Reflections of a Flex Dad

One local dad talks about what being a father means to him.

 

Things can get a little lax when dad's on duty

As a freelancer for the past 14 years, I’ve had a lot of flexibility in my daily schedule. Always a nice convenience, this became especially significant three years ago, when the kids were four and almost two. Looking ahead to that fall, with Bobby in full-day pre-K and Lulu about to start five mornings a week, we realized it no longer made sense to keep a nanny for the few hours of daily coverage we’d need. With Amy working full-time at a real job, we did the math and decided it made the most sense for me to step up to the plate; I could work all morning, pick Lulu up at noon, give her some lunch, get her down for a nap, and get a little more work in before taking her to pick up Bobby. Any hit to my productivity would be more than offset by the money we’d save on childcare.

And that’s pretty much how it worked out. For three years, I’ve handled the lion’s share of afternoons, weekday doctor’s appointments, random school holidays (Brooklyn-Queens Day?), and other occasions when duty calls during business hours. Amy has been fortunate enough in her family-friendly employers to be able to take an afternoon or two many weeks; on the other hand, her job has also taken her out of town over many weekends for days at a stretch. Add it all together, and I’ve probably spent as many hours on solo childcare as I have on billable projects.

Now it has come to an end, as all good things must. Amy has hung out her own freelance shingle and my services as flex dad are no longer required. The pendulum has swung to the other side as she makes up for lost time by claiming every possible drop-off, pick-up, appointment, birthday, and idle moment. Finding myself with unaccustomed time on my hands, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on a few of the things I learned during my tenure. And here they are.

1. Dads have no credibility. People respond to the sight of a dad in charge of a young child as if it were a monkey operating heavy machinery. Not everyone does, of course—especially not in Park Slope, where you never have to spell out SAHD—but boy, I couldn’t possibly count the number of concerned looks I’ve drawn, to say nothing of the unsolicited advice: She should have a hat on. Open her coat—she’s probably overheating. She’s fussy because she’s hungry. Do you need help folding that stroller for the bus? They don’t like it when you do that. Try it this way. Didn’t your wife explain this to you?

Moms, maybe you get this all the time, too. Maybe I’m just being hypersensitive to the village that’s trying to raise my children. I never did respond the way I wanted to, by saying, “I spend virtually every non-school, non-sleep hour with these kids, and I know what they like, what they don’t, whether they’re hot, cold, or hungry, and why they’re cranky better than I know my own moods and feelings.” Instead, I bit my tongue and thought about the blog post I’d one day write about it.

2. Dads don’t deserve all that much credibility. Not this one, anyway. Between losing Lulu on the jam-packed Coney Island boardwalk for the most terrifying 45 seconds in recorded history, and the time I found myself shouting one Sunday evening late in June a year or two ago, “It’s Father’s Day, God damn it! Start acting like it,” that machinery-operating monkey comparison isn’t as far off the mark as I’d like. I’m helpless at organizing play dates, I forget appointments, I leave a trail of toys and personal items behind us everywhere we go …

3. The kids rock. It’s as much their doing as mine that Bobby, Lulu, and I survived our three years of daily scrambling. Sure, they subjected me to plenty of trying moments (see: Father’s Day Outburst, above), and made sure to let me know exactly how they felt about the fact that I wasn’t Mommy. But with the same instinctive calibration that leads them to take it easy on aging grandparents, they seemed to take into account my abilities and limitations. Rising to the occasion, Bobby kept an extra eye on his little sister, Lulu kept herself out of trouble, and the two of them got along especially well for the most part. I was as proud as I was relieved to see them adapting to circumstances, navigating a trying situation, pulling together as a team when a little extra effort was called for.

As glad as I was to turn them over to their mother at the end of each day, and especially after the multi-day stints, I also found myself missing them once they’d flown into Mommy’s arms, missing the intimate intensity of the experiences we’d been through together. The past three years have been a luxury that would have been unimaginable for most dads in past generations, and remains out of reach for all too many dads today: the chance to spend a whole lot of time getting to know my kids inside and out, at that wonderful age when their personalities are really starting to take flight and they’re becoming little people.

4. Single parents are superheroes. It goes without saying, right? Here I am moaning about a few solo hours here and there, when all the while the train I was pulling was rolling on tracks laid down with (or by) Amy. For every big decision, there was a fully present, fully engaged partner with whom to brainstorm, share responsibility, reassure each other we were doing the right thing. And that’s not to mention all the other stuff that she took the lead on: figuring out extracurriculars and camps, getting medical forms signed for school, keeping track of birthday gifts given and received, managing wardrobes, planning family vacations. Even when she wasn’t physically present, her role in their lives continued seamlessly. I was never really flying solo in any meaningful sense, and I give all praise and love to the parents who do.

Dan Janzen

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