A colleague at work put his wife and children on a plane this morning; they’re off to see family for a week. People at the office joke with him about enjoying the bachelor life while they’re away. He stands by my desk and tells me this, slumping a little. “You know,” he says, “I got married for a reason.”
Five years ago, when The Wife left me behind in New York to pack boxes and get the house sold, moving herself and the boys to Arizona to get our new life started, I heard the same thing from my friends. “Now you get to do whatever you want!” they said. But what I wanted was to have my wife and boys with me.
Now I’m doing the same thing again. This time, I’m the one who went out ahead, leaving them behind to get the house sold. But once again, it’s me, alone, without my family. And all I want is to have them here with me.
Why is the assumption that women have families because they want to, but men have families because they have to? If that’s true of most men (and I dispute that), it’s certainly not true of all men.
I have been away from them for four months now, with two very brief trips home to see them. For now, until they arrive here, I live in a small, rented room with few distractions or comforts. The nights are long, made longer by lack of sleep. At work, I find I have to change my computer’s screensaver, because I can’t take seeing pictures of my children roll by anymore.
When I was a young(er) father, toting my older son around Brooklyn in his baby backpack, I felt shut out of the mom-community all around me (and it was ALL around me). Perhaps that has changed in the past 10 years, and there are more work-from-home dads out there. But in 2000 and 2001, I was alone, and I was viewed with suspicion. It was a shame, because I enjoyed wandering around with Thing 1 on my back, and we had a lot of fun together. But no one wanted to talk to us. The Yuppie mothers were a pack. The Jamaican nannies were a pack. So I knocked around, alone. If there was a “guys don’t care” mentality or stereotype, it wasn’t coming only from the guys.
I’ve always resented the “dumb guy” stereotype—on TV, in movies, and in life. I do not know a single male, of any age, who is incapable of finding something in the kitchen or making himself something (something) to eat. Even my father, who went into of my mother’s long illness incapable of cleaning the house or cooking anything beyond a steak, learned how to take care of himself. He hadn’t actually been incapable—he had just never been asked to play that role or learn those skills.
At work, we are reading manuscripts and planning videos on the crisis of boys in our schools. Sometimes it’s African American boys, sometimes it’s Latino boys, sometimes it’s just boys in general. The underlying assumption, as always: boys are insane. Boys are pure physical beings. Boys cannot be expected to “do” school, which is somehow feminine in structure. There is only one way to be in the world, as a boy, and it’s pure Tom Sawyer.
I’m so tired of the arguments, programs, and proselytizing in our culture that comes from these reductive views of people. There is one way to be Black; there is one way to be a boy; there is one way to be a Democrat or a Republican. Every thing means one thing. Is it just that the world has become too complex for us to manage, so we have to reduce everything in it to simple equations? Did we allow more complexity when the world around us seemed simpler? Maybe that’s why our education system is in so much trouble; the culture around us keeps telling us that there’s nothing we have to learn; everything is clearly just want we think it is.
But it’s a lie. Every thing deserves some measure of awe. Every person is a mystery. Assume nothing.