My wife offered to buy me a stove for my birthday. We were having dinner at a neighborhood restaurant when she made the suggestion—just a suggestion, she assured me, a joke, if I wanted to look at it that way. But the joke was on her. I just blinked and said, "The 30-inch Wolf range?"
I've always been the cook in our house, and not just a weekend warrior, either. My mother was such a bad cook that when I was a boy I would pretend I was a prisoner of war being forced to eat her creative offerings—macaroni and cheese studded with sliced hot dogs, say. My younger brother, Ethan, and I learned to fend for ourselves in the kitchen, and after our parents divorced we took turns cleaning, along with my younger sister, while our mother was out earning a paycheck. What used to be called women's work has always been second nature to us.
But I never thought of it as my calling. Whatever satisfaction I derived from cooking or schlepping laundry or changing diapers came in part from the knowledge that I would soon be doing something else. My job—writing and editing—often allowed me to work at home. I mocked weekend dads as gentlemen fathers, as cut off from the real toil of parenthood as gentlemen farmers were from plowing the fields, but the truth was that I no more wanted to be Mr. Mom, a full-time househusband, than I wanted to get behind the mule.
Well, hee-haw. Two years ago, I was laid off from my last full-time job, and it turned out I was ahead of the curve. People who had been calling me with job offers were suddenly calling me for leads, and the only reason I haven't seen them selling pencils on the sidewalks of New York is that we all use computers now. My wife, Peggy, meantime, is making a salary more than three times what I pulled down last year.
My brother was laid off late in 2001 from the high-tech parts company he sold for in Silicon Valley; almost immediately afterward, his wife, Leah, took a lucrative position with a nationally known cookware retailer. Suddenly, we were both home taking care of the kids—he has two (a son, Finnegan, who's three, and a daughter, Ali, eight) as do I (Franny, nine, and Adam, 18)—plus the house and all that implies.
I know we're not alone. In the markets and at the matinees I see them: Millennium Men dragging their children on errands or being dragged themselves to Nickelodeon movies, all the time wondering where their work went.
In the past year, Ethan and I have compared notes, via e-mail and cell phone, on grocery shopping and the fortunes of the Giants. Sometimes I send him recipes; sometimes he sends me porn.
Despite the time difference between San Francisco and Brooklyn, Ethan and I are on pretty much the same schedule. The toddler gets up at about 6:15, so Ethan tries to beat him by 15 minutes for what might laughably be called "me time," which for him consists of reading yesterday's front page before today's paper arrives.
Next: With small children, every day is an adventure