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?
This is something we should teach our daughters – how to fall in love with a man who does his fair share domestically once the babies arrive. So that you can keep on truckin’ at work and at home without developing TMJ from how unfair the division of labor is even in most modern relationships. So that your kids can depend on both parents for care and intimacy.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade my husband for anyone, and our kids adore him. He is there for them, but he hasn’t always been there for me as a co-parent. Consciously or unconsciously, he assumed I’d be the parent pro from the day I got pregnant. Neither of us intentionally burdened me with all the pediatrician-daycare-babysitter-diaper rash- vaccination- sick day-speech therapy responsibilities for our three children. But that is exactly how motherhood played out. To the detriment of my career and my sanity, both of which I worked hard to build before kids – and to keep after they arrived. The good news is that I live with compromises, not regrets; the bad news, from a work-family balance perspective, is that my husband didn’t make the same kind of compromises in his career, and it will probably always rankle me.
Which is why Airport Dad meant so much to me, at least symbolically. A man who planned to use every day of his company’s paternity leave. A man who would get up in the middle of the night to feed the baby –without being asked – the night before your big presentation. A man who told you it was okay to miss the piano recital because he’d be in the front row. Someone who urged you to take the big promotion – he’d change his hours to make daycare pick up. A man who understood if you didn’t take the big promotion because you wanted to make daycare pick up.
I get weepy just thinking about it.