Father Envy.

by Leslie Morgan Steiner

 

Father’s Day afternoon. My family and I were heading home after a weekend away. Our plane was packed. We were last in line to board.

 

Right in front of us was a middle-aged dad, wearing khaki shorts and a golf shirt, holding a six-month-old baby. Stroller, diaper bag, carry-on bag, bottle, pacifier…All of us who’ve ever traveled with babies surely remember how much heavy, awkward, leaky junk you need to fly with an infant.

 

Airport Dad handled it all without breaking a sweat. He flung the diaper bag over his shoulder without jostling his drooling son. Then he folded the stroller with one hand while holding the baby securely in the crook of his arm. He had clearly done this many times before. His competence warmed my heart – just like Sting shirtless once did.

 

My seat was in the back row, so I passed the twosome again after boarding. Dad looked happy and baby was thrilled as they buckled in. The funniest thing was the expression on the women’s faces surrounding him. Pure rapture. Not because of infant envy – we weren’t looking at the baby. We were drooling over Airport Dad. Welcome to Father Envy.

 

I guarantee few of us would have looked twice at this man before we had kids. At first glance, Airport Dad was not handsome enough, tall enough, rich enough, or charismatic enough to catch anyone’s attention in a crowded airport. He looked like one of those nice guys in high school – your friend, but never your boyfriend. In the midst of our 20s, dating furiously, learning from awful relationships, working hard to make increasingly wiser mate-choices, how could we comprehend the bliss of having children with a man who could capably travel alone with a baby?

acumom
09.17.09

Has anyone seen the hilarious book Porno For New Moms? It's just that - a guy offering to do the dishes, a guy asking how your day was like he really wanted to hear about it, a guy who wants to stay up feeding the baby so you can get some rest :) This is what turns on a mother like nothing else. Just like bland average guy, now hot desired Airport Dad.

acumom
09.17.09

Yes, Yes, Yes! This is just what i have been thinking about and really upset about for the past few weeks. First, let me say I have the ultimate justice now as my husband has been out of work for quite a while so I have just gone back to work FT and he is now a stay at home dad! And he never even liked to change a diaper! Oh sweet justice, now he will understand what goes in to running a household and having kids! (I have a blog about it at diaperdad.wordpress.com)

But seriously it makes me very angry that these imbalances still exist. I have a wonderful husband but i have worked PT since we had our first child, and with almost NO help from him on the domestic side. I now work FT with a commute and it has been like pulling teeth to get help - and he is currently unemployed! It is just so unfair even in 2009. He is ivy league educated, raised by a mother who was a successful lawyer. How do men end up like this, still assuming we will do it all? I have 2 boys and, without getting crazy about it, feel it is my responsibility to raise them to know that the home and the childcare is also their responsibility, and source of joy, not just their wife's.

leslie morgan s...
08.01.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

HSMEDLOCK --

Great points here! You should write a manual for women. It would be pretty short: Ask them to do what you need. Make a sign. Ask again.

I feel like most men need to be taught that the biggest turn-on of all is when they help without being asked.

If they don't pick up on this, maybe it is time to leave. Like you did. Bravo and congratulations!!!

hsmedlock
07.21.09

My first husband and I had two dogs, one of which had occasional accidents in the house. After one such accident, my husband commented to me that we just needed to ration the dogs' water. I was so horrified and responded, No, we need to remember to let them out more often. It became crystal clear to me at that moment that I never wanted to have children with this person. This was also the same man for whom I made a large sign by the back door reminding him that trash/recycling pickup was on Tuesdays (I just can't shake the belief that trash-taking-out is a man's job--it's heavy and smelly, and everyone knows women have more sensitive noses).

Cut to second husband. When we got pregnant unexpectedly, he clapped his hands, laughing, and hugged me tightly. And at that moment I knew I definitely did want to have children with this man. He has exceeded my wildest expectations as a co-parent, and I thank God every day for how lucky I am to have him, because I know plenty of women who are in the do-it-all-alone group.

I was also lucky enough to have one of the greatest dads ever. He would come home from work and iron the laundry--whistling, even--because he found it therapeutic. He'd make scrambled eggs on the weekends (his only dish).

If we can just get across to them that helping without being asked is key (I always tell my husband what a turn-on it is after he's cleaned up the kitchen), perhaps we can increase the outcome of great dads and husbands like mine.

There's still more work ahead, but I think it will be easier to do if we band together and encourage each other to keep up the training. A friend of mine admits to having trouble asking for help with anything, so whenever she complains about something she had to do that her husband wouldn't step up and do, I ask her if she told him she needed help. No. If women like my friend can admit to themselves and to their partners that they do need help, maybe it will start to be more the rule than the exception (in my experience, men aren't the greatest at picking up on subtle [or not] non-verbal cues). And that hopefully will up the chances that our sons will learn by example and that our daughters will be drawn toward similarly well-trained and wonderful men.

leslie morgan s...
07.09.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

MaryEllie -- You are a very good and compassionate person! Your husband is lucky to have you. I agree it must have been hard for him to admit that it was too much for him. And I hope his respect for you increased!

maryellie
07.09.09

Leslie - I can't believe I'm about to "defend" my husband, but in hindsight I really do feel bad for him. It wasn't that he didn't bother to tell me...he knew how much I was anticipating the trip and he just couldn't face my disappointment. At the time, I was livid. However, he had taken a pretty big hit to his ego in admitting he couldn't handle the situation.

leslie morgan s...
07.08.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

MaryEllie -- The funniest/most awful part of your story is that your husband didn't bother to tell you he'd changed plans!!!

Once -- on Mother's Day -- my husband "accidentally" locked me in the basement when he took the kids for a four hour field trip to Virginia. Very funny, right? The frightening part was that our infant daughter was asleep two floors above me. Fortunately there is a phone in our basement...I called my lovely husband and he had to drive back an hour to let me out.

maryellie
07.08.09

This story is great. It brings back a memory that now makes me laugh, but then made me cry. When my son was 1 1/2 year old, my husband's parents were pressuring him to bring the baby to their house (we live 1,000 miles away). I didn't want to go (nothing against my in-laws, I just didn't want to go). So...my husband had the great idea that he would bring the baby to my in-laws alone giving me a glorious 4 days to be alone in my house. I couldn't wait. I DREAMED about it. The morning came for the trip and I started getting ready for it. My husband stopped me because he had unilaterally decided to cancel the trip a couple of days earlier. He was cowed by the thought of travel on his own. Also, he realized that he would, essentially, have to be me - plan the meals, get the food, change the diapers, take care of everything. I was literally sick with depression and had to go back to bed. I never thought I would forgive him (but I have). I understand Father envy completely.

leslie morgan s...
07.06.09

Leslie Morgan Steiner

The husband of a good friend once said, "But I do anything you ask me to do!" To which she replied: "That's just it -- I want you to be able to do things for the kids WITHOUT being asked." They've since divorced...

Carolyn Hax had a great suggestion in her Tell Me About It column today. Whenever both parents are physically home, regardless of who works at home and who works in an office, split the household and childcare tasks. The assumption being that work is work and it should all be divided equally regardless of who is paid for what.

Sulbany
07.02.09

Wow. I did not realize that the majority of men were not like that. I mean I knew there were some dad's that would take a backseat with parenting but did not ever think there were that many. I guess I always took for granted that most men were like my husband upon the arrival of their children. When I married him he had 4 children from a previous marriage. I fell head over heals with him first of all because of how he always put his children first and took care of them. When we had our 2 children he did the same thing.In fact, the biggest arguments we have had in the last 4 years of our marriage is that he sometimes won't let me do enough around the house or he helps too too much with the kids, which would be great if I were not a SAHM.