We all want our day in equality court. But I have lived a sheltered life away from the judgment of societal norms, so I had no idea my first experience requiring it would come as stay-at-home dad when I was shunned at the playground … by moms.
It was a brisk morning for April in Texas. I arrived at the local playground and felt a sobering chill go down my spine. Per usual, I was putting on an impressive dad-ing display when two, seemingly innocuous, moms approached. My kids jumped out of their skin at the sight of other children to play with and darted to greet them. I helped my children introduce themselves to the others. The moms responded by snatching their offspring’s hands and darting away while yelling something about gathering the menfolk to kill the beast.
Surely, this was the lone actions of some man-hating, wart-infested females. After all, I live in Texas — a bastion of progressive thought — so this had to be an isolated incident.
The snub hurt a little, but that was no reason to give up. There had to be play groups in the area, I thought, I’ll simply find one to join.
After the first three had “NO MEN” (printed in bold!) signs hanging outside their tree forts, I opted to look elsewhere.
Societal perception dictates men cannot control their urges and, therefore, must be avoided to eliminate temptation. For every one of me, there are 10 men looking for an opportunity to fulfill short-term sexual desire.
Regardless of my good-natured, friendly attempts, I kept getting the impression that these moms had no time for a man amongst their ranks. I was simply looking for my kids to be able to play with other kids and for myself to maybe be able talk to another adult about something that does not involve broken kid logic. I mean, I’m hip. I’m cool. I love my wife and have no desire to get busy in a Burger King bathroom with anyone else; and she assures me that if I continue to call myself “hip” and make references to 80’s rap songs that she has the utmost faith in my fidelity.
I was at a loss. Had I doomed my children to isolation because of my gender? I decided to take my case to the highest court in the land. The presiding judge is fair and known for a grace that is rivaled only by her beauty.
My wife listened attentively while making dinner, as I laid out my cruel, discriminatory suit. She threw in “hmmms” and “uh-huhs” at just the right moments to let me know my plea was going well. She even stopped dinner prep during a particularly egregious offender’s story and gave me an “oooh.” Obviously, I was not the problem here. The maniacal coalition of stay-at-home moms were being unmasked to a fellow female. Each incident of my mistreatment snapped in it’s place of the grand puzzle of her decision. Finally! Justice! She banged the meat tenderizer three times (I thought a bit over the top) and stated her decision.
“The problem here,” she said, “is you.”
Has the pendulum swung so far on women’s equality that they cannot remember what it’s like to feel this isolation, to be shunned or discounted?
That was not what I was expecting. Instead of sanctifying my oppression, my wife told me what she would be thinking in the same situations.
“Women believe most men want to bust a move and push it, push it real good,” she said. “You may not be looking to do the wild thing and they know it takes two to make a thing go right, but that does not stop their friends (or worse their husbands) from thinking that they want to pump up the jam. They can fight the power, but it’s easier to say you can’t touch this than to tell everyone, ‘Don’t believe the hype.’ Take it for what it’s worth, that’s just my prerogative.”
Have I mentioned I love my wife?
She went on to say that my best bet was to continue to go to public, group settings and do not try to initiate conversation. Be consistent and, when the moms feel comfortable, they will talk to me.
It was hard to hear, but true. I needed to understand that these moms do not know me and societal norms do not change overnight. Being a stay-at-home parent means a great deal of isolation. We do not have co-workers around the office or a helping hand when things go wrong. Our deadlines come up instantaneously and our progress goes unrewarded. Being a stay-at-home dad amplifies the isolation because the societal perception dictates men cannot control their urges and, therefore, must be avoided to eliminate temptation.
I get it, though. For every one of me, there are 10 men tuning out from their families and/or looking for an opportunity to fulfill short-term sexual desire. I cannot change other people. I can only try to understand where other people are coming from.
I cannot help wondering: Has the pendulum swung so far on women’s equality that they cannot remember what it’s like to experience this isolation, to be shunned or discounted? I mean: same team, moms — same team. I want my kids to be able to play with other kids. I want to talk to other stay-at-home parents about the news, parenting techniques and recipes, too. I draw the line at talking about The Bachelor, though. I’d rather be alone.
The point is, we are all hesitant about things that are not commonplace to us. The question I ask myself is, “Am I the kind of person who is willing to listen to ideas I do not understand and maybe learn something, or am I content to wade around with blinders keeping my world nice and easy?”
I think the same question could be posed of all equality. A mixture of dads and moms is the future of the stay-at-home community. My day in equality court is a long way down on the docket, but it’s on there.
A version of this isolation tale and the photo first appeared on Just a Dad 247.