Mr. Mom, in a whirl of his own

It's not like Mac meant to shame us; it's just that we were so messy by comparison. "How can anyone be so tidy in a room full of toddlers?" we'd wonder (shamefully). But the real problem was that we didn't know how to relate to Mac. (It might have helped if he'd been more unkempt.) He clearly wasn't "one of the girls."

I first met Mac at the local library's story hour, when my kids were still too young to read, but old enough to sit still - at least for a very short while. Mac is a stay-at-home dad in a town full of nannies and two-income families. Even in this loosey- goosey new millennium, Mac is, to say the least, a rare bird.

Mac was an actor before he had kids, but now he mostly spends his time as primary caregiver (otherwise known as benevolent schlepper), a role usually relegated to us, the stay- at-home moms. He takes his son and daughter to school, he picks them up, he does the shopping; in other words, he does the stuff that mothers usually do.

And to make matters worse, he's not a wuss or a groovy guy. He's just a guy. Which means he's not at all like us full-time moms. We are the strong, the proud, the few, and yes, the female. Mac is stronger, prouder, fewer, and did I mention Mac's a man? So at library story hour, Mac stood out like the proverbial bull in a china shop, not because he was breaking things, but because he was so, yes, that's right - male.

For this reason alone he didn't exactly blend into the scenery the way the rest of us did in our sweats and jeans and tired-looking faces. To make matters worse, Mac was immaculate, as was his son. Every week they would arrive on time, listen attentively, never make a mess; they put us to shame.

Though I wouldn't say we hated Mac, we didn't know what to do with him either. The fact that his wife - who works in publishing - is a hoot and-a-half to hang out with only made matters worse. It made even us feminist moms wish for a traditional division of labor.

Why couldn't Mac go to work and Lucy stay home?

But that's not the way Mac and Lucy wanted it, so we just had to adjust, since frankly it was none of our business anyway. To his everlasting credit, Mac never seemed to care about fitting in.

He was just trying to be a good dad, first to his son and then to his daughter when she showed up a few years later. He wasn't looking to make new friends, swap recipes, be a faux mom. He was never unfriendly, just sort of aloof.

Mac and I exchanged polite hellos for many years, on playgrounds, in parking lots, at birthday parties. We weren't quite friends, but we certainly weren't enemies, either. We were hospitable acquaintances. It was sometimes awkward, but mostly all right.

Things got easier as our kids got older; time has a way of doing that. Mac took up part-time coaching weekend soccer and after-school baseball. Not surprisingly, this more-traditional male role put us moms at ease. We knew how to relate to a man with a baseball in his hand better than we knew what to say to a guy pushing a stroller. (Shame on us for that.)

And yet, the best of Mac did not emerge until last spring at the final dance class our children attended together, along with 40 or so other third-graders.

Since it was the last event of the season, parents were invited to attend, and to dance with their children.

Mercilessly, the dance was scheduled for 4:30 in the afternoon, which made attending impossible for my husband, since his work day is rarely over before 7 p.m. Several dads did show up, much to my surprise, but I suspect a lot of them had to return to their offices afterward.

I didn't think it would matter much to any of the kids, whether or not their families showed up. Third-graders can be kind of oblivious. My mom, who came along to watch her grandchildren fox trot and cha-cha, ended up dancing with my daughter. They made a lovely couple.

I danced with my son; we won the mambo competition. (I'm showing off by mentioning this fact, but you must understand this accomplishment means more to me than anything else I've ever done. I realize this makes me a very shallow person indeed, and I can live with that. After all, I know how to mambo well enough to win a prize. This sort of talent does not require depth.)

I saw Mac out of the corner of my eye while I was dancing with my son. At first I assumed Lucy must be there, too, but a quick look around the room told me she was not. Neither were a lot of the other working moms who live in my town. Some older brothers were dancing with their sisters, some older sisters were dancing with their brothers. One or two mothers were dancing with their daughters, and as I said before, my daughter was dancing with my mother.

I have to admit that the children who had family members there were very pleased indeed, and the ones who didn't seemed a little droopy. The music was playing, the partners were swaying, and that's when I saw Mac. He was out on the dance floor, well-dressed as always, serious and sober, waltzing with his son. They were doing quite well.

They were both entirely masculine, completely unembarrassed, sort of in a world of their own. It's hard to imagine a more moving sight than this twosome: Winsome and Handsome showing off their steps to each other, and, if anyone cared to notice, to the town. I can't think of anyone else who could have pulled it off as unaffectedly as Mac did. He was so comfortable in his own skin, so fine with what he was doing that no one else seemed to notice. It was just as normal as me dancing with my son.

It reminded me that the best and most important part of being a parent is sometimes simply being there. Mac was being there for his son, just as he'd been there at library story hour. Only this time there was music, and it filled the room like lilacs in bloom. Or maybe it was just the aroma of love. And the best part of all was that Mac let his son lead.

Don't get me wrong. I still don't quite know what to do with Mac. He'll never be my girlfriend. But I'm sure glad he lives in my town.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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