Like a scene out of some bad romantic comedy, we first saw each other across a crowded room. Our eyes met and lingered. We smiled tentatively at each other, acknowledging the bond we shared: we were unaccompanied fathers who had chosen to spend the day with our progeny.
The Crayola Experience was filled with moms, usually in pairs, herding kids around. There were some families. But we were the only two fathers who had ventured out without a mother. Clearly, end-of-summer childcare (like most childcare) falls disproportionally on mothers.
My Crayola Experience shifted between vaguely wary glances from mothers who didn’t expect to see an unaccompanied father to gentle looks of compassion and words of encouragement from mothers who seemed to think I needed the support. On the one hand, I was a suspicious anomaly, a father in a mother’s world. On the other hand, I was a well intentioned if bumbling father who needed positive reinforcement. Both responses are disheartening. First, there should be nothing threatening about a father spending the day with his kids. Stop treating me like some sort of potential criminal. Second, just because I am a father doesn’t mean that I am an inept or lament spending time with my children. Just the opposite, in fact. I looked at the day as a great chance to spend uninterrupted time with #1 and #2 (as a side note, while there I used my phone twice to take photos and send to #1 and #2’s mom—many mothers watched their kids between texting, reading or writing email, updating Facebook, and playing games or chatting on the phone). I appreciate, I suppose, the kind words but not the assumptions that undergird them. Third, why when a father does least little thing does he receive praise while mothers have to save the world to get even a backhanded compliment? I’ve commented on this before. The assumption that fathers are naturally maladroit means if we don’t harm our children we are a success.
Five hours later, as #1, #2, and I wandered out to get a very late lunch I saw the other father leaving. He was guiding two tired looking but otherwise happy and unscathed children toward the parking lot.