Sunday, June 21, 2015

To My Father in Law (Happy Father's Day)

Last April, I was at a friend's house and Brendan and I were among several other couples invited for dinner. The friend and her husband had recently had their first child, but none of the other couples had children. At some point, the men went outside and the women remained in the kitchen drinking wine. My friend said solemnly, "As soon as you have kids, your husbands will constantly be on you to quit your jobs." Some of the other women nodded, as if they were already kind of expecting this. One woman said she wasn't interested in kids. When everyone turned to me, I couldn't help but laugh a little before managing "I married a feminist." The scenario of Brendan ever asking me to quit my job (for any reason) was so foreign and non-plausible that it actually made me laugh. Our partnership is equal in every way, with a 50/50 split on dishes, cooking, laundry, bill paying, cat care, and buying power. We even make equal incomes. While we have talked about how having children can never truly be 100% equal (since the woman is, of course, the one that has to grow and have the child and breast feed if she chooses to), we have also discussed how we'd do everything we could to equally share the responsibility of parenting from the start.

A year and two months after the dinner party, I was reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (CEO of Facebook). Sandberg wrote: "When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated, and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home. These men exist and, trust me, over time, nothing is sexier" (115). I was definitely nodding while reading this paragraph. In both Lake Charles and Midland, so many of my non-traditional students have complained that while they are attending college full time, their husbands also expect them to take care of the children and do ALL the household work by themselves. The husband in these cases seems to assume that because he makes all the money, his only job or contribution is to work,  and his wife should take care of everything else. It is a dynamic that often makes attending college impossible, and I have seen many women forced to drop out because of spousal attitudes that don't support education ambitions.

Sandberg went on to discuss how both her father and her (now late) husband's father set this example of equality in the home. She wrote "One of the reasons Dave is a true partner is because he grew up in a home where his father set an extraordinary example" (119). She discussed how Dave's father did chores and cooked a family meal daily while also working as a law professor.

While I always knew that Brendan grew up in a household where his parents were equal partners, reading this book really made me stop and appreciate how much this example had influenced him. When I asked Brendan about growing up, he said that there was never a strict division of chores between his mom and dad, but if something needed to get done, whoever was able to just did it. So Brendan grew up seeing his father cook, grocery shop, do dishes, do laundry, vacuum, clean, and be an involved father and husband (my in laws will celebrate 38 years of marriage this October). He also saw his Dad being happy to do all these things and never thinking twice about it. And now, no surprise, as a husband, Brendan does all of those things as much as I do without even making a specific or conscious effort. Being an equal partner is just part of his personality and something that he and I both take for granted.

In May, it was widely reported that Dads who did chores raised daughters who were more ambitious in their careers, but of course, Dads who are equal partners have a great effect on their sons as well.

We are far past the 1950s, so many of my friends who read this will probably think "this is how every guy is" or "what's the big deal?" but as my conversation at the dinner party just 14 months ago and my observations in classrooms have shown, unfortunately, not all men do think and behave as equal partners. And, as a society, we have a LONG way to go. USA Today reported that in 2011, men did 10 hours of chores for every 18 hours that women did. While this is far improved from the 4 hour/32 hour split of 1965, it still isn't equal.

So today, on Father's day, I want to take a chance to tell my father in law that I appreciate everything he did for his family and the example that he created for his son and daughter. I spend all of my days being so grateful that your son is my husband. Like you, he is kind, loving, intelligent, passionate, and a great teacher. Also like you, he is a true partner, in every sense of the word.

Plus a total goofball...wonder where he gets that from?

I wouldn't want it any other way

Happy Father's day!

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