I can’t be the only one whose home is sprinkled with confetti made of toys, baby dolls, clothes, socks, school papers and discarded snack wrappers by the end of every week. Monday morning, I start off with a clean-ish house and a hopeful heart, and then the chaos of the week just rips through like a tornado, leaving behind a trail of mostly-kid-related destruction. We stay on top of the dishes and the trash and accept the rest as par for the course.
Every weekend, my husband straps our daughter to his back in one of our many baby-wearing apparatuses, assigns each of our big kids an age-appropriate task list, and every single member of this family pitches in to make our house livable again. Usually, I am right there with them. Sometimes I use this time to finish up the writing I didn’t get to do during the week. That means that my kids see me doing all the “housewife” stuff, generally attempting to make sure our house isn’t disgusting all week long, but that big weekend clean-up? Dad is the boss of that.
This weekend, my oldest son brought me his child-size baby doll carrier. He asked if he could wear his baby doll while he cleaned his room, “like Daddy wears Amelia.”
For the next several hours, my husband wore our daughter, and my son wore “Henry Jr.” around our home while they cleaned, played and ate lunch.
Depending who you ask, this might not be the way you expect a seven-year-old boy to play. Companies market most baby dolls to girls. I’m grateful that in my circles, gender roles in the area of clothing and play seem to be dying. A lot of people have made a lot of progress, and that’s important.
But some people still haven’t gotten there. By the time a lot of boys are my son’s age, people have told them to “man up,” or “stop being such a girl” any time they’ve shown emotion or interest in things that have been deemed “girly.” In some spaces, my son’s interest in playing nurturing, gentle games with his baby dolls would still be seen as feminine.
Gratefully, my son would not be offended by that idea. He has never been presented with the idea that femininity is inferior to masculinity. He doesn’t associate feminine with weak.
Henry is gentle by nature. He will sit in the playpen for an hour entertaining his baby sister. When his four-year-old brother faces a disappointment, Henry comforts him with a soft tone and a warm hug. He plays animal doctor and pet adoption day.
And he straps his baby doll to his chest and pretends to be a baby-wearing dad cleaning his house while his wife works.
He also plays rough and gets really dirty. Henry laughs at fart noises, plays in mud, and could talk all day about dinosaurs. He doesn’t think of those things as activities for boys any more than he thinks of playing with dolls as an activity for girls. He just knows what he likes.
If you ask him what he wants to be when he grows up, he will tell you he either wants to be a paleontologist or a deep-sea diving scientist. And a daddy.
Always a daddy. He talks about his future family as often as I talked about mine at his age. The thing I find so beautiful about it, though, is that he often expresses an interest in being a stay-at-home dad.
If that desire stays in his heart, I hope he gets a chance to see it through. Being a stay-at-home parent was always the dream in my heart, and I’m living that dream right now. I want that for him.
At some point, it might make emotional or financial sense for one or both of my sons to be the stay-at-home parent in their future families while their partner works. Instead of seeing that as a weak choice or a “failure to provide” for their family, I want our kids to see it as a totally valid and commendable way to spend their time. Fatherhood — even if it’s your only job — does not take away from one’s identity as a man. Stay-at-home fatherhood (for those that want to pursue it) is an important and worthy job, just like motherhood.
I hope we’ve set a solid foundation for that understanding.
Everyone thinks it’s cute when a little girl joins her dad in the garage and learns how to change her own brake pads or check her own oil. Remember little baby Hayden Panetierre screaming at the football players in Remember the Titans? She was widely regarded as adorable.
Well, I happen to think it’s just as sweet when boys embrace the jobs that have traditionally been left mostly to women — especially if they’re embracing them as a result of having a really great Dad to show them the way.
My husband isn’t the perfect man by any stretch. He drives me bananas, and I drive him just as bonkers. We make a good team, but we have our flaws. I’m not trying to paint some kind of impossibly perfect picture. Our life can be a total shitshow like everyone else’s.
But he is a fantastic dad. He has worn our babies more than I ever have. Scott does everything but breastfeed. He doesn’t want to miss a single thing. He loves being a dad and a husband, and he does it with his whole heart.
It’s probably a little bit uncommon for a little boy to wear his baby doll in a carrier on his chest when he cleans his room. Maybe it’s not super typical for a kid to have aspirations to fatherhood above all else. But it’s totally common for a son to want to be like his Daddy when his Daddy is kind and good and fun.
For my boys, minding your home and taking tender care of babies is part of a man’s work. Since birth, a man has taken tender care of them. I hope that as they grow, they’ll continue to have an open mind about who they can grow up to become. I pray they’ll never be ashamed of the gentler sides of themselves.
The world never runs into a shortage of overly rugged, unemotional masculinity. Humankind can always use another kind, gentle soul. If that’s the kind my boy got, I’m happy to help him foster that love and kindness to become the kind of man that feels right to him.