I have always been a “daddy’s girl.” My dad is my best friend, and I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without him. My mother’s jobs were often relocated throughout my childhood and into my teenage years, so my dad took on a lot of responsibilities that were typically viewed as what a “stay-at-home-mom” would do. He would cook, clean, grocery shop, do laundry, and undertake the obligations of a “housewife.” (The term housewife often has a negative connotation to it, which is some sexist bullsh*t, but that’s a rant for another day.) It always bothered me that people treated my dad differently for being a stay-at-home-parent. He’s encountered a disturbing amount of ridicule over the years, however, what people tend to forget is that the stay-at-home-parent is pretty much the backbone of the family. Additionally, you don’t see a stay-at-home-mom getting relentlessly questioned on why she’s at home and not working, so why is it fair to question my stay-at-home-dad? For years I have heard people give my dad a hard time simply because he’s a man and his primary job has been attending to the needs of his child and family on the home front.
One of the first times I noticed this ridicule, and was old enough to comprehend it, was when I moved to Singapore in the tenth grade due to my mother’s job being relocated for a second time. By then, my dad had already been the stay-at-home-parent since moving to Australia when I was five years old. My dad became what is called a “trailing spouse,” meaning he was there trailing my mom due to her relocation and employment. I vividly remember the first time someone questioned my dad about his role in our family when my dad and I were going to get uniforms at the school’s “booster booth.” The booster booth was a store within my international school that sold all your school essentials, including uniforms, and was typically run by students’ mothers.
My dad, taking on the responsibility of getting me prepared for school, asked one of the mother’s at the booth, “How many uniforms do students typically have? How many would you recommend I get my daughter?”
The mother looked at him with a condescending air and responded, “Well, do you have a helper?”
In Singapore, the term “helper” refers to a housekeeper, or sometimes a nanny, and is probably not the most politically-correct to begin with. My dad politely responded, “Um … helper as in a house keeper? If that’s what you mean you’re looking at him.”
The woman raised her eyebrows and said, “You don’t have a helper? You’re the one that stays home? That’s different.”
Reading this, it may not sound like what she said was negative or wrong; however, the tone of voice she used made it seem like my dad was doing something that broke the law, that was unheard of and socially unacceptable. My dad stood there looking quite taken aback. I could tell he was hurt and mildly offended. I stood beside my dad in silence, feeling confused. I wasn’t completely sure what this woman was implying and wondered why she’d said it the way she had. It didn’t take me long to realize that what she’d said was meant to be hurtful and condescending in questioning my dad’s role as a parent and a spouse. In that moment, for the first time, I noticed my dad being ridiculed for being a stay-at-home-parent.
The probing and patronizing questions didn’t end there. There were many other minor instances where my dad was questioned about his role as a father and spouse; however, this next situation sticks out to me more than the others. After living in Singapore for the first half of the year, we came back to Toronto, my hometown, for Christmas. Every year, we attend a Christmas party on the 24th, which is full of our close friends and family. Everyone was excited to see us and had asked dozens of questions about our experience living abroad. However, when these questions were directed towards my dad, the tone of voice and type of questions asked changed very quickly. One of the most heartbreaking things I watched my dad go through was my friend’s mother asking my dad, “So while Trish (my mother) is working all day, what do you do?” Again, this may not seem like anything that was asked was wrong—it is a fair question to wonder what my Dad’s daily routine looks like as a stay-at-home-dad—but it was the way it was asked. You could tell there was a hint of condescending judgment. The tone of voice was accusatory and similar to the mother’s tone at the booster booth; it grilled my dad.
My dad stood there in silence, yet again stunned, and then responded, “Well, I take Roz to school, I take her to and from her soccer practices, I do the cleaning, I do the laundry, I make dinner for Trish when she comes home…” and the list went on and on. I wanted nothing more for my dad to rip my friend’s mom a new one but that’s just not who he is.
Watching my dad be poked and prodded for the next two years about what his role was as a father and a spouse was truly upsetting to experience. Funnily enough, he was always questioned by women, never men; however I think the similar questions crossed the minds of his male friends. The most disturbing part of all of this is that my dad was relentlessly questioned all because of his gender. You would never ask a mom who stays home what her role is as a mother and what she does as a spouse to contribute to her family. Nor would you ask in a condescending tone, “So while your husband is working all day, what do you do?” Asking a stay-at-home-mom this question seems to be far more offensive and unheard of because most would agree that it’s wrong to ask. Unfortunately, though less common, I am certain there are those out there who do question a stay-at-home-mother, which is no better or worse than questioning my father. I am sorry for any stay-at-home-parent who has endured this since it is utter bullsh*t.
My dad essentially raised me while my mom was working ridiculous hours and travelling multiple weeks out of the month. My dad was home looking after me, helping with my homework, making me lunch, driving me to soccer practices, learning how to do French braids, dealing with crazy teenage hormones, and ultimately being my best friend and my biggest support system. Without my dad being a stay-at-home-parent, I would not be the woman who I am today. My dad taught me how to be a polite, confident, badass woman, and for that I am forever grateful.
Though this is an article about my frustrations with gender roles, I want to thank those parents who do stay home on behalf of their families. Thank you for supporting and caring for us. Whether you’re a stay-at-home-mom or -dad, please know that your role in your children’s and family’s lives is invaluable. It brings me to tears to think about how different our lives would be without you. Thank you for everything you do. You made me who I am today.
I love you, Dad. Thank you for everything.
Photo provided by Roslyn Brennen