Yesterday, my wife, son, and I were at a Memorial Day weekend barbecue. Most of the people were married couples with young children or expecting children. There were three boys, including our son, and one girl. My nephew is twenty months, the oldest, followed by a thirteen month old boy, a nine month old girl, and our son, four months.
The host couple has a townhouse with a fenced-in patio in the back. Out there they have a grill, a couple of side tables for serving, and a large dining table with chairs. They also have a large playmat, about 6x6, for their daughter and the other children. As soon as we got there, I took our son onto the playmat. Over time, the other children arrived and came to the mat with their mothers. Although I didn't say anything, I realized that I was the only father on the playmat.
Among the three mothers with children, only one was an at-home mother. One of the working mothers has a nanny for her son, while my sister takes my nephew to day care. Still, watching them during the party, they were the primary parents.
That is not to say that the fathers did not play with their children. In fact, everyone took turns with all of the children. Other fathers took turns on the playmat. It was, indeed, an ideal situation.
There is no doubt who the lead parent is, though. The lead parent is the one who knows best what their child's daily routine, habits, and abilities are. This is the person who knows what the child likes to eat, how much, what happens after eating. This parent knows what to expect when a diaper needs to be changed; knows what to expect when their child becomes fussy or downright angry; knows when to let their child take chances and when they need to be taken from danger.
That is not to say that the other parent is always wrong or is generally useless. The second parent's abilities correspond to how well the parents communicate about the goings-on of the child. He or she has been told that their child gets cranky around 2:00 and naps for about forty-five minutes, then wants to play with their blue stuffed animal for fifteen minutes on Aunt Judy's blanket. Or that when he has a diaper change, they have to make it play time, otherwise the child will become cranky. Or that he will get cranky and demand a bottle, but that you want to keep a schedule and so you must do another activity to distract them for another twenty minutes.
At restaurants, our son resides closest to me and I hold him when he needs attention while we are eating. I change him when we are out in public together. When we get in and out of the car, I get the stroller together and take him in and out of the car. I feed him his bottles.
And it hits me - this is my job. Where my wife goes to work, this is my work. I am good at it. Skills have been honed, routines have been made, patterns have been set. My son is accustomed to the way I do things. As human beings, we want to create labels, to categorize. I do the things that we know at-home-moms, or homemakers or housewives, have done in years past. There is no shame. We are fortunate that we are in a position to be able to have one of us at home to care for our son. If it involves doing laundry, making dinner, and changing diapers, then I think I'm man enough to take care of it. Please, though, don't call me Mr. Mom. I'm proud to be Dad. I'm easy to find - just look for the guy on the playmat hanging out with the moms.