Gender stereotypes are such a drag: Mom takes care of everything at home, and dad knows his way around the local electronics store better than he knows his way around the kitchen. In reality, joint parenting is a wild mishmash of shared responsibilities, duplicated effort and skin-of-your-teeth crisis aversion teamwork. So why does sharing household responsibilities 50-50 seem harder than parting the Red Sea? For many of us, some of our most stirring childhood memories are of our fathers, red-faced with frustration, running frantically through the house yelling "Where does your mother hide the (insert name of household object here)!?" Truth be told, it's easier for one person to keep track of it all than for two people to share the daily details.
When fathers do decide to take on the daunting task of full-time, stay-at-home parenting, they face a million tiny challenges along with the big ones, and they're in for a wild ride. Maybe in the beginning, dad took it for granted that staying at home would mean lots of free time, working diligently in the Zen calm of a back bedroom or study, away from the bustle of the office life, while the kids amused themselves or napped angelically.
But anyone who's stayed home with children knows that it's an unrivaled non-unionized stress fest, a job which combines heavy lifting and biohazard cleanup and requires skills in social work and psychology, not to mention culinary grace and event planning. What dad might have thought would be a vacation at home, spending quality time with the kids and finally getting to that novel in the drawer, turns out to be an adventure in turning the house upside down ` la Jumanji -- but without the magical cleanup at the end. After the washing machine breaks down, after the children manage to climb into the kitchen cabinets and start playing "sandbox" with the Comet, after dad manages to use every clean towel in the house cleaning up vomit, or water from a broken pipe, or both, the truth builds to a confused, frantic realization: This work is uncompensated. This work is undervalued by society. This work is hard.
And sometimes those little corners that the uninitiated try to cut just get them in deeper. Say Dad props the baby bottle up on the pillow so he doesn't have to let go of the remote, only to get a firm tongue-lashing from the child's work-weary mother, and permanent Similac stains on the couch upholstery. Then there are the highly creative dinners that save a trip to the grocery store, such as the "peanut butter salad" created by one domestically awkward father of three, which consisted of iceberg lettuce, peanut butter and Italian dressing -- washed down by a beer split four ways.
We want to know: What's the worst moment Dad has ever spent taking care of the kids?
Was it the time Dad remembered to bring spicy turkey jerky and Doritos to the picnic at the park, but forgot the baby's bottle? Or left the house without the baby's diaper bag? Or perhaps the trauma came about because Mom could not bring herself to relinquish control of domestic information -- like the time Dad couldn't get the kids to softball practice because Mom had the map of the location safely tucked away in her purse -- at the office.
This is a perfect time for all of those hard-working, loyal dads to vie for the Drama Queen title. First, check out our submission guidelines. Then send your story to email@example.com by May 21, 1999. The winner and two runners-up will receive a children's video from Globalstage as well as a gift certificate to barnesandnoble.com. Meanwhile, find out which of our Drama Queen candidates has been crowned the Queen of terrible diets.