love him and miss him."
Which trumps any comment ever directed at my manliness.