Monday, June 05, 2006

Cultivating my Garden

Some great writers, Douglas Adams included, have tackled the question of the meaning of life, though for the most part they warn against wasting one's life seeking it. Thomas Carlyle's solution in Sartor Resartus is work: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy whole might. Work while it is called today; for the night cometh, wherein no man can work." Voltaire comes up with a similar solution in Candide: "We must cultivate our garden." Now I'm not sure I buy into the fact that I am what I do, but the philosophy of seeking happiness in the work you do does simplify things. Where it gets distorted is with societal views of what constitutes women's work and man's work. Women are traditionally the nurterers and men are traditionally the bread-winners, a carry-over from the oh-so-enlightened age known as the Paleolithic.

Growing up, I didn't know any boys who wanted to be a stay-at-home dad when they grew up. In fact, few girls I knew wanted to stay at home with their children. But boys are inundated with images and stories of what it means to be a man, from Iron John, Fire in the Belly, and Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus to our current crop of commercials of beer-chugging slobs eating 2/3 pound jalepeno burgers. Has anyone ever seen a commercial of a stay-at-home dad? When I was a kid I wanted to be a superhero or a jedi, and it was only after my disappointment in finding these were not realistic that I refocused my energies into literature. Which brings me to my biggest challenge as a stay-at-home dad. It's not that some might consider me less of a man for staying home - I've never felt that way and could care less if anyone else does.

My biggest challenge (and I'm sure this is the same for stay-at-home moms) is I didn't go to college to become a stay-at-home dad. I did it to study literature, to perhaps write my own some day. And I even fooled myself into thinking I'd get some writing done while raising my children. But like Mr. Holland discovered, raising kids is all work, no opus. I tried to set aside little bits of time here and there to write, but inspiration doesn't make hourly appointments and there's no chance to sit and let the narrative take over when I know one of the kids will soon be waking from her nap. While making sure my girls make it through the day is an admirable accomplishment for someone like me, I still haven't come to terms with the fact that I haven't accomplished what I set out to do way back in college.

This would be an easy problem to solve if I didn't love spending every day with Clara and Kate. I want to be the one they spend their days with. This is both an opportunity for our family and a privelege for me. It's not a manly decision - it's a human one.

Like most households, our roles don't always fall into traditional gender stereotypes. Most nights I make dinner - sometimes a bit too ornate - but I have an aversion to doing dishes. I don't usually give Clara her bath because I don't deal well with human feces. I do the shopping and Megan keeps the checkbook (she took accounting classes because she found them fun.) I do most outside work and Megan keeps up with the ever growing mountain of laundry.

I keep thinking back to a quote that I will attribute to Joe Vollert. Even if he didn't say it, it's definitely something he would have said. "Being a man is doing what is best for your family, whatever that is." If that's true, then sitting around a tiny table having a tea party with my daughters and their bears might be the manliest thing I'll ever do.


Anonymous said...

Finally a blogger who's able to get a jedi and human feces reference in one sitting. I do miss this sahd.

Anonymous said...

Every time I read something you write I end up with tears streaming down my face and snot dripping from my noise. I'm sure my anonymous posting can't hide who that makes me! Don't stop writing.

Anonymous said...

Enjoying the updates. Hope you're recovering from the lightning ok. Scary!