Gender Busting Roles

Dear Christopher,

“June is busting out all over.” That song was the bane of my life in 7th and 8th grade. It is from the musical Carousel (for you younger folks who would not carousel-movie-poster-1956-1020197127recognize it) and it was part of our music class repertoire in elementary school. The boys would joyously sing it to me whenever a teacher was not looking or listening since my last name was “June.” And I was definitely not busting either physically or emotionally.

Like most girls at that age I was interested in boys but uncertain how to react to them. My mother wanted me to go to an all girls’ high school. Keeping me away from boys was her goal I am sure. But I did not question that, nor what the future held for me. I was raised in the 50’s and a woman’s role in life seemed clear. Even in college I wanted to marry and start a family. Teaching was just a brief way station before the children came. In fact when I was pregnant with Mark, I resigned from the school district; sure I was going to be a stay at home mom.

But things changed radically. In the 60’s and 70’s it seemed that everything was changing around us. Some of my college friends opted to stay in the work force even after they had children. When you were in kindergarten I took a part time teaching job. I remember sitting on the porch with you after I got home from work to be sure to show the neighborhood women that I was not neglecting my child.

Luckily my schedule pretty much matched your school schedule. Luckily I liked teaching and felt my brain was getting some needed stimulation. But there was lots of guilt. Was I giving you kids enough attention? Was my house clean enough? Luckily Dad was willing to be a co-parent and to help around the house. Of course I seethed when my mother praised his efforts. The fact that I was working full time seemed to escape her.

lots of candlesAll of my college women friends seemed to struggle with our roles. It was all new. Anna Quindlen in her memoir recounts how she struggled to make sense of it all. She is younger than me, but her struggles sound very familiar as she recounts them in her memoir Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. “But we were completely making it up as we went along, at work, at home, in our own minds, trying to be both our mothers and fathers simultaneously.” Yes, I tried to implement my dad’s work ethic, as well as keep up a home like my mom. Most times it did not work. And I wonder if part of this stems from our society’s emphasis on women’s childrearing roles. This emphasis on mothers affects not only us old gals, but young ones too. I see a lot of pixels spilled on mothering. And that also affects dads. Especially families like yours with two dads. When Isabella went to kindergarten she discovered what I call “mommygate.” It was all about the mommies!! And it still is from what I can see. Everyone imagines a stereotypical perfect mother. It’s easy to forget we are all people. It is easy to forget that nurturing is what children need and they can get that from two dads, two moms, single parents, or from grandparents or from teachers.

Still gender roles have changed dramatically in many ways. Dad definitely was a co-parent, where as my dad, sweet as he was, left all the real parenting work to my mom. And Dad did and does “help out” around the house. Just being able to accept that two dads can parent is a huge step. Twenty years ago when you came out you said you still might be a dad, I don’t think I really believed you. I had never seen a family that looks like yours back then.

Gay dads still have all the pressure of what a perfect parenting should be. So they have to try to live up to that, as we women still have that image of the perfect mother stereotype, even when we know it is bogus. Now if we could just burst that “mommy” balloon we would really bust out all over.

Love, Mom