i should have gotten the hint when I saw the ad for that baby dance class called "Mommy and Me." I wanted to join, but was barred by an accident of anatomy. So began my life as a wannabe mom.
Let me introduce myself. I am David, the single parent of two
lovely children. I have cared for them since they were small. I never miss a parent conference or a doctor's appointment. When my daughter sings a solo or my son plays the piano, I am there. I have kissed their boo-boos and unfurled their brows. I have read them to sleep. Yet because of my gender, I will forever be excluded from the inner circle of parenting, that senior sorority of mystical sensibility -- American motherhood.
I haven't always been single. Once I was married and happy and mainstream and even intimately connected to an actual member of that lofty sisterhood. How I remember the days when we both worked full-time and she spent her nights in college while I fed our infant daughter bottled breast milk from the fridge before singing her to sleep. My daughter and I bonded then, and we have been close ever since. But apparently not close enough for the organizer of the infernal baby dance class.
"I don't mean to be sexist or exclusionary or anything,"
the organizer informed me sweetly when I challenged her by telephone. "But I'm just, well, more comfortable with women. You know -- moms." I didn't fare much better when I read the literature regarding my new responsibilities as a parent. The assumption was always that the only people reading such material were females. Volumes and volumes on childbirth, breast feeding and mothering but barely anything on the experience of being a dad.
"Why mothers and not fathers or parents who think?" asks
the mission statement, or "Mamafesto," of the section you are now reading. "Let's be honest," the document states, "the experience of motherhood still differs fundamentally from that of fatherhood."
Or, as a friend who is also a mother recently reminded me, "Fatherhood is sort of second-class parenting." So where did all this start? Undoubtedly, its roots lie in traditional gender roles -- husbands as bread winners who went out into the world to build careers and support their dependents, and good wives who stayed home and raised children.
Ironically, it was opposition to this forced division of
labor that helped spawn the modern feminist ideas that vigorously defend the mystique of motherhood, in turn strengthening those very divisions. Of course, there are reams of pre-feminist mythology and teachings to support the claim.
Some of it was recently cited by well-known feminist
attorney Gloria Allred, in defense of a legal decision that otherwise might have been indefensible. "It's important
that the baby be with its mother," she said regarding the case of
two young parents from Southern California battling over custody of their 10-month-old daughter.
The baby was conceived during a summer romance following the mother's freshman year at Harvard. The relationship didn't work out. The mother, who was on welfare, wanted to return to Cambridge with the baby to complete her education while the father, employed in a thriving family business in Long Beach, wanted to raise his daughter at home.
Being a feminist, Allred of course supported the mother's right to
pursue her education. In her eagerness to do so, however, she didn't hesitate to evoke the specter of motherhood as the great divide between genders -- that lofty station against which all other arguments fail. Allred did not consider even for a flicker the possibility that a father-daughter bond could be just
as strong, instead arguing simply that the child should be with its mother. Naturally, the judge agreed. So now a young father who
wants to be involved with his child will see her only on costly vacations.
You can't have it both ways. You can't expect to be admitted
to worlds previously dominated by men without also being willing to sacrifice some of the status and privilege afforded traditional female domains.
Come on, sisters, it's time to be fair. You know, I never did get into that damned baby dance class. But on restless nights when the kids keep me awake, I sometimes comfort myself with the thought that I may be a good parent anyway.