The Indestructible Manliness of the Stay-at-Home Dad

On those days when Heather goes into the office, I’m not awake when I get out of bed. I’m standing, yes, and making my way down the hall into the office where I know I’ll find Maggie (who usually wakes up about a half hour before me) watching some movie she’s put on the DVD player or working furiously on a drawing or one of several books she’s trying to complete. I’ll greet Maggie, turn on the fan, then lie down on the black futon for a few more minutes—or, if Maggie isn’t hungry yet for breakfast, another half hour. Twenty or so years ago, I’d often wake up feeling pretty much the same way—except it would often be because I was hung over. And, at one in the afternoon, I’d need a lot longer than half an hour to get myself together. Luckily, those days are behind me.

I remember when I was young, sometimes my Dad would come in to wake me up. Then, sometimes, he’d sit down on the bed, lean back, and fall back asleep again while lying on top of my feet. I’d lie there, awake, trapped by my feet, lost in my thoughts. Thoughts which, I suspect, were a lot less complex than the thoughts Maggie has now (I’m a guy, and I’m a firm believer that for a lot of guys, complex thought doesn’t begin until much later in life). So, on those days when I do just go right back to sleep, slipping momentarily from the complex thoughts of my neurotic state of mind, I’m just keeping with tradition—even though, in most ways, I suppose, I’m anything but a traditional sort of father. And it’s not just because I’m a stay-at-home dad.

First of all, I’m not really into all that usual guy kind of stuff—you know, the kinds of things it’s assumed that men enjoy doing. Take, for instance, hunting. To me, taking a rifle and shooting at wild animals in the woods isn’t exactly my idea of a fair fight. If a deer were able to shoot back at you and yell, “I’m gonna get you, you fucker”, then maybe you’d have something. Maybe then I’d even consider calling it—as many often do—sport. But until a deer or other animal is able to shoot back at you and transform you into cuts of meat, it’s still pretty much on the same level as picking wild strawberries as far as I’m concerned. Which is to say, I don’t think hunting is all that fucking macho.

Not that there isn’t skill involved in hunting, because of course there is (and, yes, hunting can be one way of putting food on the table). But we have highly developed brains and our prey doesn’t—hell, a deer, as we all know, doesn’t have enough brains to get out of the way when a Hummer is heading its way down I66 at 70 mph. And we have the technology in the form of high powered hunting rifles (I could list the names of several different kinds of guns here, but I don’t know the names of different kinds of fucking guns). Now, I’m not a vegetarian nor am I a person for whom animal rights is a big priority, but still, shooting an animal with a gun doesn’t seem like sufficient reason to go patting ourselves on the back.

As for cars, another classic obsession of the macho state of mind, I can only respond a la Homer Simpson by saying, “BOR-ing.” Sure, here and there, usually during some dreadful parade, I’ll see some antique car that will get my attention for a couple of seconds, but no longer than that. It’s like when someone shows you the scar from an appendectomy—you go, “Wow,” and then, after an incredibly brief moment of fascination with the grotesque slit in the flesh that’s held together by stitches, you turn away. Maybe that’s just me—but most of the time I care less about cars than I do about Glenn Beck’s hemorrhoids. (Wait, I do care about his hemorrhoids—I hope they get worse.)

But whatever the case, I tend to find most cars kind of ugly, in fact, especially any car that has one of those spoilers in back or is blasting some Toby Keith song as it zooms past me going twenty miles per hour over the speed limit. Cars don’t move me—well, not that way. All I want in a car is a vehicle that will get me from one place to another with a decent amount of comfort and a minimum amount of difficulty. And the less gas it takes to run it the better. So, in response to a vanity license plate—on an SUV I often see in my neighborhood—which begs the question UJEALOUS, I must answer, in a word, NO. Hell, I drive a mini-van, and people like me who drive mini-vans obviously do not give a fuck.

As for the big spectator sports, well, when I was younger I regularly watched baseball, basketball, and especially football on TV. I was, for a long time, an actual fan of Washington’s unfortunately named football team. But one thing I rarely did was attend a game in person. In fact, when I was in college, I didn’t attend a single one of my school’s sporting events, and in high school I only saw a few—and that was only when I knew that one girl or another I was interested in would be there.

In my drinking days, there was nothing worse than being somewhere where the only place to drink was a sports bar. And that’s because, to be blunt about it, I pretty much hate sports fans. I don’t like being around them, and even when I did watch sports, I didn’t like to talk about them. For me, once a game is over, it’s over. When I was in high school, a game wasn’t like, for instance, James Joyce’s “The Dead.” That I wanted to think about more (and no matter what one may think of Joyce’s later, almost impossibly difficult works, his stories in Dubliners, I think, hold up as masterpieces of short fiction). As for those games, they were the quick and easy entertainment. Yeah, I could appreciate a great catch, an impossible jump shot at the buzzer, but after it was over I saw no point in thinking about them any further. The ball was back on the ground, the points were scored, one team won and one team lost and it wasn’t such a big fucking deal anymore. Or at least—even when I did dwell on such things, it didn’t seem like these things were worth dwelling upon. Unlike “The Dead,” I thought it was a waste of time to think about them any further. Which was why things like these were called games—when they’re over, it’s times to move on to the important shit.

Now a lot of friends of mine, including a lot of the poets I know (my falling out with sports has nothing to do with my artistic “sensibilities”), are big on sports. I am now confessing to them that, at least in more recent years, when I’ve said something like “Oh yeah” or a mild “Wow” when the talk turned to sports I was just being polite. I will still watch DC’s terribly named football team on occasion, but it’s not at all like when I was young and screaming when some unknown Dallas Cowboys rookie was leading an absurd comeback over the Skins on Thanksgiving. Yeah, I was into it then, and right now I’m at the point when don’t even care about football anymore.

And what I wonder is if, for me, fatherhood has anything to do with that. I know a lot of other fathers who are still are rabid sports fans, and I’m not saying that you can’t be a big sports fan and still be a dedicated father—but for me my entry into fatherhood seemed like the point when sports really started to lose whatever importance they still had for me.

My daughter Maggie was born mid-summer—training camp time for American footballers. This was a time of year when I used to think, without a trace of sadness, that summer would soon be over. And the absence of sadness at summer’s approaching end was because I knew that football season would soon be here (again, as I said, I was actually into it) along with the crisp cool air, fall foliage, and all that other wonderful crap.

But, since moving out to the valley and becoming a stay-at-home dad, whatever interest I still had in sports pretty must got obliterated like a rabid squirrel run over by a monster truck.

It’s not because I work from home, writing and editing. For some people the problem with working from home is that home and work are no longer separate. That’s not the problem for me. My routine of taking Maggie to school, going to the grocery store on the way back, then going home, walking upstairs to our home office suits me fine. I can work in our office, I can read there, I can even fall asleep there. I can easily switch from formatting an article on greener supply chains for a website to writing a poem about Thelonius Monk. When I’m done or need to take a break, I can readily banish the work I’m getting paid for from my mind and switch to doing laundry, fixing a screen door (OK, trying to fix a screen door), or cooking dinner—there’s always something that needs to be done. And here, in the valley, spending time as a fan, as a spectator watching some game, seems like a luxury I can’t afford anymore.

But it’s not simply a matter of time. There’s also the reality that here there are so many people who are looking at me. Me being, to them, that strange, unfathomable being—or a sign of what they think has gone wrong with this country, with what they see as their country. After all, I’m one of those minorities who Glenn Beck maintains is ready to start the next race war in this country—which means that Beck and his followers are watching my every move. Spending time as a spectator, even if it’s only some sporting event on television—seems risky to me now that I’m the one who so much of the time is being watched.

It’s not that I don’t watch anything anymore—it’s just that I’m not watching the game. Now I watch the parents of the kids Maggie befriends when I take her to the Fantasyland Playground—those parents who refuse to look me in the eye even though our kids are playing together happily. Those parents at kids birthday parties who stare at me and suddenly look away like frightened schoolchildren when I turn towards them and who, clearly, do not want to be in the same room with me—or, rather, don’t want me to be in the same room with them. Those people in their monster trucks who drive past me, and look at me boldly, because in their monster trucks they feel like they’re at home watching a game in which I’m one of the competitors. And some of them, I gather, are rooting for me to lose, to go back where I came from, so America can once again, be “the America of our founding fathers.” Yeah, it’s that game where their goal is to take America back, to Glenn Beck’s vision of what America should be. And my goal is to stop these ignorant fucks.

Becoming a father, rather than making me weak and sentimental for some distant past, has actually made me stronger and angrier. It’s made me focus on the future. Of course, it has filled me with love, for my daughter, and reinforced my love for my wife. But it’s also filled me with hate for the racism and idiocy out there—because these I see as the real threats to the world that Maggie’s going to live in, not some invasion of illegal aliens.

My Dad became an American citizen around 15 years ago, when he was eighty, after having already been living here for nearly fifty years. He’d lived through a real invasion of his country during World War II when Japan invaded the Philippines—how many of Glenn Beck’s goons actually know what that’s like?

My Dad is 94 now. If I were to take him to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, he could easily be stopped on suspicion of being an illegal alien. He has never been here illegally, but now, because of the legislation about to take effect in Arizona, he can be treated like an illegal alien just because of the way he looks—meaning that he and I and Maggie can be considered under suspicion simply because we aren’t white.

My Dad worked hard all his life to give his kids a better, easier life that he had. I, in turn, along with Heather, am working damn hard to give Maggie an even better life than we’ve had. I’ll be damned if some goons in Arizona and any other places that want to enact similar laws are going to fuck that up. And I say this sincerely, as a father, to anyone who supports the law in Arizona: Go fuck yourself. I have nothing but contempt for you. I, with neither shame nor regret, piss on you.

And one day, maybe, I will be able to watch the game again. To just sit back with a drink—just one drink to help me keep my strength—and cheer my team on. But now, because I’m not a spectator anymore, I feel—whether rightly or wrongly—like I’m in control. It may just be another fantasy, another in an endless series of incarnations of the so-called American Dream, but despite everything that’s out there, I can still see it. Because, as a father, I have a tradition I’m trying to uphold. I may not be upholding it in quite the same way as my father, but I am, nevertheless, determined. And I don’t have to wait until between innings, between plays, between shots from the floor, to move towards it.

-Jose Padua

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6 responses to “The Indestructible Manliness of the Stay-at-Home Dad

  1. Tonja Phillips

    Hi Jose,
    As always, your words resonate with me. As for the parents on the playground, fuck them! As a gay woman, I have only been afforded a glimpse into the realm of discrimination that you deal with everyday.

    • shenandoahbreakdown

      Thanks, Tonja! Though I don’t imagine that things are always nice for you either here in the valley…
      Regards!
      Jose

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  3. Jose, I don’t want to idealize you. (You might destroy me with your mighty superbard powers if I did that.) But I have a sense you have not been a spectator that often. A watcher, certainly. And a lot of your stories about the City sound like crazed urban whitewater rafting, with limited control being sort of the point. But the absolute detachment of the spectator in the monster truck has never, I’m guessing, been interesting to you, though it is the normal mode for so many USAns.

    Anyway, this piece is beautiful, one of the most real and complex pieces about fatherhood and race (and various other things) I have seen.

    I think this is a piece that a lot of people should read to help them get what’s going on, in AZ and beyond. I would love to see this published somewhere like the Huffington Post where a lot of people would read it. Not that Shenandoah Breakdown is not one of our nation’s most prestigious literary sites…

    • shenandoahbreakdown

      Ha, my superbard powers! Actually I usually use unpleasant body odors before resorting to my true superpowers! But thanks! Yeah, it would be nice to get these at least linked on Huffington–and we’re looking into ways to expand our audience, but right now it’s enough for us just trying to get the stuff written. Hey, stay cool!

  4. Nice. Being a stay-at-home dad is a lot of work, but a real treat as well. As for all the “southern hospitality”, I suggest moving West. It’s like another planet out here.

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