I don't have any scientific proof on hand, but I feel like I've still never seen a study that says fathers clean more or do more child-rearing stuff than mothers. I know there are exceptions, but I'm talking on the whole. Women are often expected to be like, Here, take it all, take everything I've got because now I'm a mom, while dads are off working on vintage cars and starting moody rock bands. Actually, the real reasons that the burden of parenting fall harder on women are waaay more complex than all that, but they are actually too complex for me to explain here because I went to a state school.
However. I am a person who lives in the world, and I can tell you that having a baby with a man who wanted to throw himself all in — down to the diapers, the cleaning, the doctor visits, the logistics and even the temporary alcohol abstinence — has shown me that 1) that is actually rare, and 2) that those fathers who totally commit to parenting get a raw deal, too.
In fact, not only did my husband (Happy Father's Day!) not treat any of the responsibilities of parenting as optional (i.e., I can just be a nonviolent paycheck bot and still win dad of the year!), but he regarded them as just as automatic as I did, barring certain biological differences. And it wasn't a cheesy, emasculating journey straight into my vagina where we cuddled away his balls, either. He just honestly saw his job as a father to be as engaged and invested as mine as a mother throughout all the details, and in return he got a face full of hassle. Let me count the ways:
Gestational Advice: When a woman becomes pregnant, she becomes Onslaught Central for every tidbit, tale and terror from every single human on earth who feels like sharing, and on some days, that's every single person you meet. It can be invasive and even insulting, but at least it's information.
For men, sure, there's advice, but a lot of it seems to center on how to deal with your crazy pregnant wife, or how you're still a man, or how you're still relevant, or how you can deal with not getting laid for so long, you poor sum-a-bitch. There are books about the pregnancy itself geared toward men as well, but we struggled to find one that could go more than two sentences without stooping to the cheesy sports metaphor about game faces and heads in games or being your pregnant wife's coach, or a lot of dude-bro-hammer-knowledge-dropping that sounded like it was written for Bill and Ted, or, you know, fucking morons. Room to grow here, indeed.
Nursing: Of course I had to nurse the kid myself, which left me tied to my baby like a hooker to a Cricket phone. But there were resources for that — lactation consultants do exist. (Though they aren't always helpful or affordable, so this is a problem for women, too.)
But my husband was as involved as he could be, handling all the storing and labeling of the pumped milk and all the bottle-feeding (when we were able to bottle feed) and he held enough glasses of water for me to be a champion water-holder. And yet, we found it hard to find a practitioner who treated us as a nursing team. Most of the information was directed at me and treated it as a kind of formality that was more like a little pause on the way to solids.
We saw a few messages that husbands "should" support the nursing woman, but nothing about exactly "how" you do that (hint: hold glasses of water). We were surprised to learn the dietary and emotional needs that come with nursing exclusively, but I could at least find stuff out on online - such resources for helping fathers are few and far between.
Friendships: I feel like my friends, family and coworkers knew and understood I would have to temporarily dissolve into a heap of mushy, unavailable motherhood while I got to know and learned how to take care of my baby. By contrast, my husband was deluged with offers to escape the terror of baby-haunted domestic life for beers. Often. This may sound like a perk, but can feel dismissive to a new father genuinely invested in his new life, hoping his male friends will respect that.
Maternity Leave: In this country, I was actually lucky: I was able to take something like maternity leave, about 10 weeks total that I technically had to cobble together from paid time off, short-term disability that I had to have signed up for before becoming pregnant, and a handful of weeks of unpaid time where I couldn't really be fired (mostly). Hey — I just had a kid, get it? Nobody thought I should be back to work immediately.
But my husband? He actually got a lot of vibey work shit for needing some time off, along with stories of dudes who were back to work the same day and so forth, and so it was back to the grind after merely one week of time off, which was only paid because it was his vacation.
Stranger Help: Strangers can be pretty nice to pregnant women, but once you have the baby, you will notice that people often just expect you to juggle whatever is you're doing just fine because you're a woman, which means you were born knowing how to stop a tantrum. I've found myself carrying an infant and two coffees and still holding a door for someone else who breezed right on by me. But then again, I live in Los Angeles, which scientifically attracts a special breed of narcissist in casual workout gear.
When alone with child, my husband, however, gets more unsolicited and unneeded help from complete strangers concerning everything from how the kid is dressed (sock missing!) to putting the kid in the car to returning shopping carts than I have ever gotten, even counting my pregnancy. Help is great! Help is nice! But so often, it's delivered with a tone that suggests he couldn't possibly know what he is doing in alone in a grocery store with a 3-month-old in the middle of the day.
Changing tables: In women's bathrooms, they sometimes exist. For men's, hahahahahahha.
Commercial Appeal: According to commercials, moms do pretty much everything that fucking counts in childrearing, especially if that can be expressed through processed food or folding laundry, while dads are embarrassing doofuses who can't find their balls, much less that newfangled internet cord.
Sigh. I guess I'd rather be known for cleaning anything than forgetting to change my own kid's shit-filled diaper. A recent Huggies ad featuring dads left alone with their babies and "eventually" getting around to changing said diapers was pulled after protests from fathers who resented being made to look like moron-assholes. People are excited about this little overseas ad for VW that shows a dad being an actual dad in ways significant to mundane, and while it's not completely revolutionary - i.e., he cares about man-approved safety! - it is very sweet and a huge step in the right direction.
Flexible Work Culture: At my job, people knew I had just had a baby — holy shit and stuff — so they gave me room to deal with nursing, pumping and busting my ass home on lunch breaks to deal with my newborn for check ups or whatever. It was understood that at least for the foreseeable future, that was going to be the top priority in my life.
For my husband, coworkers and bosses didn't seem to expect his working schedule to change in the slightest, nor was negotiating his 15-hours-a-day schedule an option, even when the superiors in question were also fathers. Granted, he worked in a male-dominated field where women held positions that were largely clerical. But this is no excuse.
In the end, we decided it made the most sense for my husband to stay home with the kid for the first year of her life, a decision which was greeted with a mix of pity and confusion by his place of employment, and a surprising number of other folks.
One caveat: We lived in the South at the time, a place that is still known to sometimes look progress squarely in the eyes and say, "Uh, we gon' have ta get back to ya on that." I'd like to believe that was their own special quaint, outmoded way of looking at masculinity and fatherhood and that the rest of the country has already caught up. In Los Angeles, I see plenty of examples to the contrary, but I'll believe it when I see the men's room changing tables to back it up.
Tracy Moore is a writer living in Los Angeles. For Father's Day, she's getting her husband a watch made out of a tie, a fishing pole, a shoeshine kit, and a grilling accessory. Mock her on Twitter: @iusedtobepoor