A Real Man, A Real Mom

May 12, 2006

Because I know only one stay-at-home father, I admit that I have this bias in which I assume that women are better multi-taskers than men.

Case in point: When I “watch” my son, I also cook dinner, wipe the kitchen counters, and entertain him. When my husband watches him, he plays with him. That’s it. The house is usually a mess, no dinner is made and no other childcare-related chore — like bath time — is completed. I am okay with it because both my guys are happy. But I have always prided myself on being the better multi-tasking parent.

However, hearing about this man’s own Mr. Mom in this Newsweek’s “My Turn” section, changed my mind. Robert Wilder’s mother died when he was a kid, leaving his father, Ben, to raise four boys by himself. Here’s how he did it:

Even before my mother, Joan, died of cancer in 1983, my father performed more home duties than the other dads he rode Metro-North with. He did most of the cooking even though he didn’t step off the train at the Green’s Farms station until 6:30. My mother’s job was to defrost the ingredients for that night’s meal, and my father would come home, put his briefcase down, change out of his Brooks Brothers suit and enter the kitchen with his sleeves rolled up. With one hand he mixed a Beefeater Gibson, and with the other he whipped up a diner-worthy spaghetti and meatballs or liver and onions…

Today, I think all of us Wilder boys try to carry on some of Ben’s maternal traditions, though I have to admit my dad can still cook rings around me, and aprons don’t look that good on my forty something body. But I’ve learned from watching my dad (and myself in his light) that defined gender roles have been cultivated mostly out of fear and blindness, not out of the kind of love I know a man can have for his children. I hope someday to be immortalized in a high-school program the way my father was when my brother Eddie was a lead in “Godspell.” If you look on the page listing the cast and crew in that photocopied playbill, under the heading “Cast Mom,” it happily reads: “Ed’s Dad!”

What a turn-on. I hope Robert got laid after writing this piece.