Saturday, May 31, 2008

Everybody Loves FTF?

As I hurry up and wait for my wife’s body to expel the invader, I have a few minutes to reflect on the last nine months, to digest the experience from the point of view of the expectant father. And there is one thing I’ve learned above all others, one truism that seems inescapable: Pregnancy is not for men.

When I called my brother (two kids of his own) to tell him we were expecting, he said “Congratulations; your life is over. The next nine months are about her. After that, it’s all about the baby.” I gave a nervous little laugh, certain, or at least hoping, he was kidding. He wasn’t.

It turns out that society considers the man’s role in the pregnancy to be incidental at best. And I don’t mean baby showers or doting relatives—the FTM is doing all the hard work, and she should get the all accolades—I’m referring to the multi-billion dollar baby industry’s disdain for dads.

Case in point: Early in the pregnancy I subscribed to the weekly emails from Parents.com. I was not asked during the registration to identify which parent I might be, and even though I signed up with my mostly gender specific name, the emails were still addressed to me as if I were the expectant mom. The site just assumes men would never subscribe to their emails. (Maybe they should rename it Mothers.com.) This may not seem like a big deal, but Parents.com – and the site’s competitors, and the countless baby books and magazines– are missing an opportunity here. They could sell a ton of stuff marketed directly to FTFs – we’re as nervous and new to this as our wives and partners.

But Parents.com is doing something worse; it’s perpetuating stereotypes. If mom is the only one who is supposed to think and make decisions about the baby’s needs, then maybe it’s going to be hard for mom to break out of that role later. The culture is telling mom “this is what you’re good at; it’s what you’re meant to do.” It made me think of Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.

Just turn on the television for 15 minutes and you’ll see the stereotypes—men are thoughtless louts who spend hours figuring out how to trick their wives into letting them drink beer and watch sports. And TV women, well they’re our mothers. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. And don’t get me wrong… a cold Corona and the Mets is a great afternoon, but not at the expense of parenting, or even pre-parenting.

Someday soon—no later than Tuesday, actually—I’m going to be more than a donor of necessary genetic material; I’m going to be this kid’s father. I’ll be up in the middle of the night warming bottles and changing diapers with the best of them (or so I hope). The FTM and I are going to share in this, and so too should we have been encouraged to share in the build up and anticipation of the big day. (Thankfully, my better half has included me every step of the way; but I get the sense she’s bucked a trend.)

So, FTFs, don’t wait for someone else to deal you in. Have a seat at the table, even though you may not feel welcome. Enjoy the ride in spite of everyone else. I know I have.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with your comparison to Margaret Atwood's "A Handmaid's Tale". I also make comparison to "Wild Swans" by Jung Chang. Some things never change! 2ndTGM

Always Home and Uncool said...

As a Mets fan, you should be well accustomed to coming in last in the local pecking order. I speak from experience ... as a Mets fan and a dad.