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On Being a Stay at Home Dad: Reflections on Todd and Sarah Palin

The nomination of Sarah Palin raised all sorts of interesting issues and one that I found interesting was the role of her husband, Todd.  There are some similarities between he and I.  He had five kids, we have four.  His wife works, as does mine.  Our youngest child has special needs just like theirs is.  It sounds like they’ve got a bit more flexibility than we have got and it sounds like Todd has a seasonal job, too.  Still, as I watched this family I felt that they reflected reality as I experience it and as more and more people experience it.

I also happened to see feminist Gloria Steinem’s rejection of Sarah Palin’s brand of feminism and the essay includes this quote:

… American women, who suffer more because of having two full-time jobs than from any other single injustice, finally have support on a national stage from male leaders who know that women can’t be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.

I know that sounds like Gloria is being positive but in fact she isn’t.  You’d have to read the whole article to see that she’s just trying to make lemonade out of lemons.  Keeping in mind the Palins together with Gloria’s feminist credo, allow me to make a few comments.

As a man who is ‘equal inside the home’ let me say that this potentially is a lot of nonsense.  It is not infrequent that I struggle with the fact that my wife is the ‘breadwinner’ and I am not.  We hear about women struggling with their instinctive desire to stay home (which my wife has) while wanting to pursue their career (which my wife couldn’t care less about) but stay at home dads have a different tension.  They don’t have this instinctive drive to stay home, to be the nurturer, and even if society didn’t whisper under its breath that stay at home dads were losers, the men themselves sense it themselves.  At least, that is the case for me and for the handful of other stay at home dads I’ve spoken with.

I have met women who also felt like they weren’t really fulfilling their potential by being stuck at home so the sentiment isn’t entirely restricted to men.  There are some aspects of it I think that both men and women can relate to.  It takes a lot of discipline in any case to be able to train your mind to agree that raising children is a very important thing to do.  It is a job, a worthy job, in its own right.

I think I make a pretty decent father though a pretty terrible mother (“What?  You fell?  Walk it off!”) and I definitely believe that I add something to the mix that my wife would not if she were the one who was home.  Nonetheless, if we take Mrs… er, Ms… maybe its Mr., Steinem’s comments in stride, we might get the idea that a woman’s ‘equality’ can only be obtained by making tens of millions of men suffer by staying home, forced to be ‘equal’ in it.

It does not matter what specific strengths and weaknesses men have.  Gloria would shove them all into a little box in the name of ‘equality.’  But I will never be anything better than mediocre mother.  It just isn’t me, and I strongly suspect this is true for other men, too.  Gloria’s solution is to obliterate all of the unique strengths and weaknesses that men have, seemingly oblivious to the unique strengths and weaknesses that women have.  For I believe that a woman’s desire to stay home is in fact a strength.  It reflects the fact that she has certain skills and mannerisms that are important.  I know that my wife can put up with a certain kind of crap that drives me nuts.  I know it works both ways.  I know these sorts of differences are fairly universal, too, because Everybody Loves Raymond and King of Queens and According to Jim wouldn’t be funny to so many people if they weren’t.

The solution, in my mind, goes beyond a simple “woman goes to work and dad stays at home” formula.  Ideally, both the woman and the man should have an outlet for meaningful work, yes, even a career if they wanted them, while also plenty of time for each to interact and raise the children.  The problem is not in the gender divisions in our society but the fact that the whole structure of American society is set up so that families couldn’t live differently if they wanted to.  This does not have an easy solution.  Still, it seems to me that identifying the actual problem is the first step in resolving it.

Feminism will not succeed in the long term if it means de-masculinating men or if it means masculinating women.  Here then is the apparent strength of the Palins.  Neither of the two have given up things that play to their own unique strengths.  Sarah is still womanly and Todd is still manly.   So it appears, anyway.  Not everyone is in a position where they could pull it off like they are able to, but it proves, at least, that it can be done.


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