I thought that I had a pretty normal relationship with my dad. Other than getting in trouble as a kid or receiving a serious “talk” from him when I almost failed freshman English, we didn’t have many truly uncomfortable conversations.
Then I told him that I was quitting my job.
My wife was due with our first son, and I explained why it made sense for me to be home to care for him. It was hard. It wasn’t ugly, and Dad didn’t yell, but it was the first major decision in my life that he was dead-set against.
He worried I wouldn’t get back into my career. Wouldn’t it be even harder for a guy to return to full-time work? Maybe he didn’t get it because I never fully confided how much my wife and I struggled to become parents. It had taken three years to get to this point and it hardly seemed like a sacrifice to leave a job to take care of a miracle.
But since then Dad has said things about how good a job we are doing with our now two sons. He’s never said he was wrong. Maybe he wouldn’t if I asked, but I take that praise as confirmation we made the right call.
Since Mom died nearly three years ago, I’ve noticed Dad has become “mom-like.” He’s the one to call Sunday nights, and he’s the one orchestrating extended-family get-togethers.
Did he change? Or would he have done that all along if Mom hadn’t beat him to it?
I’m beginning to wonder how much of what it means to be “Dad” is less about what male parents do and more about how husbands and wives balance traditional roles with their own strengths. Mom cooked all those years, but never enjoyed it. Dad actually has a good time in the kitchen. He brags that he hasn’t eaten take-out once since Mom passed. My wife swears that I do a faster diaper change — hands down — even though now she’s home and I’m back at work.
Maybe I need to tell Dad how proud I am of the new role he’s playing. Fair’s fair.
Eugene Sonn is WHYY’s audio news director.