Who's Your Daddy?

I spend a lot of time writing about the gerbil wheel of duty, honor, and responsibility: it spins endlessly, powered by our own plodding, as we try to keep up with the laundry list of Things That Need To Be Done in order to keep the family plowing ahead.

I’m from Generation X, baby — so I tend to put an emphasis on how us X-chromosomal beings bear the brunt of being all we can be. We babes are vibrant contributors to the work force and to our family coffers, plus we do double duty and overtime as in-home employees, aka moms. The latest “What’s A Mom’s Work Worth” poll from www.salary.com says that at-home moms work an average of 95 hours a week, and that work translated to “real world” job titles includes CEO, laundry machine operator, psychologist, janitor, van driver, computer operator, facilities manager, daycare center teacher, cook, and housekeeper (ordered by time spent doing each of those jobs).
And the pay would be around $112K annually if done full-time – not exactly a corporate bonanza, but a tidy sum nonetheless. Working moms clock in on the home front at 57 hours a week, doing a scaled-back version of that list, but still pulling down $67K on top of what they earn from their day jobs.

When I Googled, “What’s a Dad Worth,” in addition to a shit ton of articles on deadbeat dads, I was pleasantly surprised to see the same website had quantified at-home dads’ work in “real world” terms, too. Laundry operator, grounds keeper, van driver, cook, maintenance worker, computer operator, daycare center teacher, psychologist, facilities manager, and CEO (also in order by time spent doing each of those jobs). The pay would be considerably less for a closer to 60 hour workweek, though – $84K annually. As for working dads, no overtime hours were reported, so they ranked lowest on the parenting paycheck scale ($42K for what they do around the house).

Winning, ladies! So there’s at least one area where we’re theoretically earning more than men….

But why do I feel guilty? I suppose it’s because nowadays, the playing field is a helluva lot more level. We may have generated the umbilical cord, but in the post-1950s world of gender equality, there’s plenty left over for the guys to hang with.

When I was a kid, parental roles were clear-cut. My dad went off to work during the week while my mom stayed home with us kids. On the weekends, Dad puttered around the house – fixing broken stuff, doing yard work, and exposing my brother and me to the joys of watching Candlepin bowling and Hogan’s Heroes reruns on TV. As I grew older, I got to see the shift firsthand: my mom launched her own business, and my dad helped her do her thing. He schlepped to crafts shows with her on the weekends, neatly folding pillowcases and helping hock her personalized linens. Later he plotted out our family’s ascent in the very narrow kosher for Passover cereal niche, personally overseeing the recipe creation. Turns out Dad is an excellent gourmet cook. (He’s always sewed, by the way. Pre-Etsy, the guy could whip together a ballet or Halloween costume like nobody’s business). And as I found out at 18 when I pushed my way from childhood into adulthood with my first real boyfriend, it was my dad who held the sentimental ground, tearing up as he let me go. It was the first time I truly understood that being a father is the hardest job there is… as much as moms want to tell you otherwise. Men tend to see things as black and white, which pulls the comforting fuzzy gray-area rug right out from under them every time.

Herein lies the heart of the modern father. Beneath the hairy chest, there’s a sweet and sensitive center. As ludicrous as Zach Galifianakis looks hauling an infant around in a Baby Bjorn, we get that the daddy bear is just as protective as the mama. And in the excellent, dearly departed Bored to Death, Galifianakis does it again with a do-it-yourself man’s approach to breastfeeding (whiskey-laced nipples, works every time!). There is great beauty in the parenting style of the beast.

My own husband, who physically ranks pretty high on the Galifianakis scale, has done his fair share of the parenting heavy lifting. I’d add private athletics coach, interior decorator, agent, manager, and love guru to his fatherhood job description. He’s the one who behind the scenes gets worked up about carving a safe and respectful place for our kids out there in the big, cold world. He celebrates their triumphs with a fist pump and an endless stream of video that he shamelessly posts on Facebook. And he teaches them to let defeat roll over them like water off a duck’s back and to move on with grace and dignity. Maybe his deep involvement in taking care of the kids stems from the fact that he was the one to stay at home with our son for the first year while I went back to work. Or maybe it’s something deeper: the male drive to provide is innate, and in today’s world of endless distractions, giving kids your time and attention is the most valuable thing you can fork over.

When I look around at back-to-school nights littered with grown men squeezed neatly into pint-sized chairs, or Little League and girl’s softball fields and stands packed with more testosterone than Chaz Bono’s sex-change clinic, I realize that we’re not in Kansas anymore. We’re in a brave new world where parenting is a verb, and there’s no conjugating it to a male or female form — it’s one size fits all.

As my dad always says to my husband — from one mother to another, Happy Father’s Day!