I was sitting on the sofa next to my 9-year-old son. We were about to watch a movie, when he showed me a couple holes in the stuffed Build-A-Bear Pikachu he got for Christmas. This was, basically, his favorite Christmas gift. He’d been hauling the thing around for the past couple weeks. But when I offered to sew up the holes for him, he looked at me like I assume prisoners look at their captors before they check for contraband. His eyes got real big. Then he bear-hugged his stuffed animal, and hunched over it, as though I were going to rip it out of his arms.
“Dad’s don’t sew,” he said. He shook his as if I should know this and I was breaking some universal law.
I rolled my eyes. My wife was in the living room working on a laptop. “Dad can sew,” she said. “I’ve seen it. He’s pretty good.”
And Tristan walked over to his mother and tried to force his ripped Pikachu into her arms, as if she was supposed to drop what she was doing and fix the stupid thing right there and then.
All of our kids do this with everything from fixing toys to getting milk. They act like Mom is the only one who can care for their needs, when in fact I’m perfectly capable of helping. I hear a lot of mothers discuss how frustrating it is to be working on dinner or a budget, or finally sitting down, and have their children insist they drop what they are doing and snag them a string cheese, all the while their father is next to the fridge. I see it all the time in my house, and I don’t like it either.
I enjoy caring for my children, and I know a lot of other fathers do too. And honestly, I don’t get why I often have to force my help upon my children like some sort of intervention. If Mel isn’t in the house, it’s easy. But if both of us are home, they act like everything I do for them is tainted. I’ve had my children refuse milk because I got it instead of Mom, and I’ve had them cry and fight me with every inch of their bodies because I put their shoes on rather than their mother. It’s maddening.
Mel works part-time, which makes her the primary caregiver. But when I am home, even though I might grumble about some things, or ask the children to do things that I know they can do on their own, like start their own bath water, I like feeling like I’m doing more for my family than just bringing in a paycheck. But often times, like the time I tried to sew Tristan’s stuffed animal, it takes a lot of convincing, and a little bit of arguing for my children to grudgingly allow me to help them.
I snagged a needle and thread, and told Tristan to hand over his Pikachu. He fought me again for it, and I argued with him for about five minutes or so, insisting that I can sew. I told him I learned in home economics, a class I don’t think they teach anymore. Then I harnessed my skills with patches from punk bands, but he didn’t need to know about that.
Eventually, he handed it over. I offered to show him how to sew, but he seemed pretty traumatized by the idea of me doing it, so I simply got started. And as I sewed, he watched me carefully, as though I were performing some complicated surgery. I felt really good about that. I wanted him to see that a father can sew, something that he obviously viewed as his mother’s job.
And honestly, I’m not sure where he picked this notion up. As important as I feel it is for my son to leave the house knowing how to swing a hammer and run a drill, I think it’s equally important that all my children leave home understanding just how capable they are, regardless of their gender, and that there is no shame in being a stay-at-home dad or a mother working construction. Men are perfectly capable of soothing a child in the night, managing a home, wiping butts, and many other duties that have been deemed a mother’s job.
In the past year I have shown our son how to properly clean a toilet, cook a basic meal, sort and fold laundry, work in the garden, clean a bathtub, care for his baby sister, and several other domestic jobs. And each time he looks up at me with suspicion, I feel confident that he will, eventually, understand that his obligations as a father go beyond simply going to work each day.
I finished sewing up the small holes, and while I did pucker one of them a little bit, they were along a tight crevice in Pikachu’s neck and it looked as though they were never there. I tugged on them in front of Tristan so he’d see the quality of my work. Then I handed him back his stuffed Pokémon, and said, “See. Good as new.”
He gave me one of those forced crooked smiles that kids often get that is a mix of joy and embarrassment.
Then I said, “Next time, you are doing it.”
I punched him in the arm, and he rolled his eyes. You know, the usual.