A man wearing a baby carrier strapped to his chest walks past a Green Hills construction site, where yet another McMansion is being erected on a postage-stamp lot. When he stops to look, he notices the construction workers gathering together aggressively and giving him the evil eye. One of the guys approaches him.
“Can I help you with something?” “I’m just walking my baby,” the dad answers defensively.
The construction worker sees the infant and relaxes. “Oh,” he says. “We thought maybe you were carrying a machine gun in that thing.” Such is the life of a stay-at-home dad, a specimen so rare in Nashville that his Baby Bjorn just might be mistaken for an Uzi Coozie.
Stay-at-home dads are like the lepers of the child care caste system. We know they’re out there and we love to talk about how they’re really no different from the rest of us, but when we see them changing a poopie diaper on a park bench or singing, “Itsy Bitsy Spider” at Mommy & Me, we stay the hell away. And before you feel guilty about that, don’t worry: Apparently, they stay the hell away from each other, too. The baby wearer tells me he’s met hardly any other stay-at-home dads around town, and “the ones who exist don’t enjoy networking. For the most part, they just stay huddled in dark little corners, afraid to go out in public.”
That leaves their wives to do the networking for them.
“Aren’t you Lindsay Ferrier?” a woman asked me when I ran into her at the library not long ago. “I live in your neighborhood and heard you have a play group for 3-year-olds.” “I do,” I said. “Do you have a 3-year-old?” “Yes,” she said, “and my husband stays home with her. He’d love to join your play group. He gets so lonely being at home all day. Can I get your number?” “Uh, OK,” I said, scrawling something unintelligible on the scrap she handed me, and hoping she wouldn’t look too closely at it until after we’d parted ways. I’m sure the dude was nice, but we’d had a SAHD show up before at play group and it was about as much fun as Pedro Garcia’s going-away party. The moms, all of whom generally arrive with hilarious stories about their bumbling husbands, irritating in-laws or pending divorces, all sat around with bright, false smiles and exchanged nervous pleasantries for 45 minutes until the dad finally made up some excuse, grabbed his son and split. As soon as the front door slammed, we all burst out laughing. I tried to explain the situation recently to a dad friend of mine who now raises his 6-month-old daughter while his wife brings home the bacon.
“I don’t get it. Stay-at-home moms have support groups and clubs and online networks,” he complained. “But there’s nothing out there for the dads. What am I supposed to do?” “Well, you can’t come to my play group,” I said. He looked at me with big, sad eyes and my resolve weakened. “But I guess you could bring your daughter over for a play date,” I offered. Quickly, he accepted.
Preparing for a play date with a stay-at-home dad is a curious thing. I found myself actually drying my hair after I got out of the shower that morning and I even took the time to check my fingernails for dried poo. On the other hand, I spent far less time cleaning the house than I do when moms come over. If this SAHD was anything like my husband, I reasoned, he wouldn’t notice, anyway.
Once he arrived, we sat on the floor and let the kids play while we chatted. It wasn’t long before our conversation went from baby milestones to something much more personal.
“I gained 10 pounds after Leigh was born,” he confided. “I’ve definitely been rocking the pear shape.” I clucked sympathetically. I’m an apple myself, but I could imagine how much it would suck to be a man with big hips. “No big deal, though,” he continued. “A few good, hard rides took it right back off.” I gasped before remembering that pre-baby, he was a hard-core cyclist.
“How else has having a baby changed you?” I asked him, recovering quickly.
“Well, it’s not just about me anymore,” he answered. “It’s not even about me and my wife. Now, it’s all about my daughter.”
“That’s beautiful,” I said, my eyes shining. He looked at me expectantly. I could feel my resolve weakening.
But then I imagined a play group where I no longer felt comfortable ranking the Wiggles on a hotness scale of 1 to 10, or discussing the pros and cons of boob jobs. I felt for this guy, really, I did, but I knew what I had to do.
“Look, it could never work, OK?” I said. “I’m telling you, my play group is full.”
He sighed deeply. “I know,” he said. “I know.”Through a window, I watched him leave, a dad and his daughter adrift in a cold, cruel world. We moms like to bitch and moan about the many difficulties of staying home with the kids. But the SAHD truth is that the guys who do it have it far, far worse.
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