The woman started crying. I didn’t expect this, because, well, why would I?
We were two adults, standing in a preschool auditorium, waiting for the year-end musical gala to begin, talking summer plans and Twitter and junk fiction and all things mindless parents talk at mindless events. Then — tears.
“My husband,” she said, “doesn’t care.”
“Uh, about what?” I asked.
The floodgates now open, she told me her husband works from home. But he never drops their daughter off at preschool. He never picks their daughter up at preschool. He never wakes up with their daughter, never puts her to bed, never takes her to a movie or a carnival or a ball game; never comes up with fun daddy-daughter activities. “All he worries about is golf,” the mother said. “Sometimes he’ll take her to the driving range for an hour. But that’s it. …”
Two days later, by mere coincidence, a different mother cornered me. I was sitting in a pizzeria with my son, Emmett, and daughter, Casey, gnawing on a calzone. The woman, another preschool regular who always seems to be dragging around her kids with the worn look of a chain gang inmate, glanced my way and muttered,
“My husband would never do that.”
“Do what?” I asked.
“Be out alone with both of the kids at once,” she said. “Never.”
In case you are wondering, I am that dad. The one who works out of the house. The one who drives his kids to school, packs lunches and pushes swings and arranges play dates and attends teacher conferences and — generally speaking — frequently finds himself alone in brightly colored rooms filled with women and tykes.
Along with my wife (who, until recently, also worked from home), I wipe snot, clean poop, order time outs and say no — Really, no! I’m being serious, no! — to the damned ice cream man and his Satanic siren call. I know all of my kids’ friends, and most of their tendencies (Ashley and Emily love dolls, Lucas only wants to talk about Derek Jeter, Tyler digs applesauce).
Hence, I have been sent here today, on behalf of the stay-at-home mothers of the world, to convey to my fellow pops a message of love and hope in this lead-up to Father’s Day: Wake the hell up.
Really, wake the hell up. Now. I understand that most of you have 9-to-5 jobs, that you leave tired and come home tired and just wanna chill in front of SportsCenter with a bowl of chips. But, seriously, you have no remote idea: Being a stay-at-home parent is exhausting. At the office, you can hide. You can take lunch. You can pretend you’re working while scrolling the Internet for Yankees-Blue Jays and, ahem, Lindsay Lohan news. You have genuine social interactions with folks over the age of, oh, 12. People ask questions about your day — and listen to the answers.
I envy you, but I sort of pity you. Kids grow. Age 1 turns to age 3, which turns to age 7, which turns to 15 and 18 and 21, all in the blink of an eye. If you’re there, as I am, it flies. If you’re not there — if you’re almost never there — it barely exists at all. Which is why I just can’t stomach those millions of dads who view their days at home as recovery from work, who’d rather rest than engage, who have no problem with passing the tykes off for more alone time with mom and who, literally, moan to their wives, “You have no idea how hard I work.”
For you, I offer these 10 commandments of righteous fatherhood. Pay close attention, because, behind your back, people are pitying your wife:
1. No golf on weekends: Seriously, it’s ludicrous. Your spouse is home with the kids all the time, and you think it’s OK to take five hours on a weekend day to pursue your own pastime? Selfishness, thy name is Father.
2. Wake up: Literally, wake up. With your kids. On at least one of the two weekend days — and perhaps both. I know: you wake up early for work. Not even remotely the same thing. Rising alongside the kiddies is hard. And crazy. And (gasp!) sorta fun, if you’d just stop moping.
3. Change diapers: If you have little kids, and you don’t know how to change diapers (or, even worse, refuse to change diapers), you’re pathetic. That’s no exaggeration — p-a-t-h-e-t-i-c. It’s not all that hard, and though the poop sometimes winds up on the fingers, well, uh, yeah. It just does. Wash your hands.
4. Play with dolls and paint your toenails: How many fathers do I know who refuse to get girlish with their girls? Dozens. Dude, put aside the machismo, break out Barbie and slather on some pink polish. You’ll make a friend for life — and nobody else is watching.
5. Do things you don’t want to do: It’s easy to take the kids to the driving range — because you want to be there. Now try spending the day having a tea party at American Girl. Or crawling through one of those wormholes at the nearby kiddie gym. Fun? Often, no. But this isn’t about you.
6. Order the wife to bug off: I recently met a mother who told me her husband hadn’t been alone with their 9-year-old daughter for more than two hours … ever. Inexcusable. Let your wife do her own thing: relax, take a run, whatever. Entertain your children solo. They don’t bite (Note: CNN.com is not liable if your children do, in fact, bite).
7. Surprise! Just once, on a random day without meaning or purpose, show up early at your kid’s school/camp/wherever, say “Get in the car!” and take him/her somewhere special. Just the two of you, alone. A movie. A park. A hike. The memory lasts — I promise.
8. Dishes Don’t Clean Themselves (Nor Do Toys): It’s amazing how this one works. You pick up a dish, run it under hot water with some soap, rub it down with a towel and place it back on the shelf. Then repeat.
9. Wake up your kid: Not often. But if you want to score big points and create a killer memory moment, walk in Junior’s room at, oh, midnight, wake him/her up and go outside for 10 minutes to watch the stars.
10. For God’s sake, tell your kids you love them: They never see you, and they’d probably like to know.
Bud, as you read this your wife is expecting little — and your kids are expecting even less. Pull one out of the blue. Make Father’s Day less about you, and all about them.
Jeff Pearlman is a columnist for SI.com. He blogs at jeffpearlman.com
Read more: Why Our Parents Put Us To Shame