SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2002        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Philip Smelnick

Am I Mr. Mom?

The last time I took the kids to the library I felt so out of place that I had to stand back and remind myself that what I am doing is the best thing.  Some people can look upon my situation and accept what my new role is and other times people look at me weirdly, so I just have to pretend not to see them, look the other way and continue on with my business.  Their looks seem to be asking the question ìwhere is mom.î  Just the other day when I took Jessica and Devin to the library for a reading roundtable for kids, I was the only man in there that had his kids with him.  All of the other kids there had their moms with them.

As we entered the library on this hot sunny day we were glad to get out of the heat and into the cool of the air-conditioning.  We were there to return some books and attend the reading roundtable.  The year was 2002 and it was summertime.  You would have thought that by now the whole notion of switching gender roles would not be an issue.  But, just like there are still problems with race, religion, and other borderlands it is still troubling when the male takes on the role of the female (and I suppose vice-versa too).

Although this incident occurred recently, the attitudes of people today are similar to those attitudes of those in the past.  It is not commonplace for men to take on the role of the caregiver, homemaker, and domestic engineer.  Although there are many dads out there who now act as Mr. Mom, it is not common enough for society to accept it as a norm.  The 1980ís film Mr. MOM was, and is still, a good example of how the entertainment industry portrays, and society views, men in the female role, as represented by this quote:

ìUnfortunately, the most pervasive image of the at-home dad is Michael Keaton's role as the laid-off auto executive in the 1983 film, MR. MOM. Keaton, a reluctant stay-at-home dad, is a bumbling, incompetent male who burns dinner, ruins laundry, and blow dries his kid's rear end after playing coupon poker with the neighborhood moms. Pretty realistic don't you think?  I am glad society does not call wage-earning mothers Mrs. Dad (Bill Dow, MetroParent, February, 1999).î

I am a married man with two young children.  My wife works a full-time job with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.  My daughter is five and is now in kindergarten and my son is 11 months.  I am what you would call Mr. Mom.  I am the one who stays home with the children, gets my daughter off to school in the morning, and picks her up, changes diapers, makes lunch, makes dinner for the whole family, and then goes to school at night.  My wife already had her degree and when we started a family she was making more money than I was, so together we decided that we did not want any day-care facilities or baby sitters to raise our children.

You have to understand that after High School I never had any intentions of going any further in obtaining a higher educational degree of any sorts.  When the Army declined my request to change my occupational specialty from an airborne paratrooper to one in the medical field or aviation I decided it was time to get out and get my degree.  I soon after met a woman, whom I now call my wife, and after three years of marriage started a family.  I had already received my Associate of Arts Degree from Glendale Community College when I began to get bored with school and the Bachelors degree was so far off that I stopped going to school and began to work for American Express as a Customer Service Representative.  After Jessica was born I quit American Express and began to take care of my daughter and decided it was time to go back to school to complete my quest for a Bachelors Degree.  At first I had a real hard time trying to deal with the whole man and head of the house thing.  Even though my wife Stephanie was making more money than I was, I at least had been contributing monetarily to the to the family when I was working.  Now, when I run around and do errands and take the kids to their appointments, I feel as if my role reversal is somehow backwards.

The role of a switcher, gender role switcher that is, can only be as difficult as one foresees it to be.  My husband is a very good father to our children and I hold him in high regard as a father, husband, and a human being.  I mean, taking care of the children all day and then going to school at night.  It must be really hard.  We work together though in making decisions that we feel are right for our children and this happened to be one of them.  My being the breadwinner in our house hasnít really changed us much though.  Whenever I speak about money I always say things like ìwe got paid today,î and ìthis is how much money we have.î

I even know of other women and their husbands who do the same things we do.  There are not many of them mind you, but of the ones I know, they really understand how it is as a gender role switcher and how difficult it is sometimes to relate to a world that hasnít fully accepted the role some dads play now in raising their children.  Iím not really sure if one can fully understand how my husband feels and what he has to go through day in and day out.

When we went to the library that day to return the books that we had previously checked out for Jessica, I noticed that there was an unusually greater number of moms that day.  There was a reading roundtable that I was unaware of prior to showing up.  This created an unusually different balance of one gender over the other, which magnified the noticeability of my being the only man in there with his children.  This is what created an even more uncomfortable situation than there already was, which was now magnified.
I, on the other hand, am the Woman at the library.  I look around and all I see is other moms with their children.  Then, I see a handsome young man with his daughter and son.  What is he doing here amongst all these women?  Oh, he is here for the roundtable reading for his children.  How sweet!  I wonder where their mom is?  It is so nice to see that he is helping out his wife and taking the children off her hands for the day.  I wish my husband would take the children off of my hands for the day.  She must feel great to have such a loving and understanding husband.  He must have had the day off.  Maybe I should say something to him and give him my support in what he is doing.  Nah, he probably feels uncomfortable enough as it is.  My, he has beautiful children, and how well behaved they are.  Their mom really has done a nice job with teaching those children to be polite, have manners, and using patience.  Sarah, look at how well behaved those children are for their daddy.  His wife really has done a nice job of raising their children.  When do you think we can get our husbands to take the kids off of our hands for the day?  I donít know but if we had husbands like him maybe they would appreciate us more and understand just how hard being with the kids all day really is.  And not to mention all the other chores we are required to do all day.  Run errands, see the doctor, get to the grocery store, make dinner, clean house, change diapers, blah blah blahÖ.  I wish I had a husband like him.  Yeah, me too.

   I donít know what it is with the older generation but it seems that women and old people notice that I, a man, am with the children and not their mom.  These older people donít really have anything else to do but ogle over children.  They probably find my role perplexing because in their day this kind of situation was rarely heard of or even seen.  When they notice the baby and me they strike up small talk, which in turn proceeds to questions.  Those questions result from stereotyping or prejudices, whether they intend to do it or not.  I donít really think that their purpose is to demote my ability to care for my children, they just donít realize that what they are saying is rooted in those stereotyping and prejudices.

I have never been there when my husband gets the stares.  I guess he wouldnít get the stares if I were there, because then they wouldnít know who is the at-homer and who is the at-worker.  I can only try to understand the feelings that he must have about how he is looked upon by his peers, friends, neighbors, and family.  Is he fulfilling his role as a husband, father, and someone who contributes greatly to our household?  I unquestionably say, yes!
I think that, in the United States at the turn of the 21st century, it is somewhat more acceptable for a man to be the main person that does the kid raising and for the wife or mom to work.  But, without being able to see the big picture, at first glance I would interpret this to be a single family home and probably many other people do too.  I sometimes wonder, when I get those looks, if they are not thinking that I am a single father raising his children alone.  When I go to the grocery store people will say, ìoh, you have the kids today huhî?  I just respond with ìyeah, I got the kids todayî.  They apparently believe that it is my day off and I just decided to give mom a break or something.  Instead, I am the one that does not ìworkî, but I am also the one who takes care of my children (and that is hard work) during the day.

I have considered a support group and I know many are out there but I just canít seem to find the time yet with night school for me, kindergarten for Jessica, diapers for Devin, time for house stuff, and time for the wife.  For the most part, family, friends, and neighbors have been very supportive, but on occasion, I have heard "Oh, so you're a Mr. Mom now!" Take note: this term is like fingernails on a chalkboard to the stay-at-home father.

Finally, I am now going to be getting my degree after this semester!  So it has not been such a bad thing after all.   Switching gender roles was a hard adjustment for me.  Even though both my wife and I appreciate the position we are in, it is still a complicated situation.  Stephanie wishes she could stay home and take care of the kids and I wish I could get a job right away making the kind of money she makes.  We both know that that probably wonít happen, at least not right away.  In the meantime we will both continue to go on in the direction that we are heading in, my wife as the primary breadwinner (and only breadwinner at this time) and me as the Mr. who could be called mom.

I truly believe that the media plays a major role in how society sees men in the at-home raise-the-children role.  Slowly, the media is recognizing the stay-at-home dad as a viable child-rearing option and are even more accepting of it.  But, we still have a long way to go.  Society as a whole also dictates how men are envisioned.  As more stay-at-home dads start feeling comfortable about their role, society is also becoming more accepting of this growing family option and the word is slowly spreading through neighborhoods and media. Someday, you will go to a park full of kids and see five dads and five moms, and no one will ask the dads, "How come you're not working?

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