I was at Costco dropping off a prescription for an order of contact lenses, the man taking my order was a gregarious sort. “You have the day off work?” he asked.
“No, not really,” I replied.
“What do you do?”
I didn’t really know what to say. I didn’t want to say “unemployed.” Even if it’s true, it’s a loaded word, carrying with it connotations I was inexplicably desperate for him not to associate with me. I hesitated a moment and said,”I’m a stay-at-home dad.” Not exactly the truth, but it will be a reality shortly.
“Oh, great!” His response was warm. “How old?”
Without missing a beat, I said “She was just born in January. Two months old.” A bald-faced lie that earned a big smile.
“I have a four-month-old,” he said. We then went on to share about our sleep-deprived lives, the challenges we faced so early in our respective fatherhoods. I fabricated an anecdote about learning how to nap1, wondering in the back of my mind why I felt compelled to lie to this man about my current life situation.
I’d like to think it has to do with social grace. Saying “unemployed” or “between jobs” can create an awkward situation, something he was clearly trying to avoid by engaging in small talk while he was entering my information into his computer. I suppose I could have explained that I voluntarily left my job in January to be a stay-at-home dad for my forthcoming daughter, but that’s a bit more involved of an explanation than I think his innocuous question called for.
The truth is I lied because I am concerned about my current, albeit temporary, transitional phase. I try not to behave in such a way that concerns what others think of me, but I’m so used to having a good answer for that most boring biographical question that I didn’t know how to respond.
I have volunteered for domesticity, and I obviously don’t have any hesitation sharing that with people. But I’m not tethered to that lifestyle yet, and I won’t be for another three months. My day-to-day, however, is not particularly productive. And the thing is, it doesn’t need to be. I could, theoretically, go the library every day and idly wander the aisles glancing at the titles. I could go see a movie that I know Kathleen has no interest in seeing. I could even take a solo trip to Las Vegas for a bit of a poker getaway. With some minor exceptions, I am in a rare and enviable position of having zero obligations. It is a fleeting circumstance, one that I won’t experience again for decades. But I am not taking advantage of it at all. The problem with not having a routine is I get wrapped up in other people’s expectations of me.
I am currently being governed by a neurotic funhouse mirror of a feeling: my perception of Kathleen’s perception of me. I don’t know why this is. I do some chores around the house. I run errands regularly. I walk Stanley every day. I make dinner most nights. I would do these things regardless of how I chose to fill the rest of my day. But for some reason, my belief that Kathleen expects me to be available for anything that needs tending to paralyzes me into doing almost nothing.
Part of it is a vestige of working full-time for so long. When you have a job and a daily routine, having an extended period of unstructured time can be unsettling. There is an internal drive to appear productive, even if there is nothing particularly productive to do. Rather than appear lazy, whatever that word means in the context of my transition, I’m trying to give off signals to Kathleen that I am being as useful on the domestic side as she is on the professional side. But here is the truth: Kathleen could not care less what I do on a daily basis.
If I want to sit on the couch and watch an entire season of Survivor in two days, I could do that. If I want to sit on the porch and read until the sun goes down, I could do that. If I want to drive 90 minutes each way to Grand Ronde to play cards, I could to that too. I am what’s stopping me from tumbleweeding around, not my wife.
Because look, Kathleen knows that I am the one who has stepped off the career path in order to be a full-time dad. She knows I support her in her entrepreneurial efforts. She knows that I am a task-oriented detail freak who will keep the house and family running. And she knows that once our daughter is born, our family will be my priority every single day.
But the daily grind of dealing with a baby is still three months away. I’m not going to get hung-up on projecting judgments of myself onto my wife2. I am going to take the next three months and simply do the things that I feel like doing that day. Sometimes it will be tearing through another baby/parenting book. Sometimes it will be re-organizing the pantry. Sometimes it will be getting out of the house for a few hours to stave off cabin fever. Attempting to appear available and productive has put me into a bit of bored stasis. The crazy thing is I will probably get more household stuff done by ignoring what I think Kathleen thinks about me and just doing what I want.
- I am not a napper, never have been. I’d rather power through the afternoon lull with a cup of coffee than hit the couch for 30 minutes. This is a behavior that needs to change.
- Also, if Kathleen did have any issues with what my day-to-day looked like, she would have no hesitation about bringing it to my attention.