Next week I'm going to be spending about an hour on the phone with a researcher from the University of Michigan School of Social Work who is studying Stay At Home Dads. This makes me very conflicted. Mostly because I consider myself one voice in a sea of SAHDs. An ocean of parents, really. There's something universal about being a parent, but I don't pretend for a second to speak for others. Nor do I want them speaking for me. My experience (our experience as a family) is unique and your mileage may vary. There's the rub though, right?
If I don't speak up (hello, I'm a blogger), someone else will speak up for me and perhaps alter the perceptions of others. At the same time, I don't want to be the one doing that to anybody else. But, in the end, science wins out. The beauty of research is that my data will be compiled and compared next to others...I'll either be an outlier or part of the affirming crowd. Either way, I'm writing to you now because I feel like I'm adding an important layer to the ongoing conversation about being an at-home dad, specifically, and a parent, generally, in the early 21st century.
Yesterday, I read a story on one of my favorite websites for gender role socio-politics that seemed...oddly sexist for them. The author was arguing that men have no innate right to have an opinion about women's bodies--particularly on the topic of abortion. Leaving my own views about abortion out of the conversation for a second, I poked the article with a stick...the idea is patently absurd. I'm a man and have a whole series of conversations about "women's" topics all the time...childbirth, breastfeeding, feminism, the role of women in politics, the role of women in religion. To say that one must have the appropriate genitals to be entitled to an opinion on a topic is ridiculous.
But I understand where the author is coming from. In light of a whole series of stupid Republican nonsense about "legitimate rape" and the War on Women and the author's point was that advocacy is about empowering a group of people to speak for themselves...women are capable of dealing with female issues themselves. Yes. Yes, they are. But that doesn't mean half the human population is now removed from the conversation. Not that controversial topics are always polite dialogue...but, ideally, they should be. My voice as a human being matters more than my voice for my gender. I'm not sure we're to the post-racial, post-gender society yet. But we certainly are long past the outdated notion that one's race or gender prohibits one from participation in something. Women can vote now. Men can have opinions on breastfeeding.
If nothing else, I hope the lesson my children get from me being a Stay At Home Dad (and speaking out, being an activist for issues that a generation ago no man would have been caught dead writing about) is that you have a right to participate in your own life in the way you see fit...but certainly nobody has a right to tell you to be something other than who you are because of your gender.
I'm a little uneasy with the questions that the researcher sent ahead of time for me to review. The later ones are maybe more to my liking than the early ones which focus on how I came to be a SAHD. The later questions are more about my feelings now and how I like it. I'm a little put off by the fact that the study seems to be leaning towards questioning how dads got...stuck...for lack of a better term. And I question the fact that the study is only involving fulltime SAHDs. If you do part-time work--as I did for quite some time switching duties with the mama on weekends--you don't count. Of course, there are plenty of SAHD who work part-time and still consider themselves the primary caregiver to their children. There are also plenty of us who chose ahead of time to be the primary caregiver to our children. Not all of us were backed into a corner, lost our job, feel stripped of our masculinity. Not that those don't happen. We're a big group...there's variety. Nobody likes to be pigeonholed. The best I can do, I figure, is tell my version of my life to the best of my ability and hope that in there somewhere I defy expectations.
Normally, that's not a problem for me!