Today is my husband’s birthday, which seems like a good excuse to openly express my appreciation for all that he is and does. At this phase in his life, my husband is struggling to define himself. Especially in a career-oriented place like Washington, D.C. – where every conversation begins: “What’s your name and what do you do?” – it can be very difficult to convey an identity other than by profession. But even if he had an impressive-sounding job, that title could never do justice to all that my husband is.
After nearly a decade as a human rights law researcher and lecturer in South Africa, my husband took the ultimate leap of faith and moved to D.C., having never even visited before. By the time he’d received his Green Card and legal work authorization, I was pregnant, and we decided that the best thing for our family would be for me to work full time while my husband managed the home front.
This reversed-gender arrangement is becoming increasingly common in the U.S. (and especially in D.C., where there are a number of foreign spouses), but remains an anomaly with persistent stigma attached. Although no one would dare say so, we sometimes sense a perception that our arrangement is necessary because my husband is simply too lazy or unskilled to work, which could not be further from the truth! In fact, he puts in far longer days for a more demanding boss than me or anyone I know, and he possesses talents – from diaper-changing, to nap-enforcing, to rough-housing, to patience in the face of complete irrationality – that cannot be learned in school. Such skills may be under-valued in the working world, but I hold them in extremely high regard.
It was initially very painful for me to come to terms with the reality that, both objectively and subjectively, my husband is the better parent of the two of us. Sure, I can change a diaper, but not with the speed, efficiency, and good humor with which my husband attacks the task. I put great effort into planning and preparing meals for our son, but it is my husband who taught my son to eat in a “civilized” manner (in his high chair, with utensils and a napkin, without throwing food on the floor or getting too much on himself). I love to take our son to the playground, but I always stay within arm’s reach and encourage him to stick to the equipment designed for toddlers. By contrast, my husband lets our son explore the park on his own, knowing his dad is nearby if needed but free to follow his curiosity. There is no doubt in my mind that my son is better off with my husband at home than he would be with me.
There are definite benefits to having someone else (a nanny, grandparent, day care center, etc.) watch your young child during the day. Non-parents are often better at enforcing rules and routines, and professional caregivers can devote more time to educating, while having other kids around imparts valuable social skills. Still, it was important to my husband and I (and our parents) that we raise our son at home for at least the first two years. Now almost two years in, we agree that the arrangement works well for our family, but it’s not without its challenges – most importantly, the strain it puts on my husband to define his identity beyond being “just a dad.” Allow me to set the record straight.
First of all, my husband is not a dad the way a man who is in an office 9+ hours a day and then comes home to give his kids a bath and kiss them goodnight is a dad. That father probably loves his children just as much, but he does not have to deal with tantrums, diaper explosions, melt-downs, and endless demands by his kids 24 hours a day. My husband almost never gets time off from being a dad, and the demands on him are going to increase exponentially once he is responsible for two small children next year. And yet, he stays patient and positive and rarely complains.
Second, although fatherhood is his day job, my husband always makes me feel like being a supportive spouse is his top priority. Whether it’s running to the store for a gallon of milk, entertaining our son so I can make a phone call, rubbing my feet, cleaning the house before my friends come over, stopping everything to listen when I need to vent, or just putting up with my pestering, my husband does a hundred little things a day that demonstrate his love and commitment. My husband makes me feel like the most beautiful, capable, beloved woman in the world and embraces me for who I am, flaws and all. He is my champion, my confidant, and my best friend. We truly are a team, and I could not survive a day without him.
In addition to being a devoted father and spouse, my husband is also a skilled handy-man, able to fix anything from laptops to refrigerators, and he really enjoys doing it. He is also an astute business man, good cook, talented artist, sexy dancer, agile athlete, and much more. Honestly, in the 10+ years I have known and loved him, I have only come across a very few things that my husband cannot do (sing is the only one that comes to mind). Above all, he is a conscientious, compassionate human being who looks out for others and always does the right thing.
Finally, the thing I cherish most about my husband is that he is always stretching himself – to make a contribution to his community, to be stronger, to learn something new, to push beyond his comfort zone, to make the most of every day. So on this day – his day – I want my husband to know that I value all of who he is, which goes beyond any label.
Happy Birthday, Honey Bunches!