Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Stay-at-Home-Dad (SaHD) Chronicles #1: Hating golf, & Having courage

Twice in about a month's worth of time I've talked with two other stay-at-home-dads. Real stay at home dads, dads who chose to stay home with the kids, and, by doing so, support their wives in their wives' careers.

I run into or hear from (through my wife about her male co-workers) that they would love to stay at home... you know, to get the chance to go golfing and all. You know, just like their own wives must be doing, I want to ask them.

I hear other dads say they can think of nothing else they would rather do least than stay at home.

(A rare few have had to stay home from work for an extended period, to take up slack for a sick spouse, and they get it, man do they get it... and then they hurry thankfully back to work once the wife is better. But i digress from the other sets of men and my point.)

What seems to underlie both attitudes is a misconception of what staying home means. Traditionally, for women, staying home and being mothers went sort of hand in hand, being foisted upon them by social expectations of gender roles. Any identification of themselves as "mothers" implicitly entailed being at home. You even now see strains of this in a lot of "mommy blogger" posts, posts involving the exasperation with or exhaustion from caring for little ones and getting the shopping done, but oh there was that moment of specialness that reminds them of their calling and makes it all worthwhile... so on and so on.

Don't mistake my tone, I am not knocking or mocking mommy bloggers. And every mommy blogger I read echos many of the same woes and headaches of the stay at home dads with whom I interact.

Again, my point is that for many men not at home there is a misconception about what being at home means.

When women were entering the workforce in the 70's and 80's it was in part about proving themselves capable. That's what the movie, "Mr. Mom" was really all about - and not about some dad who chose to stay home.

For us men, however, well, for the two dads I talked with this month and myself, staying home is not about proving ourselves capable in the domestic sphere. We've stayed home for two reasons: to support our wives in their career, and because we felt it important for our children to have someone at home with them. We didn't choose the domestic life - it came as a consequence.

On another digressing note: some folks talk about the courage we dads must have to stay home. Normally it has been women saying that to me, and women who are older and have grown children - women who entered the workplace back in the 70's and 80's. That's just an interesting observation, and I feel there is a pretty good point there, somewhere.

The misconception, back to that fumbled point, essentially, is that being at home, well, is about being at home. Being at home, for me, is about being for someone (my wife), and being with someone (my kids), maybe even (and here we get all yogi-zen master but) being as a someone; being at home is about what I have given up (and what I have received). Not to mention, being at home is about what has come to me as a consequence of being for someone and with someone... and what I endure, and what I accept, and what I go without.

It's about all of that, and, so, yeah, I guess it is about courage: courage to find satisfaction in areas men are not traditionally told they can be satisfied, courage to explore the aspects of masculinity left undefined or fuzzily recognized, courage to challenge the convictions in the attitudes and beliefs about the value of fatherhood and husbandhood.

For men, give us a pocketknife in hand and a grizzly bear with which to face off and we are satisfied our "courage" has been displayed; lets us pursue as grizzled and gnarly Jeremiah Johnson a wretched band of scoundrels  through frozen forests and we feel our "manly mettle" rings out loud and clear. But, thrust us into the nebulous environs of the kitchen table laden with contents of the craft drawer and it is not so immediate clear, the nature of our heroics.

If the choices to support wives, and to caretake and parent children are indeed heroic, then dare we say that we SaHD's are re-defining what it means to stay at home, and thus are re-validating the very traditional value of moms and of being at home - a value ironically chelated from the role by virtue of the social foisting of the role upon women alone? Wow, I'ld say that's a ballsy enterprise. I mean, to be clear, there are no social roles or expectations foisted upon us men when it comes to being at home, and in the lack of those expectations our choices define what it means to be at home, what being at home is essentially all about. I am okay with that... besides, I hate golf... and there is no samurai-like honor chasing around a defenseless and inanimate little ball all over the route of my wicked slice.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Letters to Write

A writerly writer friend, for whom I have a growing admiration, recently mentioned the notion of the "gift of letters" -- letter like the kind you write to others, correspondences if you will.

So taken with this notion is she that now almost all of her writing comes in the form of letter writing. Letters to friends going through loss, or through hardships; letters of encouragement or acknowledgement; letters to minister, letters to love. I can only say that, having read her poetry and other work, well blessed are those recipients of the letters she writes.

Recently I did a book study on Dr. D. Taylor's book entitled, "Tell Me A Story". The thrust of the  work was that all things are Story, that we ourselves are our own story, that we are characters in our stories and characters in the stories of others, and that life like stories can be shaped and even new stories told.

I have been writing a letter to each of my children from since before they were born. It amounts to stories of their lives and mine, to offer them more Story of who they are. I crave for them to know more about themselves, and to know how wide and deep are both my knowledge and admiration of them is, and continuously is (since it is a lifelong project of writing to them such Story).

The Christian scriptures suggests, in one sense to the believer, that they are God's Letter to the world. If one posits -- not believes, or buys into, but just posits -- that God is infinitely loving, kind, patient, and for us, His creation, then the fatherly heart of God to make of us "letters" is a profound picture. At least it is for me.

If we think about it, letters have functioned differently down through History. Paper, papyrus, velum, all were not so easily available, and any efforts made with them were thus more valuable to the recipient. (Now, not to overstate or hammer a point, but if human life is valuable, and more valuable than velum, well...)

Letters on precious parchment, done in expensive ink, were few and far in between, and the sending of them relied upon runners or trained birds, mounted riders. Letters had time taken over them, and had to convey all the news of life the recipient likely craved. The content was as poured over as was the script, and the voice and the penmanship both were as much a piece of the writer as was the content. Letters news, letters were succor, letters were connectivity and sharing of life over the gulf of time and space.

John J. Nance wrote a story entitled, "Orbit," about a man, expecting to die from asphyxiation aboard a stranded spacecraft orbiting earth, writing his memoirs as a letter to posterity and the future. Truly a letter and a story and a life and even Story itself, all across time and space.

I think, perhaps, my writerly friend is truly on to something. And in an age of hyper-uber-connectivity I think we are even more behooved to draw back into our garrets, and to sit at our desks, and to work on penmanship and to craft letters. And to do so daily, because there is something in that intentionality which crafts ourselves as the letters which we are, and expands the stories all around us, even our own.

One thing about the Nance story: unbeknownst to character the world below was watching real time the story as it was written, and many had their narratives changed as a result. And the character never knew his own story was itself changed, re-contextualized by that fact - just as surely as countless writers never knew their letters to loved ones would, today, tell us not only of our History but of our very selves.

Relevancy and Content

So, i've been dinking around with my blogger template and profile, and thought to ask anyone born before 1990 (those whom I knew on FB) what they would find interesting.

That question lead to another question from a professor friend of mine - the question as to why I would limit the polling space to so young an audience.

I realized in my response that the issue was fecund and ripe with the bastard children of spin-off discussions. Okay, I've been reading a lot of George R.R. Martin recently and he talks so much about "bastards" the concept has stained my conceptual table cloth upon which i set the serving bowls of topics.

Anyways, this was my response (please tell me what you think or what you see):

Interstingly enough, they have lived their entire lives, and especially their years of social awareness, being defined by social concerns inextricably linked to social media. Honestly, they simultaneously define relevancy (to contemporary society) while also have learned the lessons to be learned from seeking relevancy within their culture. 

We have, arguably, those of us born prior to 1990, lost touch so much so that a culture which already does not accord the aged much respect most assuredly even does not find the aged and their thoughts very relevant at all. 

More pertinent to my intent, I want to know what younger generations (for whom social media and blogging are assumed natural elements to social life) want to know about, what will attract their interest to me as a writer of a blog. I assume younger generations will be attracted to a blog as much by the (virtual)character of the writer as by the content. Perhaps this assumes that a blog is as much the virtual-character married to (and content, as much as it is pure content.