Angry moms are the all the rage these days, figuratively and literally. They’re angry online, in the office, at the park, in the kitchen, and at the liquor store from which they purchase therapeutic wine.
We should support that. Painting too rosy a picture of motherhood is detrimental. It sets new moms up for short-term disappointment, especially before those moms discover their friends didn’t include feedings in stories about how their babies were born sleeping through the night. Newborns get up at night for other reasons, like solving quadratic equations and folding origami. Thus far, men haven’t joined this trend and gone all-in on the angry daddy action. Now we’re finally, finally, asking why.
One thing I have noticed as a clinical psychologist in private practice is that men are increasingly less able to voice negative feelings about parenting, even ones that are entirely understandable. Imagine being at a play date and hearing someone say, ‘God, I needed a drink all day today. The kids were behaving terribly, I couldn’t deal.’ You’re picturing a mom, right?
To be honest, I was picturing a mom when I read that sentence, because the article’s author is Samantha Rodman, although mostly because she said “play date” and I’m a sexist. When I get together with my dad friends and their corresponding kids, it’s generally unplanned. One of these days we’ll plan something, although it’s doubtful we’ll call it a “play date.” “Hanging out while ignoring the kids” seems more honest. Also, I can’t really comprehend being in a position to pour a drink and not doing so, especially if the kids are performing a live-action version of Graham Greene’s “The Destructors.”
The House Norman Rockwell Painted
I’m just joshing. My kids would never do that. And I only have a little wine with dinner on Fridays. Plus, I’m super even-keeled. My house is pretty much like a Normal Rockwell painting come to life. It’s “Leave it to Beaver” in the twenty-first century, updated with a two-income family and more college degrees. It’s all perfectly modern and idyllic.
We never yell in our house, for example. Never. We follow all that touchy-feely new age-y nonsense about speaking positively to our children, never negatively. It’s not “You can’t slap your sister in the face with a stuffed cat” or “Don’t throw softballs at daddy when he’s cooking dinner to ask for a game of catch.” Rather, it’s “You can offer your sister warm hugs” or “You should use your indoor balls when attempting to injure daddies.”
After uttering those gentle, empowering words of affirmation, we wake up from our fever dream and laugh and laugh and laugh because all children are demons—especially your children, person who’s scolding me for referring to children as demons. You can keep the evil at bay, teach control, discipline them, give them outlets to burn energy. Doesn’t matter. You’re still occasionally cleaning up glass or trying to stop the bleeding.
In my house, it doesn’t help that our toddler’s grasp of English hasn’t fully blossomed and she sometimes feels the need to yell or growl when we don’t understand what the hell she’s talking about. Or that sometimes after dinner the older two also forget how to speak English, though they don’t revert to their feral state and start growling. Nonetheless I do, at least once per day, have to fight back the urge to quote Jules Winnfield when talking to them.
So I get it, angry moms, I do. But don’t expect me to support this completely horrible suggestion that we men spit on our hands, hoist the black flag, and begin to slit throats blog about our feelings.
‘Rub Some Dirt on It’ Versus ‘Let Me Fix Your Owie’
The reasons for this are legion. The simplest one is that men and women are different, even though that’s not always the most popular position to espouse these days. We process things differently. We perceive things differently. We discipline differently. We internalize differently. These differences hold true across many variables: political affiliation, religious beliefs, the mother’s work status.
Moreover, women focus on physical and mental well-being in a way that men do not. Sure, it’s beneficial for the kids if dad occasionally forgets to feed them a meal or tells them to rub some dirt on it when they’re injured; they need to learn to fend for themselves and take some risks. But in the long run it’s better that there’s someone around who’s a little more attentive, someone who is invested and not forgetting to fix lunch.
But this level of attentiveness comes with a downside. Focusing so much energy on illogical little fonts of impulse can be rather draining for these attentive and nurturing mothers. As a result, it makes sense for them to complain about the endurance necessary for motherhood rather than keeping it all bottled up “Serenity Now”-style and ending up spontaneously combusting. That’s not good for the kids, the husband, or the other women looking to that perfect mom for inspiration on how to perfectly keep all those balls, chainsaws, and babies afloat in a perfectly choreographed juggling routine.
Modern Dads Are In the Big Top, Too
But modern men are also juggling. Kind of. We don’t tie our emotions up in the health and psychological well-being of the kids and we’re not super-dedicated to making sure they’re fed and vaccinated, but we’re still trying to keep a variety of pieces in the air. We have to balance work and actually doing things with them, unlike previous generations who mostly just worked many hours for many years and then died.
We modern men find time to take our kids to the bowling alley and the arcade. We go eat pizza. We take trips to the salon. Maybe only those of us with all daughters do that last one. Regardless, gone are the days of focusing primarily on bringing home the bacon, sleeping, and being the enforcer when necessary. Maybe we should complain about this. After all, we didn’t even get to take our own whirl in a go-kart because the middle child wanted to drive and we had to let her go in the kiddie car and we don’t fit in those.
When Women Say, ‘Tell Me About Your Day’
I discussed this with a diverse cross-section of mothers to see how they feel about the idea of men going scary daddy blogger, of profusely sharing our feelings. I found that, regardless of political leanings or number of kids or anything, the responses were pretty uniform. The paraphrased version goes like this: “Because shut up and be man, that’s why.”
That’s an exaggeration. The moms with whom I spoke were actually very pleasant and supportive of their husbands; they acknowledged the stress of modern fatherhood and trying balance work and the emotionally draining task of taking a kid out for pizza. It’s just that they like their men to be men and they don’t find whining to be that manly of a trait. Remember this the next time someone tries to act like only men can be sexists. Women are very good sexists. And quite unapologetic about it, God bless them.
This sexism isn’t borne of social constructs or any other fabrications; it’s borne of experience. There’s a reason “Wait till your father gets home” retains its strength. Once children get beyond sleeping all night, except for those aforementioned math and origami sessions, and start actually doing things, often stupid things, dad’s superior strength quickly becomes evident, whether in discipline or in play. When we send out a command, it comes through with a lot more power and resonance—and thus gets a better reception. Even if the front is united, when dad says “Stop” it tends to elicit a quicker response than when mom says “Stop.” (Assuming both commands were offered while the kids are in English-speaking mode and not in need of a talk from Jules Winnfield.)
That’s why we should hope and pray we won’t be hearing men “openly discuss their flaws and weaknesses, their boredom, fatigue, and other complaints, without fearing castigation” any time soon. There is nothing to be gained from a stubborn refusal to recognize obvious differences between the sexes and, as a result, devalue distinctive masculine virtues like stoicism and responsibility.
Sure, we can tell the truth about having kids—that it’s not all go-karts and pizza and can this lioness handle doorknobs and does she want a job as a nanny—but our job isn’t to get too emotional about it. Because it’s not really that hard for us. We’re men. We have bourbon, we have a shop vac, and we have a wife who’s good at getting blood out of many things.