The Cat's perspective

Jessica's cat 'n mouse analogy got me thinking... There are certainly worse animals to be compared to, even taking our furry freak Lola into account. She also made it clear that it's not really my own actions that cause me to take The Cat role in her head. Still, it's a little disturbing to be saddled with the subtext of control and intimidation that go along with the Cat/Mouse relationship.

(This is the point where Jessica sighs and says I'm taking things far too literally. Maybe so, but it makes for a good starting point for my rambling thoughts.)

I'm not sure what I imagined grown-up family life was going to be like when I was just a kid. It wasn't the best time for me, and I don't think I had the most inspiring examples of good family life. Still, I figured that the traditional family configuration (dad = breadwinner, mom = kiddo wrangler) would be the easiest thing to settle into by default. Whether or not you approve of it, our society was built that way for a long time.

But as Jessica has talked about, settling into the "traditional" roles hasn't been as easy as we expected. She struggles with justifying her SAHM role as legitimate work in a society that has focused on "equality" mainly in the workplace. The progressive woman is encouraged to get out there and pursue her dreams, but isn't necessarily rewarded if her dreams include staying in and raising a family. There's a considerable amount of (great) blog space devoted to the conundrums of mommyhood in the modern world.

But what about us dads? I've dropped into a role that ought to be business-as-usual for a guy, but it really hasn't been quite that easy.

First, there's the whole Provider role. Jessica and I have argued constantly about money. For me, money means security, and having someone else spend it is pretty terrifying. I remember Jessica asking me, "Don't you get some internal reward from providing for your family?" Uh, no. I used to be able to buy pretty much whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I'd accidentally leave paychecks lying around for a few weeks before remembering to deposit them. Now I can't remember the last time I bought some toy just for the fun of it, and we're living paycheck-to-paycheck despite the fact that I make more cash than ever. Nah, the Provider role wasn't easy to get into at all. I'm getting better, though.

(By the way, in case it's not clear, I wouldn't go back to the single life for any amount of money. My awesome wife and kid FAR outweigh the disposable income I used to have.)

Then there was the pregnancy. I won't get much sympathy for this one, but pregnancy is tough on a guy. Your loving wife gets steamrolled by rampaging hormones, and navigating those waters is tricky indeed. While she is being affected by very personal changes, you're trying to figure out how to afford the latest round of nesting. You become disturbingly adept at lying to to the love of your life about any number of topics, from mood swings (what mood swings, dear?) to your attachment to your unborn baby (yep, I totally adore that little pecan in there) to your research into fatherhood (yeah, I'm totally planning on getting to that stack of baby books, really!). Finally, when the magical day comes around, you get to watch your soul mate wracked with pain, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it. Whee!

Well, at least the role of Father is pretty straightforward, right? Again, not so much. Don't get be wrong, the moment Hollis was born was totally magical and I'll never forget it. But once the magic wore off, I was faced with a peculiar situation. This tiny little thing was completely dependent on his mother, and I didn't really feel much attachment. Especially not compared to the mother-baby bond. I freaked out that I was somehow broken, since I'm not the most open person. I mean, you're supposed to love your baby with all your heart, right? You're not supposed to resent it for interrupting your sleep, or co-opting your Jessica time, or making you feel like a totally incompetent parent by crying incessantly, or refusing to poop some days only to have a massive blowout the next. The first 6 months was probably the hardest time of parenthood for me, trying to love a crying, pooping, barfing, momma-loving sack of potatoes that really didn't give much back.

Luckily that all passed, and the little guy managed to wiggle his way firmly into my heart. I can honestly say that I've never felt this way about another human before. I'd do anything for him, and he makes me happy in ways I can't really even describe.

Which presents a whole new array of problems! I now miss Hollis when I'm away. I've never really felt that before. I like being alone. But now as soon as I leave Hollis, I want to be back with him. It's even more powerful than my feelings for Jessica (and yeah, I feel shitty about that). He's the first person in the world that makes me feel that way, and he can't even talk yet. This is the part of being The Provider that I didn't anticipate. I can't count the number of firsts I've missed because I've been away from Hollis. First steps, first words, first time standing up on his own, etc. I'm not a workaholic, even. It's just that things are bound to happen during the daytime when I'm away.

And to come around full circle, setting into The Husband role has been oddly difficult, too. I've got what seems to be the ideal situation. Jessica makes us breakfast and dinner, packs me a lunch, keeps the house clean, baby wrangles during the day, and even does the bills and finances. I don't ask her to do all that, but at the same time I don't ask her not to. Is that bad? I definitely pitch in when I'm at home (though I've been napping a lot on weekends lately). I'm not sure exactly what to do. I hate the idea of the husband who works all day, then comes home and has a beer on the couch while watching TV. At the same time, I've done that on occasion. How do I get the downtime I need without feeling like an ass? I think Jessica and I do a pretty good job of giving each other time off, but I still struggle with feeling guilty about the work she does for me.

Man, we're quite a guilt-ridden couple, eh? I thought this was supposed to be easier.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Great post, Anthony. It never occurred to me that men don't get as much room as we do to question all of this stuff (or openly express how lost you feel amidst it all).

    I appreciate your honesty about the third-wheel-like feeling at the beginning of Hollis' life but especially the negotiation you are both doing around finding yourselves in "traditional" gender roles and not losing your minds or each other in the process.

    P.S. Sorry about our hormones. It's hell for us, but you guys really do get the shit end of that stick.