When my first son was born, my role was that of a stay-at-home dad, a house husband essentially. My wife at the time was enlisted in the Air Force, stationed overseas; I was a dependent. The best choice for our family was for me to take care of our new-born son, as opposed to getting a low-paying job that would earn just enough money to pay for daycare. Dads who opted to remain home to care for the home and for the children were few in the mid-1980s. Stay-at-home dads were often a punch line; Mr. Mom was a popular movie that capitalized on this humor. Dads role-playing as moms were not taken seriously; dads achieving this role successfully happened even less often.
I fell in love with my role as a father during this period of time. I found that I was good at organizing my day, taking care of the home and providing for my wife and my son. This included cooking, cleaning, and various other tasks stereotypically relegated to moms. Of all the jobs I have had to date, none has been as rewarding to me. Many years later, I still reap often indescribable satisfaction by spending time with my children in the kitchen, at the park, or at the library. While our society views fathers not-quite-so amusingly today when compared to twenty-five years ago, the perception at the time was one of confusion.
Generally speaking, society expects men to cultivate careers and support their families. Further stereotypes suggest that women – moms – have life easy because they are not expected to “work for a living.” Both arguments are unfounded, but they exist nonetheless. As a new father and a stay-at-home dad, I was exposed to stereotypes that exist even today. While some respected my choice to reverse roles with my wife, others perceived me as a deadbeat. Some women found time to comment while I was in the commissary with my newborn son, relating to me how my choice of profession was not as easy as it looked.
The assumption was – and often is – that dads are not as capable parents as moms. The assumption is that dads cannot nurture as well as moms. Courts across the nation confirm this assumption, as moms are often automatically awarded custody of children in divorce proceedings. Advertisers confirm this assumption, as moms are targeted with household ideas to make life better for their families. This is fine. Of course, stay-at-home dads are the minority. We should not expect to see a Men’s Home Journal magazine any time soon. At the same time, when dads are limited by the stereotype or society’s perception of what is considered acceptable, an injustice is done to the dads and to the children. Gender does not necessarily signify that one parent is better than another, and gender should not be an issue in matters of the heart.
On June 24, 2011, New York State Governor Cuomo signed into law a bill that allows weddings for the LGBT community. Thirty days from this date, two people in love will be able to marry in New York State, regardless of gender. Who among us is to say that the love that two men or two women feel for one another is any less tangible or legitimate than the love of a man and a woman? Who is to say that I am not as capable a parent as any other, regardless of the fact that I am a man? Gender stereotypes have prevented women from voting and from achieving the same professional success as men. Gender stereotypes have prevented men from being an equal partner in the lives of their children. Gender stereotypes are preventing same sex couples from enjoying a lifetime together on par with that of traditional couples.
Moms can be astute professionals, dads can be nurturing providers to their children, and LGBT couples can raise families. These skills have little to do with gender and everything to do with the heartfelt desire to cultivate a society that accepts love, regardless of who reveals the emotion.