Working Fathers: An Oxymoron

Just the other day a man, one I hardly knew, in the course of conversation, which had absolutely nothing to do with this topic, posed the question to me: “Why do they call women ‘working mothers,’ but they don’t call men ‘working fathers?'”

At the time of his inquiry I was working in a professional capacity (I do that sometimes) so the timing wasn’t entirely right for me to tell this guy how I really felt. And, while he seemed to be asking earnestly, I couldn’t be certain he would appreciate my setting him straight.

Well, the time is right now. So since you asked, sir, I’ll tell you why there’s no such thing as “working fathers.”

Let me preface my answer by saying, the question came on the heels of an endless mothering marathon, one in which I wasn’t particularly thrilled to be participating in the first place. The 11-year stretch for which I have been the primary parent has been fraught with obstacles and challenges most of which I was left to deal with on my own. Although another parent existed – even within the same household – I was the one who devised solutions to every parenting problem and implemented them without much help from the other responsible party.

I have done this everyday without sick leave or holidays off for over a decade while my partner who I consider to be at least 50% responsible for the situation has continued his normal routine without much disruption.

I’m not saying my husband doesn’t work hard or handle other responsibilities, but his life didn’t change while mine did. And, I realized if I was to work outside the home it was going to be in addition to raising our kids. So when you ask me why men don’t get the acknowledgement or credit they deserve as put-upon “working Fathers,” this is what I have to say:

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Where’s My Summer Camp?

When I opened up the Sunday New York Times over the weekend and found an article on sleep-away camps for women, I said to myself, “Finally, someone took my idea seriously.”

It was about time. I had the idea years ago when I had my first encounter with summer camp, or more accurately, when I first had to research camps for my kids after my town’s camp failed to be a viable option any longer (they tended to lose kids much like the clothes dryer tends to lose socks – you know you put both in, but one always goes missing).

Admittedly, my camp intelligence was lacking, but that day my eyes were opened to the dazzlingly diverse world of summer camp. I was mystified by the extraordinary breadth and scope of recreational activities designed to create a spectacular summer experience for kids. There was, quite possibly, a camp for every single activity on earth.

It was then I had the epiphany. Why in God’s name are we sending kids to camp instead of adults?

If anyone needs a camp, it would be us. I mean how stressful can life be for a kid? They don’t work. They don’t cook. They don’t do laundry. Or go food shopping. Or even put their dishes in the sink. They don’t have a mortgage to pay. They don’t plan for their future. And, most importantly, they don’t have kids. What on earth do they need to get away from?

Among the varied and almost limitless options unearthed by my research were a knitting camp, a tech and gaming camp, a yoga camp, a few fashion camps, several theater camps, tons of art and sports camps, and a a gifted and talented camp. Then there was a camp to learn how to shape hot molten glass; a rock-and-roll camp to teach children the important life skill of rocking out on stage; a drumming circle camp, where one can learn “earth-based beats” and chant a “root mantra;” a Tae Kwon Do camp; and a zoo camp. I think that last one is just a way for the zoo to get free pooper scoopers, though. Well, actually, you have to pay to be a pooper scooper.

But that’s not all. I also found a circus camp to train youngsters in the fine art of juggling, plate spinning and slapstick aimed at those parents who hold aspirations for their children to become circus clowns. I even discovered a Magic for Muggles camp.

I considered submitting an application to the volleyball camp I came across, but it was only offered for 5th through 8th grade girls, and while I look young for my age, I thought the counselors might catch on. I was quite bereft over the situation since my volleyball class ended for the summer, and no volleyball courses are offered for women with the skill set of 5th to 8th grade girls. Which seemed a little unfair. If you ask me, it appeared to be blatant age-discrimination.

The one camp that really caught my attention, though, was the Surf and Turf Adventure Camp. This wasn’t so much a camp as a land-based cruise ship. The camp boasted a full-fueled, action-packed summer of rafting, hiking, tubing, biking, canoeing, spelunking, and surfing. I’m pretty sure you also got to take a zip-line tour through a tropical jungle somewhere in the continental United States. And, by you, I mean your kid.

That’s what I’m talking about. Do you think I’m going to shell out $500 a week for my kids to go have all the experiences I want to have?

And, I didn’t even get to all the sleep-away camps we’re missing out on. Or were until I read the article in The New York Times. I’m just thankful someone finally saw the travesty of it all had the good sense to take me up on my idea.

Now, if I could just get two weeks to myself in the summer.

 

Photo: Flickr/jhecking

Well, if You Really Want to Know

baby on grass

My thoughts on stuff. Here they are. (This profile originally appeared in The Parent du Jour’s online “book” project featuring parents from around the world on how we parent today.)

See? I’m an expert.

AGE It’s not polite to ask a woman her age, but fine – I’m 38.

HOMETOWN / WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW? I’m a native New Yorker, but I was raised in central, NJ. I now live in an undisclosed location.

NUMBER OF CHILDREN Two and that’s plenty.

DAY JOB Freelance writer/mother/household manager/laundress/short-order cook/cleaning lady/personal shopper/chauffer/nutritionist/social coordinator/tutor/event planner.

RELATIONSHIP STATUS Married

HOW DO YOU COMBINE WORK AND FAMILY? I don’t. It can’t be done.

Well, it might be possible but only with constant anxiety, struggle, stress, mental wear and tear and massive amounts of effort, energy and determination. After a decade of trying to solve this conundrum, I still haven’t come up with a really good answer – I mean one that doesn’t cause me a heart attack daily.

When I had my first child, The Kid (now 10), I reduced my hours at my job in New York City but with the commute it still amounted to full-time work, plus I suffered chronic panic attacks running for the bus home everyday. The situation wasn’t working and because I couldn’t find a way of combining work with parenting I chose to stay home full-time with my daughter. For me that was a bad decision (my therapist told me so).

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Allow Me to Introduce Myself

I started this blog because I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut, which tends to get me in a lot of trouble. To avoid all that I thought I could write everything down here in private.

Seems that I’m an odd person. I think I make a lot of sense, but I can’t find too many people who agree. My husband agrees, occasionally, but he might be the only one. I have a few friends, too, but I think they’re just humoring me. It’s hard to tell.

I’ve been at this mothering thing for a while, and without any help or guidance I’ve developed a personal style I like to call detached parenting. It may not be appreciated by the larger world, but it works for me. You should try it. It can work for anybody. Because any way you slice it, parenting is a tough gig. Even with detached parenting my kids manage to suck me in. So I thought I’d join the conversation promoting detachment and making the world a better place.

Plus, who couldn’t use a laugh?

Sincerely,

Me

Potato Head