Wednesday, February 5, 2014

How the Role of the Father is Being Marginalized in America

Tim and I knew I was pregnant before the test could tell us; I took six tests, all negative, and finally, on the seventh, the results were positive. The day after that positive result, Tim and I went to a counseling appointment at one of the greatest, independent not-for-profit pregnancy support systems in Tampa, called The Pregnancy Care Center. The Pregnancy Care Center not only offers free counseling, but it is also an education program. Once a month, I have an appointment; I talk to a counselor, watch an hour long video, discuss aspects of the video, and go home with a homework assignment that Tim and I work on together. I have learned techniques that I have shared with Tim and my mom, so Langston will not only have a routine early on, but the way he is cared for will be synonymous between the three of us, which is incredibly important to me.

Not only does The Pregnancy Care Center offer such a great support system, but I can go there until Langston is two years old and learn about different aspects of child rearing. Furthermore, for my time and effort, I get points, which I can spend in their baby store. On my first visit, I went home with all of this:

and every visit since then is much the same. I have a decent supply of diapers, clothes and other necessities for Langston, and I did not have to buy them, I just had to care. I have had eight visits now, and all of them have been positive learning experiences. In addition, I have received non bias information, and together, Tim and I have developed a strong point of view on how we want to raise our son.

Unfortunately, this point of view does not seem to correlate with the perspective that most Americans have about child rearing. Tim and I go to my doctor's appointments together, and Tim is the one that researched the best pediatricians in Tampa, met, interviewed, and found the one for Langston; Tim handles all of the medical paperwork, and Tim and I attend classes together. Most recently, last night, Tim and I attended a three hour breast feeding class at the Women's Hospital.

I know I have not had a child yet and I cannot speak for everyone, so I won't even try, but through all the parenting books we've read and all the classes we've attended, it absolutely seems like fathers are marginalized in American society. With the exception of the Pregnancy Care Center, the role of the father is portrayed as rather insignificant when the baby is still a baby; furthermore, all of the baby's dependence is pressed upon the mother, and in that way, it seems like society (and especially this breast feeding class) concludes that a mother's life no longer has projection, and she becomes chained to not only her child, but her home, and the father's life continues on, his only responsibility being to come home and check in on the mother's effort being made for his son. 

This seems so fanatical to me; why should their be a hierarchy? Why can't Langston be equally comforted, connected and nurtured by both Tim and I? Why can't I pump and Tim and I alternate who wakes up in the middle of the night to feed Langston? We both love him; we both want to be a life force, and Tim and I love each other deeply, so why would I want to exclude Tim, and why would Tim want to put all of the pressure on me? 

Whenever we ask these questions, and especially in this breast feeding class, the instructor either refuses to answer or says it is impossible. Furthermore, hardly any of the mothers in the class even brought their husbands, citing, "I didn't think it was necessary for him to be here." What? Was the pregnancy gone through alone too? That sounds so sad, and no wonder people see pregnancy and babies as the end of romance. If it is at all possible, my life has become even more romantic because of the kindness and care and love my husband constantly extends to me. Ever since I've been pregnant, he not only does all the cooking, but he does a majority of the cleaning and gives me a massage every night that is at least an hour, and he sees this as a benefit to himself too because (he says) not only am I bringing money into our house, but if I am happy and healthy, Langston is happy and healthy, and he has less to worry about.

Even in the classes, the instructor inevitably turns to the only dad in the class, and says, "When the baby is here, it is no longer about you anymore." Seriously? Like, the dad that showed up thinks he is at the center of the universe? 

And how come we are raising kids to think that they are the still point of the turning world? Is that healthy? How is a sense of community ever going to be built if every one of us is a centerpiece? 

Not only do the instructors say it is the end of romance, but it is also the end of communication because "the mother is stressed and crying from the baby's stress and crying and you, as a father, need to pat her on the back." What? This does not even read as common sense to me. 

I think it is time we stop marginalizing the father as either the bumbling doofus or the great white hope. As Tim says, our family-- he, Langston and I-- are a triangle, and we all have equal sides and significance; we all have our roles, our wonder and our love. The moment one of those parts is seen as less than the other, the strength of us as a whole is weakened. Furthermore, we should all be growing, learning and progressing. Wasn't our slogan once, "No man left behind"?

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