I knew when I left my low-paying university job for a no-paying volunteer position as an at-home dad that there would be hurdles. For one, I need permission from my wife to buy a pizza, as she will see it on the credit card statement the night of the purchase. Also, I can no longer feign a cough to go golfing on a sunny Thursday, as there are no sick days. (Note: my 15-month-old “boss” loves taking midday trips to the zoo, so there’s that.) Also, I have joined a workforce that is more than 96 percent female, which sounds awesome in one sort of female-power way, but is also like being the only guy at an Ani DiFranco concert.
There is an unfortunate gender bias in my field that I don’t necessarily disagree with. Plenty of mom groups in the area do not allow dads, and I understand that. Guys can be creepy and it’s better not to have to worry about them if you don’t have to. But by now, I thought I’d have met a nice mom, gotten in her good graces and infiltrated her private little group like an intuitive Jane Goodall. Of course, according to this random metaphor, I am the scientist and the at-home moms are the gorillas. (What would my little boss make of my analogy?) I grant you it’s possible I lack the charm and sensitivity necessary to pull off this ambitious assimilation.
At the heart of the issue is the fact that I would have to basically ask out a married woman. And though I’m married and have Mabel now, I still have a crippling fear of both rejection and women. And how would I even go about doing that? What does that next step even look like?
“Yeah, she’s really getting the hang of this walking thing! She loves the jogging stroller, too! … 15 months, and your son? Well, he’s not doing so bad either. Say, since we both have kids about the same age, how about I come over to your place and we get some Legos and wine and see what happens?”
Back in high school, I was complaining to a friend of mine that I couldn’t get a girlfriend. To this, he said “Do you know why you can’t get a girlfriend?” I said no. “Because you don’t ask.” He had a point. As did my wife when she said the same thing about play group last Tuesday. Could it be that there is an at-home mom out there just waiting for me to ask her and her child on a date? I know now that was not the case with Katie McAllister my junior year, but maybe this time will be different. Of course, since I’m getting outnumbered at 27 to one, it would be nice if one of the moms could show a little empathy and be the aggressor. (And now, just like junior year, I’ve justified myself out of having to ask. You still got it, Dustin.)
When I take 15-month-old Mabel to the playground, the interactions are usually very friendly. At-home moms will often praise me for the work that I’m doing with my daughter. They’ll say how great it is to have so many dads staying home to raise their children nowadays. Which begs the question: If being an at-home dad is so great, how come we can’t be a part of your little club? And the answer: Because it’s easier. Why mess with the dynamics? What can really be gained? What happens if somebody needs to breast-feed her baby? There has been a time or two when I’ve been watching Mabel run around the playground or the library and accidentally caught the eye of a woman in mid-feeding session. Though a complete accident—and I can almost guarantee that I felt more exposed than she—I tensed briefly as if a surprise
electric shock had just been administered, and immediately faked a coughing fit, turning my gaze toward my shoes, or the sky, or rubbing the skin off my eyes for about 10 minutes. But it did reinforce one of the major reasons we dads aren’t fully accepted into this culture yet.
So I did find and join the rare local dad group recently. However, they tend to meet either too far away or at inconvenient times for a toddler—and a dad—who still require a midday nap.
Since my boss is female, I’ve been asking her for advice. Right, she can’t talk just yet. But she gives me great cues (think Maggie Simpson). When I’m overthinking something, she usually finds a playful way to district me (nose pinch). Until she can verbalize a real plan of action, we’re going to keep showing up to the toddler book club at the library, among other such events, continuing to familiarize ourselves with the at-home mom culture. If all else fails, I’ll play the pity-my-poor-friendless daughter card, hopefully subtly enough not to sound high-school desperate. And once Mabel starts talking, maybe she can ask for our dates herself.