Dentists and laundry and air-conditioning repairmen, oh my!

The difficult life of a work-from-home dad.

Published August 27, 2007 6:00PM (EDT)

I've read some grumbling this morning about the New York Times' Michael Winerip's Sunday piece about the hardships of being a dad who works from home. In it, he wonders where the time goes each day: How is it that though he closes his office door and buckles down, it's hard to get as much accomplished as you'd think, what with the daily distractions of domestic upkeep taking him away from his work.

Winerip feels that "very rarely does [his] household entail just the normal stuff it is supposed to entail. Hardly a day goes by without some domestic breakdown, some issue with school or some sprained something that needs X-raying."

Trying to account for where the day goes, Winerip composes a list of all the little time sucks that keep him from his computer -- from arguing with the school photo people about what kind of package he has to purchase to taking his son to donate blood to dealing with a broken air conditioner and leaking washing machine to scheduling dental appointments for the kids.

I understand why Gawker's Doree Shafrir got in a twist about this story, wondering what was "most annoying" about it and concluding that it was Winerip's "wide-eyed incredulousness that there could be so much involved in taking care of his house and his kids in a week. Has he ever talked to, you know, a woman? Turns out, life is messy!"

Yes indeed. The notion that any of these daily disasters is unusal will sound hilariously naive to anyone who has run a household with children (not to mention pets) in it. And what about all the mothers and fathers in charge of keeping the home standing who do not get to work from home? The ones who can't have repairmen show up in the middle of the day, but must schedule them -- along with the dentists and the parent conferences -- around a day at the office?

There's another complaint I'd like to lodge. By publishing a piece like this, the Times is expressing an odd and rather sudden interest in the minutiae of home keeping, coincidentally at the moment that those minutiae are encountered by a man! "By God, this carpooling business is fabulously complicated and onerous, Jim! Why yes, John, let's write a newspaper story about it!" Sigh.

But that said, I actually kind of enjoyed the story, mostly because of the above complaints. Let's face it, as more men stay home or take primary responsibility for the children and for domestic duties, they're going to discover exactly the kinds of challenges that their own working mothers faced for decades. Are they surprised? Confused about where the time goes? Frustrated about how difficult it is to get other work done? Really freaking tired? Yes! But better that they are discovering all those things than that they are not, right? Both because it's a sign that there are more men taking on some of the responsibilities that have traditionally been women's and because it will hopefully contribute to an increased respect for the women who have been juggling all this crap for years.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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