couples

"My stay at home husband is happy - and so am I."

SA Jones won the Attitude category in the Mamamia Women's Network and HarperCollins Publishers inaugural Writers' Competition. Chosen from more than 800 entrants, here is her first submitted story.

Part 1: JJ and the Tradies by SA Jones.

Last week my fella and I faced a (very small) pickle. I was due to be a panelist on the radio the next day and my husband (JJ) wanted to listen in. Our radio died a year ago and we never replaced it. Past attempts to stream the radio via the computer had not been successful.

JJ wandered to the kitchen window and looked out at the beams and cladding that were slowly being assembled into our new patio by tradesmen.

‘Maybe I could ask the tradies to tune into the interview’.

‘Not sure they’re radio national kinda guys’ I said, over the frenetic doof-doof.

‘I’ll offer them home-made muffins to sweeten the deal’.

We looked at each other. Then we fell about laughing. There are moments rendered unique by the fact that they could not have occurred at any other historical juncture. This was one such moment. In our backyard were three tradies, tanned and stripped to the waist, doing proverbially blokey things like hammering and, ahem, erecting.

In our kitchen was my JJ, stay-at-home dad and gourmand, bartering his fresh - baked muffins for a temporary change in radio station.

"We were riding the zeitgeist of contemporary masculinity.." Image via iStock.

We were riding the zeitgeist of contemporary masculinity. JJ is one of a growing number of men who identify as stay-at-home dads. Their numbers doubled in the 2000s, and around 3% of Australian families now have a male primary caregiver. As a proportion of the population, this is hardly significant. But that being a primary carer is even an option for men is a cultural and social change of seismic proportions. What’s more, it has happened in just one generation.

My father is a mechanic. He was a devoted and supportive father to my sister and I. Yet he freely admits that the traditional gendered division of labour was not only something he didn’t question, he would have flatly refused to be the primary carer had he been asked.

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It simply wasn’t manly. Taking it on would have made him an object of ridicule, even suspicion. When JJ and I had our baby, our decisions about how she would be raised and nurtured were driven almost entirely by practical considerations. Who earned the most money? Who was better temperamentally suited?

Gender norms did not enter the equation.

"Gender norms did not enter the equation." Image via iStock.

JJ can’t put up a shelf (but we had some fun pretending he could. Well if the tradies are going to leave their tool-belts behind at the end of the day, they’ve got to expect this sort of thing).

He’d rather have his teeth pulled than watch a football game. He’s a different kind of man, and a different kind of practical. JJ had never held a baby before his own was born, and he took out a positively startling volume of linen in his first nappy change. But he has risen to the challenge magnificently.

That our daughter is well-adjusted, confident and happy is due in no small part to her father. It hasn’t been plain sailing. Parenting and keeping house is no less mundane, repetitive and relentless for having a penis. On some level, stay-at-home dads are perhaps even more isolated than their female counterparts.

There were no father’s groups for JJ to join, no circle that met for coffee of a morning. Our choices have also been occasionally derided. For example, one of JJ’s relatives refused to buy him the blender he’d asked for as a birthday present because it was ‘weird’ (apparently) for a man to want such a thing.

JJ did get to listen to me on the radio, and the tradies were very complimentary about his home -made muffins. There was some puzzlement about the change of gauge on the tool-belts though.

‘Very odd’, JJ agreed. ‘Another muffin?’

Who is the primary carer in your household?

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