Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Great Big Lie

Everything you have been taught about progressive parenting is a lie. Forget the myth that fathers can be every bit the maternal presence in your child's life. There's a reason God did not give us breasts, and it wasn't just to prove that intelligent men can repeatedly act like morons.

As many of you know, I have -- whether on purpose or by accident -- dedicated my life to the careful well-being and raising of my Jawa. Sandra Bullock, possessed of ambition and drive, has chosen to pursue career excellence.

In our small world, this arrangement is well-appreciated. It's better than the traditional set-up, demonstrating as it does the serenity achieved when one teams a fully-empowered woman with a man who has been freed of the tyranny of paternalism. It even gets me out of jury duty. I just write "primary caregiver" in the space where you can write an excuse to not do jury duty, send off the forms and never hear from them again.

I was chugging along, feeling like a resident of the upper echelon of "stay-at-home dads" (thanks, baby boomers, for that sophisticated and manly name, by the way), until yesterday, when my Jawa was sent home with a fever of 104.

Crisis may bring out the best in people. For guys masquerading as primary caregivers, it is a harsh reminder of the built-in limitations of their vocation.

Maybe it's different with little girls, but little boys don't want much to do with their fathers when they're sick. Granted, my son spends his days in an environment where wanting your mommy is not just accepted but reinforced, but I figured that the time I spend with him may have bought me at least minor entree into the world of hard-core parenting in times of crisis. Am I going to have to wait until the day he thinks his girlfriend is pregnant to really make my bones?

Five poorly-timed minutes in the shower cost me the initial contact. By the time I dried off, Sandra Bullock was on her way to the school to retrieve the under-the-weather Jawa. By the time they got home, the die was already cast. She'd outlined her management plan for dealing with the illness -- Tylenol, rest, reassessment the following day if fever still present -- had him in his PJs and was hauling his bedding downstairs to the couch.

I just sat there in awe. Which is what I spend lots of time doing, now that I think of it.

Time passed. S. Bullock went back to work. The Jawa and I watched TV and played with Legos. Time came to make soup. I had a meeting at the school.

So instead of providing the classic "sick kid" rehab perks, I instead went to the child's school for a marketing committee meeting. None of this occurred to me as depressing until around 8 pm, when it became apparent that I would not be spending the evening in my own bed. Instead, I would be outcast, uninvited again into the mother-son coccoon, not even as a guest.

I can live with that. My need for sleep sometimes supercedes my desire to feel needed by my child in his time of want.

Today, luckily, some would say, Sandra Bullock was home in the a.m. due to a 9 o'clock dentist appointment. I stayed home with the sick child, giving him his Tylenol at the assigned times, rubbing his head when it seemed appropriate, making beds, getting him whatever he needed which, admittedly, wasn't much.

Naturally, when S. Bullock returned home, I had no answer to any of her pointed questions, beginning with "what's his temperature," and going all the way up to "have you called the Dr.'s office yet?" Hey, I started the taxes and the financial aid forms. Shouldn't that count for something?

And then, the final insult.

Cheerful, as always, and tolerant as usual of my shortcomings, S. Bullock took the Jawa's temp (38.2 C, which I skillfully converted to a Farenheit reading of 100.58) and called the doctor, then got onto her laptop while we waited for a call back.

You are correct: she was double-tasking, actually working while parenting. And looking very cute and efficient all the while. I was on the floor, reading the paper with the Jawa leaning against me.

I got into the shower, which is when all important phone calls come. S. Bullock went outside to move my car so it wouldn't get a ticket (street cleaning), yet another job I should have been doing myself. This is when the nurse called back.

"Jawa! Can you get the phone!" I yelled from the bathroom. What this nurse would think of a primary caregiver who makes his sick, fever-addled child answer the phone while he, what? does drugs in the back room? Gambles online? I know what she would think: "Fathers shouldn't stay home. They should get jobs and support their families."

I ran out of the shower. The Jawa was lying on the ground, holding the phone. "I'll take it," I said, forcefully. And my little helpless Jawa looked up at me and shook his head: no.

"Is it the nurse?" I asked. He shook his head again: yes.

"I can take it." Head shake: no.

By then Sandra Bullock had completed moving my car to a safe spot. She burst through the door. The Jawa said, "Here she is," into the phone and handed it to her.

"Were you talking to the nurse?" I asked him.

"No," he said.

"Just sitting there on the phone, waiting for Mommy?"


"You know, I could have talked to the nurse." He gave me a screwed-up look, as if I'd just told him that I could create fire by rubbing my hands together. As if.

"No," he said, after a pause. "Mommy has to."


And here is a feature that comes with having a 9-year-old Jawa, old enough to understand that people are sensitive, and yet too young to adeptly spare feelings. "Well," he said, obviously lying, "Mommy already talked to the nurse. She knows what's going on."

The worst part of it? He was right. I listened to S. Bullock on the phone. She was asking questions I never would have thought to ask. When she got off, she hit me with a barrage of facts and options. I retained about 10% of it.

Now the Jawa is again lying on the living room floor, watching TV. I've stuck to doing what I do well -- getting him things, letting him use my computer, feigning enthusiasm in his latest CD-rom games. In ten minutes I will administer the Tylenol. Several hours from now I will ease back into the bottom bunk, as I have been already told that the chances of me sleeping in my own bed tonight are slim indeed.

And so, San Francisco dads and enlightened men the world over, be aware of your boundaries. As sensitive and caring as we are told to be, we'll never be Mommy. I've got a sneaking suspicion that might not be such a bad thing...


Anonymous flush puppy said...

At least you TRIED to talk to the nurse. The only way that would happen in this house is if I were unconscious. And then Butter Goat would probably make the kid talk to the nurse. Though now he can tend to a nosebleed without calling me. One small step for mankind...

8:29 AM  
Anonymous the hammer said...

Now you know why the Moms are always so tired. Multi-tasking, organizing, coordinating, etc. can be quite exhausting. I must say that while "sick kid" coordination may not rank high, you're a champ at Healthy Kid's Dad and No School Field Trip Coordinator. Life should be back to normal by now.

2:29 PM  

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