Friday, 9 May 2014

Said No Father Ever by Naomi Elana Zener

A wild, unruly, but welcome cool breeze finally carried the humid air and thundering morning storm away. With the temperature now tolerable, the equally boisterous twin eight month old boys were hoisted into the dual Baby Bjorn®, and the four year old girl climbed into her stroller, ready for playtime at the park. Harry had packed all of the necessary tools of the trade for a stay at home dad venturing out into the wild with three babes under five years of age: diapers, wipes, formula, toys for the sandbox, bottled water, granola bars and apple juice for the older child, sunscreen, multiple changes of clothes including bathing suits and towels for time spent in the splash pad, hats, sunglasses and the trusty first aid kit. Hoping to kill several hours before mommy would come home to relieve him of daddy duty, Harry was grateful to the sun and cool wind gods for providing him with a reprieve from the monotony of a morning boxed in the house-cum-bunker. Sesame Street had played on repeat all morning, and every book had been read, in order to entertain the kidlets, who had risen at the ungodly hour of six a.m., and had been trapped inside due to the torrential downpour.

The park, having replaced his local watering hole, where the baby bottle was the new beer bottle, was a bastion in which children of stay at home fathers could safely contain and supervise their children. Simultaneously, these baby-carrier strapped beta-male doting dads got their daily dose of fortification to unwind, clear their minds and engage in some adult conversation with other fellow zookeepers.

“Hey David,” Harry called out, waving to another father seated on a bench next to a stroller with a sleeping infant inside. David was reading ‘Good Housekeeping,’ always hoping to get to the Economist and Vanity Fair sitting at the bottom of the pile, but never quite making it through the forest of recipes into which he always managed to meander. David and Harry were both former attorneys who were happy to have their respective investment banker and surgeon wives hunt and fish all day and bring home their catch-of-the-day for their menfolk to fry it up at night. David’s three year old was safely preoccupied with trying to urinate in the splash pad without having to be bothered with pulling down his bathing suit. Harry’s four year old ran over to the monkey bars, so he took the opportunity to sit down gingerly, so as not to wake the twins who had fallen asleep on their walk over.

“I’ve got some great recipes for you. They’re all easy to make in thirty minutes or less,” David chimed. “There’s a quiche Lorraine in here that’s to die for. And, the best part is that the kids will eat it too.”

“Wonderful,” Harry replied. “I need something new to make for the wife and kids tonight. Now that the twins are on solids, dinners for five have become trickier since we don’t all need to gum our food. Also, the wife complained that my Chateau Briande had become predictable and pedestrian.”

“Have you tried serving it with a robust 2008 Chateau-Neuf-de-Pape?” David inquired.

“I’ve tried pairing it with so many different varietals, but no wine seems to make a difference. My wife is bored with wine, my cooking, maybe even me,” Harry pontificated.

John, another stay-at-home papa whose wife was a politician, was sharing the bench with the other two men, and gave Harry and David a knowing look of solidarity. All three men did everything they could on a daily basis to raise their children, cook, keep the house clean, take care of home maintenance and improvement, sometimes even décor when instructed to do so by their wives who wanted new drapes or a new sofa, plan vacations, schedule and create menus for dinner parties with friends, buy gifts for everyone and take the children to every doctor and dentist appointment, attend every parent-teacher interview, play date and any other conceivable appointment, yet they all felt undervalued by their bacon-buying wives. The men took no umbrage with frying it up, but they wondered, was it really too much to expect their wives to enjoy how they made it, and kiss the cook in gratitude once in a while. Keeping a close watchful eye on the kids at play, the men quietly contemplated the double-edged sword of being the primary at home caregiver for their children. Agreeing to the role reversal with each of their wives was not a bad trade off.  The wives went off to lean into their respective careers, and the men welcomed having the weight of carrying the financial burden off of their back.

In spite of being married to powerful ambitious women, the men still felt a pressing need to out earn their spouses. When the men sat down with their wives and realized that by not working and having their women put in double time at work, allowing them to out earn their male counterparts at home, the math worked in John, David and Harry’s favour to opt out of the workforce after spending years in the societally imposed and expect the role of being the main breadwinner. The first year at home for each of the men was a novelty. Who wouldn’t like reading, singing, dancing, watching educational programs and ogling the hot stay-at-home moms who lost the baby weight at parent-and-tot swim class? Also, they preferred handling their babies’ mood swings and crying fits over the temper tantrums of their screaming bosses any day. The men took pride in keeping a cleaner house than the former maid ever did, further justifying their choice to stay at home since they were saving four hundred dollars a month on average by not paying someone else to clean. Even cooking family meals was fun, allowing the men to wax nostalgic about the times they blew shit up in high school home economics and chemistry classes, now being able to do the same with experimenting with ingredients in their kitchens. However, once the men returned to their respective wives’ fertile breeding grounds, and with each couple having expanded their brood beyond their first child, the full weight of their decision made them wistful for days in the office and after work drinks. With more children, mommy’s late hours felt more like time was standing still. And, with her lack of appearance at the occasional Gymboree class that she’d managed to attend when they were only parents of one enfant terrible, mommy had become a mythical creature the likes of the Loch Ness Monster.

“I can accept that my wife may not like my cooking, doesn’t even notice my new hair cut, or the fact that I lost the spare tire that I gained during each of her three pregnancies because I gave up my gym membership to save some money. But, would it kill her to show some appreciation for the fact that I re-stitched the entire hem of her cashmere coat that she tore by catching it on her fifteen hundred dollar Manolo stiletto in one of her après work politico happy hours? She doesn’t even invite me to her office parties anymore,” John whined. “I feel like an underpaid, underappreciated employee there to service her, which by the way, I only get to do every other Wednesday night after the kids have gone to bed.”

“I know what you mean,” David said commiserating. “Since staying at home with our two kids for the past four years, my scrotum had literally shriveled up. It must be from all of those late night feeds, right? It happens to women’s breasts, so it makes sense that it happen to men’s nuts who take over feeding the baby?”

Harry and John nodded in unison, each making a mental note to call their urologists for an urgent check up.

“Well, when I asked my wife about it, she laughed at me. Said that I was nuts, no pun intended, to think that my balls could shrink from late night bottle feeds the same way her boobs did from breastfeeding when she took her three month mat leave,” David continued.

“Do you think your wives are cheating on you?” Harry asked.

“Talk about a wild non sequitur,” David cried.

“Why, what have you heard?” John asked defensively.

“Nothing, calm down,” Harry advised. “I just wondered is all. I mean, when we worked our long hours, there was always the opportunity to get laid at work. Not that I ever acted on it. Besides, you’re the one who said you don’t go anywhere with your wife anymore and that she doesn’t appreciate you. The thought must have crossed your mind?”

“To be honest, I did ask her once, but she said I was crazy. She said with her long hours she wouldn’t have the time to have an affair even if she wanted to,” John advised. “Plus, she said she would never have one because it would cost her too money much if we divorced. She’d have to pay for a nanny and pay me alimony.”

“Even if mine doesn’t cheat, she certainly is embarrassed by the fact that I’m a stay-at-home dad,” David offered.

“But, it was a joint decision,” Harry remarked.

“Doesn’t matter anymore. Whenever someone asks her what I do, she tells ‘em that I’ve retired. So everyone thinks she married a geriatric sugar daddy. Then, when they meet me, they think I’m a trust funder, and neither of us bothers to correct the misconception,” David stated. “I really don’t need to deal with anyone’s judgment about putting my career on hold to take care of the kids. But, I’ve come to miss working.”

“I don’t miss working at all, but I can sympathize with feeling underappreciated,” Harry offered. “I love that I get to watch the kids grow up and I will be responsible for helping them mature into responsible adults. Plus, I’m tired of billable hours, nasty clients and worrying about making partner. We really can’t complain – our lives are fairly stress free.”

“That’s nice in theory, but don’t you miss adult conversation? Using your brain?” John asked.

“I’m using my brain every day teaching the kids. I’m using it right now having this conversation with you two schmoes,” Harry replied.

“Yeah, but your thinking is still shortsighted,” David countered. “Obviously, you’re going back to work when the kids are in school full-time. What will you do then? Think of all the years you missed trying to chase the corner office. Your only employment prospects will be to start over as an associate or to try to build a law practice out of your house”

“Hell, no!” Harry retorted.

“So what will you do when there are no more kids to take care of?” John asked.

“I plan on knocking my wife up every few years until her eggs dry up. And, after that I will IVF her frozen eggs with my super sperm. I intend to be up to my eyeballs in pampers until my wife will have made enough money to retire,” Harry stated deadpan.

Like a lightening bolt, Miranda shot up from her restless sleep, with heavy chest pains and beads of sweat pouring down her furrowed brow.

“Honey, wake up!” Miranda commanded. “I just had a horrific nightmare.”

“It’s ok baby,” Harry said half-heartedly, still three-quarters asleep, rubbing her back.

“No, it’s not. I just dreamt that you were at the park with other stay-at-home dads and you were plotting to keep me pregnant until my uterus falls out so you’d never have to go back to work,” Miranda recounted. “And, one of the dads thought his balls shrunk from feeding the baby. Thank god it was only a bad dream.”

Miranda lay back down, ingested some melatonin and quickly fell back asleep. When Harry was assured that Miranda was safely ensconced in a REM cycle, he snuck out of bed, quietly creeping into their master bathroom, where he pulled out and poked another few holes in Miranda’s diaphragm.

© 2014. Naomi Elana Zener

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