Monday, November 5, 2012

Looking Back to Move Forward

I think a lot about the pressures my dad must have felt when we were little kids.  Think about the pressures that men from his generation faced.  He had one job and that was to provide for his family.  But, even more devastating is not what he was required to do but what he was forbidden from doing.   Ridiculous emotional restrictions are placed on men due to gender stereotypes.

Despite the fact that I do not remember it, I know that my dad wrestled on the floor with me when I was a toddler.  And, while my family never won the touchy-feely family-of-the-year award, I know this meant he loved me. But I don’t remember it. And since that wrestling stopped decades ago, today we don’t have a wrestle-on-the-floor relationship.

I don’t want to call him as much because I don’t remember wrestling with him as a toddler.  I don’t remember anything from being a toddler, and, yet, I want to hold this against him.  Grant is the spitting image of me. So how could anyone not want to wrestle with this kid? And how could he stop wrestling with me, If the question doesn't stretch the question too much? And what if he had the freedom to cry and love and be emotional instead of forcing all that affection into wrestling?  I make a concentrated effort to be physically affectionate with the boys, but still do not to share my emotions concerning other areas of my life.

If I had to guess, I would say Grant has seen his mother cry no fewer than 10 times.  He has seen his father cry maybe once but probably never.  If ever he was awake at 10 pm on a Tuesday, than he would see his mother cry at every episode of Parenthood.  If he paid very close attention — more attention than a three-year-old can muster — than he would see his father choke up and get “emotional.”

Tracey will tell you, hell she told me, that she is not a crier.  I really want to believe her.  Alas, I know different. That is probably because I only knew non-mom Tracey for about eight months after we were married.  After all, when I proposed to Tracey, I said “Hey, let’s make babies.”  She pointed out that we should get married first. Details. Details

I absolutely believe I was put on this planet to be a stay-at-home dad.  Yet, I struggle to find the emotional capacity to do so.  When I tell people what I do I receive two very specific responses, both driven by gender.  Men tell me I am living the dream, how nice it must be to have a women take care of me, and how jealous they are.  Women tell me I am living the dream, how nice it must be to get rid of the guilt of working, and how jealous they are of me. 

My wife doesn't take care of me, and I never felt any guilt from working. My job as the father is to show them how to be men and that includes letting them know its okay to have and share emotions.  If I were so lucky to have a little girl, it would be to show her how to be a woman.  Does that include teaching her to control her emotions?  That doesn't change because I don’t have a full time job.

I appreciate that I am able to cry at Parenthood. It’s a freedom my dad didn't have. Hopefully, my boys will be able to move even further away from restrictive and unrealistic expectations of manhood. I had no idea how much love I had to give until I had the boys. Before the boys, Tracey would joke that I had only three emotions, hungry, sleepy, and horny.  Having the boys has helped me to love and appreciate Tracey even more. And I have to wonder if gender expectations seem suffocating to me, as a male, how much more damaging must they be for women, who experience an even heavier policing from society?  What do people say to her, when she says she has a house husband?  (Her term not mine)

The truth is I feel sorry for my dad.  I don’t think it’s fair I felt constrained from hugging him as I got older.  I think if you look at his grand-kids it is clear he did a fantastic job.  The problems we have with our parents are nothing more than our own personal insecurities.  Even if your dad wasn't even physically there, I can assure you that he loved you as a toddler, and he loves you as an adult. 

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