- confessions of a househusband
Id noticed that at school pick up time waiting for Ellie, my young
daughter, the mums would stand around the school gates locked in nattering
knots. I was not a part of any nattering knot. I was confusing them and
I could understand why. Even I was finding that to become him indoors
or mum-I-mean-dad was a perplexing process.
The subject of my schoolyard isolation came up one day at home. I was
falling back on my comfortable, male explanation of being seen as a threat
by them and how, according to experts, I should become a playgroup leader
or chairman of a parent committee to win their respect, when my wise wife
tartly retorted with acid precision, "Dont be daft. They think
Unemployed? Im not unemployed! Im a househusband!
OK, Im still subject to the unsupervised tuition of my full time
English teacher wife, but she tells me I am competent. She
explained that a psychology professor at Cornell University discovered
that the skills people need to recognise incompetence are the same skills
they need to be competent in the first place. So, the more I pleaded incompetence
as a househusband the more I demonstrated my ability to be competent as
This househusband hat is a very strange shape indeed, stranger even than
how it came to be on this head.
Approaching 50, my prospects of continuing to earn a living as a concert
lighting designer were bleak. I was too old and out of touch for the fast
world of entertainment that had provided me with an unsteady income and
a lonely life lived out of a suitcase for 15 years. I was failing as the
breadwinner and failing as a father, and failing, I wanted out; but what
to do? I began to panic.
My long-suffering wife suggested I retire to become a househusband
and writer. The idea had never occurred to me. She was more than happy
to be a full-time teacher, year co-ordinator and breadwinner, if my male
ego could take it. That was perhaps the hardest part, coming to terms
with not being the breadwinner.
John Lennon was once watching his estranged young son, Julian, playing
happily on a beach with Paul McCartney. John poignantly asked Paul later,
"How do you do that?" I knew that feeling well and was being
given the chance to learn how to do it.
I was to learn how to be a part of my own family. I was to discover how
to play with Joshua, how to treat verrucas and head lice, how to help
Ellie with her rabbits, how to spell diarrhoea in absence
letters to school, how to cook, how to be Mum. I embraced
the opportunity with awe, grins from my children and a certain amount
of excited anxiety. I was a househusband. A stranger in a strange land;
Mars visiting Venus.
Ive been told that the anxiety is to do with a mans inability
to undertake two or more tasks at once, an essential skill of househusbandry
I am still struggling to master.
Any pangs of guilt I felt about inheriting the best position in the family
were soothed by more of my wifes good counsel. She assured me that
research carried out by the University of Pennsylvania has shown that
women who work as breadwinners and cope with a family are healthier than
those who do not work, but stay at home as housewives. So I was helping
her health as well? I bought a new cookbook.
Any further protestations of guilt or incompetence from me were countered
by her with Yale Universitys findings that children brought up by
stay-at-home-dads were more intelligent, and were likely to
develop better social skills. I ironed my sons trousers with pride.
The nattering knots still didnt acknowledge me, yet I refused to
adopt the talk to me strategy of the heavily tattooed Australian
bloke who turned up at the school gates with an L plate on
his buggy. My kids are too old for buggies.
Seth Gillman, who set up the only dedicated British website, the HomeDad
Link, in his struggle against househusband isolation, laments, "I
also assumed that I would be made welcome by the legions of housewives
I encountered. In my imagination, cups of tea and warm sympathy would
pour forth to ease my passage into this New World." He should talk
to my wife.
In America, where the househusband is more common, ever-growing
numbers of men, approaching 2 million according to some sources, have
chosen to stay at home and look after the kids. The special househusband
magazines and websites are fat with the thousands of words of advice and
support, recipes and reviews by the tens of thousands of househusbands,
isolated and not part of a nattering knot, but trying hard to be.
At-Home-Dads has a vast website with enough links to make
you forget the toad in the hole. They organise an annual national househusband
convention, Chicago last year, where they discuss How to Infiltrate
the Nattering Knots and 41 Ways to Serve Broccoli, alongside
Why Are We Treated Like Freaks?
Here, too, is the paranoid debate of names. Are we Stay at Home
Dads or SAHDs? SAHDS! Do I look like a lazy, chocolate chomping,
Jerry Springer watching slob? Full-time Dads is another cringe
maker; makes a privilege and joy sound like a blue-collar job, whilst
the primary caregiver evokes images of political correctness
and formality. Im quite happy to be a househusband.
Over here we are something to be viewed with suspicion, an oddment that
doesnt quite fit in yet. We have only one tiny website, and a small
quarterly on-line magazine, Him Indoors, that is sadly inaccessible
due to non-working hyperlinks.
I have been told, however, that there are now two groups of British househusbands
that are big enough to arrange informal meetings in local parks. I dont
know which is the bigger group, Croydon or Luton. Neither has a website.
I have heard no rumours of a 21st century national convention.
Househusbands here whisper apologetically as they confess their apparent
social androgyny. Men who arent househusbands find it, well, you
know, a bit sort of
well feminine. Women who know me try to sympathise
with me rather than celebrate with me. "Never-mind-Im-sure-something-will-turn-up"
rather misses the point. Those who dont know me stay nervously away.
They natter in knots.
Someone once said that a husband is what's left out of the lover after
the nerve has been extracted. This lover had to have his nerve put back
to become a househusband.
© Patrick Marks 2001
SEE ALSO PATRICK MARKS - ROCK&
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