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What Would My Dad Think?

I'm a homemaker.

By Alan Cohen | October , 2009
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Sometimes I wonder if my father recognizes me—and not just because I finally did get that haircut. My dad, you see, was a “traditional” father. He worked all day, came home and tossed the ball around, and talked sports with my brothers and me. He didn’t do diapers, put us to bed, or make dinner. That was Mom’s department.

Today, it’s my department. As a work-from-home father of two young girls, I’m a different sort of dad. I do the ballet classes and the school pickups. I have two distinct methods of changing a diaper: one for a cooperative baby, the other for a difficult one. Some mornings while debating which of my patented diapering techniques to use, I wonder: “What does my dad think of me?”

I know, times have changed. Fathers today assume some of the duties that used to be considered Mom’s territory. But judging by my experiences, few have taken it to the extreme. My wife works a billion hours. I have a flexible schedule. I am, as my daughter’s preschool teacher put it, “sort of the mom.” This label leaves a lot of people scratching their heads, especially moms I run into. There’s one that always interrogates me about how I feed the kids or about their bedtimes. Interrogation Mom scolded me one evening when she spotted me pushing the stroller after sundown, accusing me of being unaware of sleep training. Then there’s Suspicious Mom at the preschool. For months she never said hello, only muttered a curt “I got it” whenever I held the door for her stroller. She would look over my sweatpants, spit-up-encrusted T-shirt, and diaper bag with contempt and revulsion.

They just don’t get me, I thought. But something changed in the past year. When the economic downturn hit, a lot of dads started showing up at preschool in sweatpants and T-shirts. Their kids would arrive all cranky and I’d wonder if they’d gotten sufficient sleep the night before. Their diaper bags would be puny, clearly missing a few essentials. Amateurs, I thought. I was tempted to question them about feeding and napping. I looked at them with a mixture of contempt and revulsion.

Recently, I thought about my dad again. There was one thing that I never doubted about him: his joy in being a father. He was a great dad. His approach was different, sure. But had the circumstances demanded it, he, too, would have been at the preschool and behind the stove. Because that’s what great dads do—they adapt to situations and enter unfamiliar, even uncomfortable, ground, if that’s what’s needed for the kids.

In truth, my dad approves of the kind of father I am and I’d like to think he’s more enlightened because of it. But I’m still not sure he’s ready to learn my diapering techniques. I notice he makes himself conveniently absent at just that special moment. 

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