By Tricia M. Derr
Several months ago, JD (my husband), quit his job to be a stay-at-home dad. I didn’t know it at the time, but taking ownership of our decision would be more difficult than imagined.
A month into our new family arrangement, JD and I sat at lunch with the other U-10 basketball parents. The usual small talk ensued while we inhaled burritos and diet soda.
“What do you do for a living?" another dad innocently asked.
BAM! Awkward silence. We hadn’t prepared for “THE question.” JD turned “50 shades” of red. “Uhh, I’m in transition,” he replied, sounding like a victim of downsizing rather than a partner in the careful choice we made. The other dad, now equally red-faced, gained renewed interest in his burrito.
My heart sunk. Why couldn’t he just “own it?” Culture, tradition and outdated paradigms of “southern integrity” held his tongue. Despite our extensive discussions about the gift of option, bucking social pressure, and doing what is “right” for our family, JD was ashamed. Of all people, the regular victim of my diversity and inclusion soapboxing, couldn’t even say “stay-at-home-dad” out loud.
To be honest, I cringed at “THE question” myself, realizing for the first time that my husband would be the unintended martyr of our progressive lifestyle. Sadly, stay-at-home-dads simply do not enjoy the same celebration of “piercing the gender veil” as their counterparts – despite the understated parallels. I get “you GO girl” encouragement, while he is excluded from play dates and endures “Manny” jokes. The overwhelming assumption is that he was not “successful enough” to support his family. Despite my nonconformist attitude, I found myself equally guilty of indulgence. Recently, I caught myself in the midst of a defensive description of our lifestyle in an obvious attempt to preempt judgment. Apparently, I could not “own it” either. Realizing this has been quite sobering.
In our professional lives, we invest substantial time discussing issues relating to diversity, gender equality, and equal opportunity -- often focusing on women and minorities. These conversations tend to carry a strong undercurrent: White men do not suffer social injustice; and are generally guilty of creating it.
Five months into our new family dynamic, I am convinced that we all (even white men) suffer from unfair stereotyping, profiling, and prejudice in one way or another. Our experience has been the genesis of a serious reexamination of my own belief that white men are socially bulletproof. Looking back, I wonder if my preconceived notion perpetuated the very stereotyping I protest. Specifically, I defined a population rather than a person. This is a basic principle of prejudice; and I am an offender. I doubt I am alone.
Don’t get me wrong. I still believe certain classes and groups enjoy an unearned benefit of doubt while others suffer both overt and subtle discrimination. My point is simply that we must all take personal responsibility for our roles in defining groups, rather than people; and we must be deliberate in divorcing ourselves from unintentional predisposition in any setting. By acknowledging (but not accepting) bias and taking ownership, we are better equipped to separate distinction from tradition and superficial difference among populations. “Owning it” is rejuvenating. Indeed, there is something quite liberating about admitting you are human.
As for our “stay-at-home-dad” decision, we are progressing towards ownership. Nothing can erase inescapable social stigma or our misplaced sensitivity to it. However, as we appreciate the insidious nature of bias (and our role in perpetuating it), JD and I have become more comfortable with candid conversations and creative retorts to “Sugar Momma” jokes. We are getting better at seeking support from (and giving support to) other families with nontraditional lifestyles. I have been amazed by how many of us there are.
In case you are wondering, I did ask JD to review and approve this article. That you are reading this means we continue to head in the right direction. Nevertheless, the real test is yet to come . . . I’m still waiting to see what happens the next time he gets asked “THE question.”