From a phone conversation with a mother of one of my daughters’ friends about a possible sleep-over: “I don’t want to interfere with your time with the kids on ‘your weekend’ with them…”
Huh?! My weekend? I have the kids with me roughly 24 days of every month. Why did she assume I only see them every other weekend? Oh yeah, I forgot: Men are ALWAYS at fault in a divorce and must be forced to spend time with their children, or at best they are punished by only being allowed to see their children for a limited time. BULLSHIT! This was one of the first of what would be many times that I had to deal with breaking that stereotype. I probably should have written about this over a year ago when my ex moved out, but back to school time has brought it back to mind. I would get it from everywhere – school administrative types unable to understand that they could and should speak with me, doctors who couldn’t tell who to address when explaining medications, coaches who never knew who to call with schedule changes, and so on. Since the Big Split, I had felt the cold stares, heard the whispers, sensed the concern and received the polite forced smiles from the soccer moms many times but really didn’t give much of a shit. That’s just the way I am. I consider it one of the beneficial effects of growing up a punk in the 80′s. You tend to get used to stereotypes and working around people’s assumptions about you. I also thought that maybe the ex had been bad-mouthing me either on purpose or instinctively to save her from any guilt she may have been feeling about initiating the divorce. Men would often ask “you still in the house?” Apparently they were unable to understand how if I was the Evil Bastard™ that their wife heard I was, then how on earth was I not in jail or living in a van down by the river, much less keeping my house and getting primary custody? The explanation is way too complicated. Don’t get me wrong, we both had plenty to complain about, but in the end splitting up was her idea. I am not here to blame, just trying to give some background as to why peoples’ reactions didn’t make sense to me. Now that about a year has passed, I see it as one of her better ideas – for me anyway. But that is for another blog entry. Again, I worried not, as long as nobody held it against my kids.
After a while, I figured out that that many women aren’t quite used to the idea of men who actually enjoy having children, being with them, raising them and not just the occasional trip to get ice cream. Where does that come from? Are their husbands and boyfriends all assholes, or do these women just think they got “one of the good ones”? Maybe a generation or two ago, men were less involved with their kids and that stereotype has stuck with us. And as much as I hate to do it, I must also blame “the media”. We grew up with Sunday night movies of the week, and even After School Specials showing us how men are cheaters, drunks, gamblers, polygamists, child-hating wife-beaters, workaholics, and just too busy to be a good Dad. ”Mr. Mom” and about half of all sit-coms and commercials showed us all how men are incapable of running a household with kids. And don’t even get me started on The Lifetime Channel or most day time talk shows. There is way too much money to be made producing entertainment which caters to unhappy women who are looking for someone to blame. The role of men and what it means to be a Dad is changing, but attitudes and stereotypes are not. I haven’t done any scientific studies but if you take a look at my friends who have kids, every one of them is extremely dedicated to family and a few are even “stay at home dads” (I think stay at home dads and moms should get the hell out of the house with the kids more often, but I digress). Granted, my friends are not “average”. We all have past lives as punks, drunks, filthy dope-smoking hippies, beach bums, drag racers, pirates, bohemian slackers… but we are all DGDs (Damn Good Dads).
It is taking time, but the people I actually do have to deal with on a regular basis – parents of my kids’ friends and such – are getting it straight. Anybody else who cares way too much about our divorce (the ex has told me some stories about people who shunned her, too), well, I just feel sorry for them if they don’t have anything better to do than make an issue of the marital status of someone they barely know. And you know, it is really pretty rewarding when your kids friends parents are no longer the least bit concerned when they drop their kids of at my house for the night – and there is no “Mom” in site. And I think the word is out on my kick-ass after sleep-over breakfasts.