The Awkward Paradox of Gender Roles in Parenting (in a Society Now Less Divided by Gender)

Last week I published Top 10 Masculine Traits of Men (Plus, “I’m a Masculinist, Which is Not the Opposite of a Feminist”), in which presented the theory that a man’s masculinity is subconsciously and collectively judged by society based on what extent he is perceived as being a confident, decisive, funny, healthy, physically active, emotionally intelligent, committed leader who respects women, helps his fellow man, and finds his identity in his skill set.

I had more than one woman respond by agreeing with these masculine traits, but adding that these traits would be good and beneficial for women as well. One told me, “I would say that perhaps we should change our expectations as a society so they are less divided by gender.”

Well said. So true. Very relevant to the conversation.

I feel that out of necessity and by default, our society is becoming less divided by gender. I find it simply irrelevant and outdated when advertising agencies (as well as people) make comments to insinuate that men hate and/or fear changing dirty diapers. Or when people call it “babysitting” when a dad takes care of his own children for the day while his wife goes out running errands.

Sure, I admit there is some personal awkwardness in always understanding my role in the household- to be both “the man” my wife needs me to be and at the same time for me to assume roles that would traditionally have been feminine.

It used to be that if a man was heavily involved in his children’s lives, as well as household chores, that man would be praised by society, and even by his wife, while she would be merely expected to do those things.

But it’s no longer ironic to see the opening sequence of Who’s the Boss?, as the ever-masculine Tony Danza vacuums the drapes.

Men clean toilets. Men do the dishes. Men feed babies. Men sit on the carpet and play with their kids.

None of this is ironic.

In fact, I would be willing to present a theory that a man who is a father and husband, but who is not heavily involved in household chores and the care of his children, is not considered a good dad or a good husband by his wife.

By today’s standards, a good husband is not simply a man who loves his wife, but who also is extremely actively involved in chores and childcare. The two roles are inseparable, now more than ever.

A failure to see that shift in culture is a failure to be relevant as a spouse and a parent.

To me, that’s obvious. To me, it’s not a theory. It’s simply fact.

But then again, this is coming from a happily married man who cleans the toilets and changes those dreaded dirty diapers.

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Dear Jack: Between Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”

4 years, 8 months.

Dear Jack: Between Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It"

Dear Jack,

In the past week, I have introduced you to two ideologically opposing pieces of legendary American entertainment:

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and the 1984 music video for Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.

It all started last Friday when you asked me to watch “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” on YouTube. You sat on my lap and we watched the 2 minute video.

I don’t know how, but the thumbnail for Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” popped up as a related video.

Despite their band’s appearance and style of music, this music video is actually clean. It’s technically less violent than the Power Rangers, as the antagonistic dad in the video willingly falls out of the window multiple times as the Twisted Sister bandmates simply walk towards him.

We’ve now watched it several times and we love the humor in it.

Over the weekend, we had dinner at your friend Isaac’s house. You and Isaac were so independent of your parents that you were in the playroom for about an hour and we barely heard anything out of either of you.

As dinner time approached, I made my way upstairs to the playroom to see you guys jumping and dancing around to the tunes of a lullaby machine.

Specifically, you two were spinning around with your arms out like the boy in the video as he transforms in the lead singer.

Isaac, who is 2 years younger than you, was learning this move from you.

Then, last night as our family was decided what we’d watch together before your bedtime, I suggested we try out Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Though it’s a staple for every ’80s kid’s childhood, I had never seen it until last night.

You were so happy when you realized you knew all the songs; as well as seeing Daniel Tiger in his younger days. (The episode we watched was from 1981; the year Mommy and me were born.)

This morning as I was getting ready, you chose to watch another episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

You expressed to me, “Daddy, I thought show was for grown-ups, but I like it!”

Yes, Mr. Rogers and Twisted Sister, in the same week.

Love,

Daddy

What Percentage of Your Day is Spent on Entertainment?

It’s not as simple as logging your TV and movie time: Entertainment is much more complicated, subtle, and encompassing than that.

When my sister was born in January of 1984 (I was about 2 ½) she gave me a Garfield stuffed animal as present.  I realize that the idea of a newborn baby giving her older brother a gift the day she is born may seem illogical, but my parents’ idea to keep me feeling special that day worked.  Because I didn’t question the rationale of my sister’s gift until high school.  That Garfield doll ended up being one of my favorite childhood toys.  I dressed him up in my dad’s whitey-tighties; they were Garfield’s diaper.

A major part of being a kid is being strung along by your parents.  It’s a constant, endless series of countless waiting rooms, strange places, and unfamiliar people.  But all I could really think of was eating, drinking, and peeing.  And when I checked all those activities off the list, that meant I must be bored.

So I needed something to entertain myself.  During the younger years, Garfield in my dad’s underwear did the trick.  I eventually graduated from the stuffed animal circuit to video games and action figures.  Then to playing guitar by the time I started junior high.  Evidently the worst thing in the world was to be bored.  So I always had someway to entertain myself.

*This explains the psychology behind Swiss Army SUV (Nick Shell’s Turtle Shell). Click that title to read more about it.

But I have to imagine that most people, like me, carry this idea of constantly entertaining themselves into adulthood, for the rest of their lives.  And as Ive learned by now, a tangible object isn’t necessary for entertainment- though something as subtle as checking for new text messages 33 times a day is a popular form of fighting subconscious boredom.

I learned as a child to use my imagination to daydream; while I still do that on an hourly basis, I’ve also made a habit of planning my future and coming up with ideas for my life.  And I figure I’m not the only one.  I figure that most people find some way to entertain themselves throughout the day, despite the busyness of life.  In between the busyness of life.  And during the busyness of life.  Even if it’s just while waiting in line, sitting at a red light, or zoning out at work (and often even not realizing we’re doing it).

Heckler-reader yells out: “Bahahaha…You just wait ‘til you have a baby, that’ll all change!”

Yes, life will change and my time will be spent in different ways and I will be functioning on less sleep.  But no matter how preoccupied I am with life and all its responsibilities and distractions, there are still moments throughout any day, even if it’s while I’m falling asleep, that I fill in those moments of fading consciousness with random thoughts like, “What was Grimace supposed to be, anyway?”

So how what percentage of my day is spent on entertainment?  It’s pretty much a trick question.  Because at least for me, my mind is constantly in entertainment mode.  Even when I’m asleep, dreaming.

Manspeak, Volume 2: Heroism

Subconsciously I view handymen and auto mechanics as super heroes. Because the only thing I can build is a Lego house and the only vehicle I can fix is a Lego car. While I’m not a “slow learner”, I don’t learn new skills quickly. It takes daily practice for at least several weeks before I master something new. So to see a man who gets daily exposure to these expected masculine events, I can’t help but have admiration.

Any laugh track infused sitcom that features a typical “dad figure” has had at least once episode where there is a need for home repair and the man of the house rises to the occasion (against the advice of others in the household, namely the wife). Of course, the man botches the job for the comedy highlight of the episode: On Who’s the Boss, Tony “fixed” the toilet upstairs but smashed a hole in the floor which he fell into, causing only his butt to be visible from the living room ceiling by his family below. On Perfect Strangers, Larry “fixed” the shower but it caused the shower head to shoot water across to the other side of the bathroom and blasted Balki in the face, who decides to just stand there with his mouth open and drink the water instead of move out of the way. And as for Home Improvement, “man hilariously attempts home repairs” was the theme of every entire episode.

The fact that under-qualified men continue to try to fix things when they don’t really know how to, is a universal issue. Why? Because it is a man’s job to fix things. It is literally the way men were wired. A woman says to a man, “Our garbage disposal isn’t working right. I think we should call someone to come fix it.” The man hears this: “You’re a man, capable of figuring out how to fix this, but instead, I’m going to call another man to get the job done because he’s more qualified than you”. Shrinkage follows at just the thought of another man walking in the door with his tools.

A man walks around with this hidden fear that he will not be successful in life. In all ways big and small. If he can’t successfully make the evidently simple home repair, he fears he may be seen as insufficient, incapable, and useless. When he longs to be the hero. And hiring someone else to do the job makes him feel unnecessary. May seem a little over the top, but being a man, I recognize the tendency of thinking in terms in worst case scenarios about this stuff.

This also explains the all too familiar (yet somehow not cliché because it’s so true) story of the man who won’t stop to ask for directions. It’s a man’s job to explore and find his own way if he’s lost. A major sense of accomplishment if he can do it. And just for the record, he’s not lost. He’s either taking the scenic route or the short cut (depending on how much time is delayed).

One of my proudest accomplishments regarding home improvement was when I turned down an aggressive salesman who knocked on the door one sunny Saturday morning. If I signed a year-long contract right then since his company was already in the neighborhood, his company would regularly spray my house for bugs for the low, low yearly fee of $545. He inspired me to immediately drive to Lowe’s and purchase a 5 gallon sprayer for $11. Needless to say, I now consider myself a professional bug killer.

Last week as I was getting ready for bed I heard my wife scream loudly from the stairs. My initial thought is that someone broke into the house. I ran over to the stairs to find the intruder to be a wolf spider. A very large scary spider that appeared quite afraid to end up lost and confused at the top of the stairs. I took on the form of the 1984 no nonsense straight-faced Bill Murray, racing downstairs to transform the vacuum cleaner into a proton pack with which I sucked up the monster with great force, feeling the vibration of the thump as it was crushed to death by my weapon. I was a hero. An ego trip shortly followed.

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

rock

Stuck in Back in Time Like Ned Flanders, Dwight Schrute, and Austin Powers

 

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt…

Like a good bottle of Pepsi Clear or a box of Pop-Tart Minis, every person has an expiration date. Of culture, that is. There comes a certain year in a person’s life where they no longer continue moving forward concerning the way they dress, wear their hair, speak, and use technology. I’m not talking about a 16 year old kid who buys all his clothes at Goodwill, proudly showing off his 1985 Huey Lewis & the News t-shirt, and fashions his hairstyle after Ashton Kutcher in “Dude, Where’s My Car?”. Being retro on purpose doesn’t count.

For me it’s most obvious when I’m at Wal-Mart and the cashier lady’s hairdo consists of teased bangs brushed back into a permed Brillo pad of a mullet: 1984.

Or the retired farmer who is still wearing his Dwight Schrute style glasses and refuses to use a cell phone or the Internet: 1979.

Sometimes it’s less obvious- maybe that co-worker with a thick goatee, wearing a cell phone belt clip, still saying quotes from Austin Powers like “Yeah, baby, yeah!”, and whose cell phone ringtone is “With Arms Wide Open” by Creed: 2000.

This concept became obvious to me when I was accompanying my wife as she shopped for clothes on a Saturday afternoon. I walked into a Van Heusen outlet and realized that while they did have some good deals, if I actually attempted to buy anything from the store, my wife probably wouldn’t let me wear it. Why? Because everything available in a Van Heusen store is designed for men who are stuck in 1994.

It amazed me that a whole company would purposely make outdated clothes. But the executives at that company know their audience. If these outdated clothing stores suddenly stopped making pleated light khaki pants, their abandoned customers would just pledge their allegiance to another outdated store instead. Customers who still say “been there, done that, got the t-shirt”. And the t-shirt they are referring to is a Big Dogs shirt with the quote “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay off the porch!” Yes, because that’s still cool.

Even though I am well aware that every person at some point in their lifetime freezes in the culture of a certain year, my awareness does not exclude me from the inevitable. I admit that whether it’s when I start having kids, or maybe not until I retire, still I will definitely get stuck one year, not even realizing it until it’s too late and I’m either too stubborn or apathetic to change.