older and wiser, telling you what to do

4/24/05

In the Now That I’ve Experienced It, I Can’t Believe It department:

How the assmunching hell did Dads get away with not helping rear newborns for so goddamn long? In the early days – meaning The Beginning of Man through about 1930 – anytime a baby was born, a support system would kick in. Grandmothers, spinster aunts, sisters, and if you could afford it, nurses (wet or otherwise) would assume their positions and help the mother through the first treacherous months of baby raisin’.

Now, in the 21st century, you’d be hard-pressed to find many hipster dads here in Coastopia who aren’t as obsessed – or more – with their newborns as their female counterpart. I don’t know a single dad, or dad-to-be, that hasn’t dealt with the pregnancy and baby with the utmost dedication and seriousness, even those with “real jobs.”

That leaves the years 1930 through about 1985, when the diaspora of families left new moms thousands of miles away from sisters, aunts and their own mothers – and their husband stuck in the bullshit patriarchy refusing to change diapers and cancel golf. Frankly, I don’t know how these mothers did it. Tessa and I both approach Lucy as a full-time job with about nine hours of overtime each night, and although we’re delighted by her newfound smile, we’re also super goddamn tired all the time.

I have often thought that living through the 1950s – as an intelligent, sensitive woman – makes the current political atmosphere seem like a dirty-toenailed commune. When “Happy Days” became such a hit in the mid-70s, my Mom fumed, “I hated the 1950s the first time around.” No wonder those were the precise years when they took us all off the breast and stuck us on formula – it was the only peace of mind these women could get.

It’s always been stunning to me how long men were allowed to get away with crap like that. Even now, the concept of “paternal leave” is a joke at most companies. Is anybody ever insulted by that? The ONLY THING men have going for them over women is upper body strength, that’s IT. And that tacit threat has made them dominate the species for longer than any story has ever been told.

Not to toot horns or anything, but I am proud to be among the generation of fathers who gave up their stranglehold on humanity and actually got into the trenches with all the poop-filled diapers and the 5am-7am rocking. When I swab Lucy’s umbilical cord with a little alcohol pad, I look back in history and know I’m one of the first guys on the moon.

So this blog goes out to mothers like my Grandma Klea Worsley, stuck in some flea-ridden shack in Los Angeles in 1941, raising four kids by herself while her husband went off on 4-month “business adventures” returning empty-handed. None of us new dads are in the same league with her. God bless you, Grandma!

0 thoughts on “older and wiser, telling you what to do

  1. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    When my daughter was born, my mom came down from NJ to MD to help us take care of Helen for two weeks. It was wonderful! When she left us, I remember standing in my driveway, crying my eyes out.
    I beg to differ with you about the involved dad thing. Of course, you and Tessa are extremely progressive, and I imagine that your close circle of friends are too. My husband and I have always split the child-rearing duties 50/50. I suspect that it is because we both work full-time jobs and we have since Helen was 10 weeks old. We have to split all the duties because there is no mommy/wife at home all day to take care of everything. Nonetheless, I noticed among my friends (who I considered to be progressive hipsters, at least pre-baby) that in the instances where the former career-oriented mother has decided to stay home with the baby, and the father continues to work outside of the home, the family dynamic has regressed to a 1950’s model wherein the mom takes care of all the child-related tasks and the dad is detached. It is really quite frightening! I never thought that men of our generation would opt to be distant fathers, but I see it play out time and time again among my friends.
    So, keep up the involvement, Hipster Daddy! Lucy will only be the better for it.

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  2. Sean

    Keep in mind, our mom and our grandma may have had men that didn’t help with the babies, but they were also part of a larger family of women- sisters, aunts, greataunts, cousins- that were hovering every single damn second of their lives. If you were raising Lucy in Provo, you’d be psyched to get a moment alone with her.
    Jordana and I both wish we could see her and you guys more. I wish we had bought this house either two months ago or two months from now.

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  3. Joanna

    After caring for a child, I’m just so amazed by single parents. Or, for that matter, any parent with less to work with (emotionally, physically, financially, etc.) who can pull this off. In one of my worst cases of foot-in-the-mouth, I whined to my single mom neighbor that I couldn’t wait for my husband to get home from work. She responded, “Yeah, I feel that way on hard days and then I realize no one’s coming.”
    Maybe my husband’s an anomaly, but he really gives up all free time to be with our son before and after work. I think what happens when a mom stays home is the baby becomes way more attached to her than the father. Then, it’s easier for the mom to care for the baby because the baby responds better to her. My husband realized this, in addition to knowing I needed a break, and knew he’d need to work harder in the few hours he had to bond with our son.
    In related news . . . Did you know Sweden gives both parents something like 3 years of leave?
    In totally unrelated news, Ian, I just saw that your old “periwinkle %$#X* palace” Macaulay St. house is on the market.

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  4. Audra

    Wow, your blog continually amazes me. I agree with you that I don’t know how women did it. I also think that women must not have had much of a backbone because if my husband even thought of acting like that I would have to hurt him. Thank goodness he doesn’t. I am always shocked to hear when fathers aren’t in the room for the delivery. My husband fought me on this because the guys at work told him how horrid it was, after witnessing it, he says that he wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

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  5. salem's little sister

    Laurie, I am living your comments about your stay-at home friends. My husband isn’t detached from the baby, but from the reality of household chores and apparently how to do them.
    A few weeks after Ben was born, I was holding him on one shoulder and vaccuming the den while my husband sat in front of the tv. Ben started to fuss and my husband said “Let me help you out.” He took. . . Ben. I continued to vaccum. Ben kept fussing and after a few minutes James stood up, came back to me and the vaccum, handed my screaming baby back to me, said “Oh well, I tried to help” and sat his butt back down in front of the tv! Did it occur to him to take over the vaccuming and let me comfort Ben? Of course it did, but if he took over the vaccum, he might miss a moment of the one thousandth showing of *Groundhog Day* on TBS.
    I finally asked James if he could do his own laundry, take his clothes to the dry-cleaners and please, please, please manage to put his dishes in the dish-washer. I wanted to ask him to let the dogs out once in a while, but I know he wouldn’t clean their muddy feet and that would leave me with more crap to vaccum.

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  6. oliver

    It was cultural inertia from a time when it made more sense, I suppose. The upper body strength helps for hurling spears at mammoths and at the people who are hurling spears at you and your family, I suppose. So the man stands outside the hut with the spear while the woman nurses. There are all kinds of social arrangements apanning from polyandry to polygammy and from matriarchy to patriarch as you look at the traditional cultures of indigineous Amazonians and Papuans etc, but what the West inherited from Europe for whatever reason was Ozzie and Harriet. My guess is that European women are easy.

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  7. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    One other comment: continue to work as a team. Otherwise, you might fall into what I call the “Sleep-Deprived Parents Scorecard Syndrome.” It goes like this: Mom feels she does more baby-related chores than Dad. Dad feels as though all his efforts are unappreciated because he “doesn’t do them right.” Dad feels pushed out of the babycare department. Mom feels resentful that Dad is not helping more. Dad is mad because all the housekeeping falls on him, and he doesn’t do that right either. Mom is mad because she is nursing all day and all night with the baby constanted attached like an appendage while Dad is sleeping peacefully. Everyone is tired and cranky and short-fused. Insults and arguments fly! Feelings are hurt! Baby is crying! Dog is barking! Phone is ringing!
    You get the picture. I am sure that nothing like that ever happens in your house, but I am just sayin’ — keep working as a team.

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  8. CL

    But didn’t a lot of the dads work at crummy jobs most of the day? Weren’t some of them in factories for 12 hours trying to raise enough $$ to support all the younguns that kept on coming?
    I mean, my dad wasn’t golfing or on 4-month business trips, and I don’t think most dads were. But I agree that for dads who had easy jobs, or actually had time to golf and hang out in bars with the boys, they got off easy.

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  9. mom

    Lucy’s gramma here, long-winded as usual.
    OK, CL… you say “But didn’t a lot of the dads work at crummy jobs most of the day?” Sure, a lot of them did. And still do. But if you want to talk “crummy” jobs, try taking care of infants and small children all day (and night) cleaning the toilets, dusting and preparing the meals, cleaning up afterward, and so on and aon, mostly sheer physical toil which is often taken for granted (still… see comment from Salem’s little sister above). That so-called “woman’s work” is a long, long day, and sometimes, when there is a sick child, it can extend far into the night. There’s no knocking off at five, eating the dinner someone has prepared, and sitting down to watch football or another “Law and Order” rerun.
    And when a mom is a single parent (and it’s almost always the mom) they do the breadwinning (crummy job or not) AND all the child rearing.
    The upside of the baby stuff is that you get to bond with your kids, teach them, play with them, talk to them, and… take it from me after five kids… they just might turn into your best friends. Mine have, and I loved every minute of the parenting, though I had to do most of it it pretty much alone. Especially the unpleasant parts.
    That other part, the janitorial part is as hard, and often takes MORE of the day, than papa’s eight-o-so hour “crummy job” and is just as tiring and non-rewarding. That “but dad WORKS all day” is a neanderthal argument that makes me want to throw things. (Which, by the way, I did a time or two when the frustration got to me).
    BUT… I can’t tell you how proud I am of my sons. They ALL cook, clean, mend, and (the ones who have kids) change poopy diapers and rock unhappy infants at 3 am. . Ian has a good role model in his brother Kent, who has always been a full partner with Melissa–with the kids and the house and the the breadwinning. And the two boys they have raised are such splendid kids that we are all totally in love with them… even as teenagers.
    Lucy is going to be a very lucky girl to have two amazing, involved, partnered parents. Not to neglect saying how much I adore and respect my daughters (in-law or otherwise) But today I have to say that my sons rock!

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  10. Piglet

    Society is still working things out. I grant you, especially with the Republicans trying to erase the 20th century, it’s fun to rant about the patriarchy and how women used to have to hold up the world while the lucky useless men had endless fun in the coal mines or kissing the boss’s ass in the office. But then, hipster dads who help with the children and are broke all the time don’t make for such a great family either.
    My lady gave up her job somewhere in the first trimester, leaving me to be the sole breadwinner, and now I’m walking a tightwire that pretty much cuts into my feet as I try to balance my share of the child rearing, wanting to be there with my little one, and needing to pay the bills. The more time I take off work, the less money we have. Plus, I’m making careless mistakes at work from lack of sleep. If I wasn’t self-employed, I’d probably have been fired by now. Knowing that Harry Chapin would scold me anyhow for just thinking about the bills to pay doesn’t help much.
    Pretty much the only thing that keeps me going is little Suzie’s smile. Babies are the best therapist, even better than having a puppy licking your face.

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  11. Cris

    Most of my classmates at UNC were straight couples, married or not, who gave birth during the 5-6 years that we were in grad school. I had considered all of the guys in these relationships to be very progressive in most respects — at least, based on their attitudes towards women, gay couples, politics in general, etc. But when they became dads, I was surprised at how Ward Cleaver-esque some of these guys became. I still see several of these couples, and it amazes me how little the dads will contribute yet claim they are participating in the child-rearing. For some of my friends… if the mom has to go out some place, they will hire a babysitter EVEN IF THE DAD IS HOME!!!! I just can’t understand it at all. These guys are home anyway, but if their wives have to go out… they have to get some teenager to come over and watch their own kid. Very disappointing.

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  12. oliver

    I would suggest a crummy job is working in the coal mines of yore or in the slaughterhouses of present, where you suffer physical discomfort and serious risk of death or permanent maiming on top of stress, boredom, loneliness and servitude. But maybe that’s just my bad attitude talking.

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  13. CL

    >>>>And when a mom is a single parent (and it’s almost always the mom) they do the breadwinning (crummy job or not) AND all the child rearing.
    No argument here.
    I only took issue with the idea that the dads were golfing or taking business trips. That sounds like a different world from much of the 20th c. second- or third-generation immigrant experience. Some were breakin’ their backs.

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  14. Joanna

    Salem’s litle sister, I realized I might have made things sound a bit too rosy after reading your comment. I’m not sure how old your baby is, but I recall we had trouble defining our roles in the early months. It actually took a fair amount of yelling for him to know “I needed a break.” In addition to losing it with your husband, I recommend getting help with housework, if at all possible. I know this is not a realistic solution for everyone, but if you can swing it, it’s sure to cut back on some resentment.

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  15. Andrew

    You say that now. But what will you say when she brings a non-Mac home to meet the parents at Thanksgiving break?

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  16. salem's little sister

    I think the hardest part of working it out is not feeling guilty about having resentments. My husband puts in horribly long hours as an analyst at a major bank. He gets home around 2 or 3 am several nights a week. I work 2 afternoons a week and all day on Saturdays at a job that I love. My husband has the baby (6 months old) on Saturdays and it’s really their only time together. They have a blast and I’m very happy they get one-on-one time. What gets frustrating is that nothing gets done around the house on Saturdays and I come home from work to a destroyed house that I get to clean. It either doesn’t occur to my husband to help around the house while Ben naps or even worse, he just doesn’t want to help out. I get my feelings all bent out of shape, but then I think about all of the hours he puts in at his job and I feel guilty about being mad. Aarg!! Then I think about all of the hours I work as a mom, not to mention my job as a horse-back riding instructor and I get bent out of shape all over again. It’s a vicious cycle that I’m trying so hard to overcome. Thank God I don’t cook.
    Joanna- I do have house cleaners come once every three weeks, so that’s a nice break. Unfortunately, our 2 dogs daily shed enough hair to create a third dog.

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  17. lyle

    for salem’s little sister:
    my parents taught us kids that what we take out to play with, we put back. when we finish our food, we clear our place at the table. when we fix our own snack, we put the carton/box/fruit peels/etc. where they belong. it became second nature for us because we saw our parents doing it as well, not nagging us to do so. right now your little ben enjoys time with his dad but is too young to notice your husband’s tidiness or lack thereof.
    your salvation lies in ben’s emerging toddlerhood, when he’ll start to imitate you and ask questions and make observations. your husband will HAVE to start taking care of things himself when you’re not around, as a role model for ben — otherwise your husband must take responsibility for letting your son potentially become a messy pigpen who can’t find a willing roommate at school or thereafter, and is an object of derision by his friends and/or potential love interests!
    i understand your hubby works hard. so do you. but being under “outside world” job stress does not excuse being sloppy or unhelpful, then expecting your mate to clean up after you.
    good luck!

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  18. Salem

    From my first protective impulse to the day my sister was married, I worried that some asshole hole guy would not understand, appreciate, and treat my sister like the extraordinary woman that she is. As a newlywed myself at their wedding, I was convinced of James’ character and devotion. Now that I have been married for five years with three kids I am relieved to see that James is an asshole guy just like me. At this point I really don’t need some investment banker brother-in-law fucking up the curve. Katie, I love you. James, good work, but loosen up with the cash dude. Once a month maid service? I’m not an analyst, but what exactly is the ROI on ironing?

    Reply

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