Exhibit A: Plastic broccoli.
Roughly a year ago, I was in a local toy store with Kai. They had plenty of "floor model" toys for the kids to play with, which was great for an attention grabber, but wretched for trying to make it out of the store without purchasing something. Once we walked in, Kai made a beeline for the back wall, where he grabbed a plastic shopping cart and loaded it up with toy vegetables before heading to "cook" in the model kitchen.
A few minutes later, another parent, a mom, came in with a little boy who looked to be roughly the same age as Kai. He headed towards the kitchen area as well, but before he could join in the fun of pushing around a buggy full of faux bananas, his mom grabbed his arm to stop him. She then, in a not-too-subtle voice, announced to the store:
"No, we're going to go over here to go play with toys that little boys should play with."
You know: trucks. Swords. John Deere tractors. And other such clearly masculine things.
Exhibit B: Flouride.
Last week, I took Kai to Target to go load up on many of the staples we needed at home. I knew his supply of toothpaste was running low, so we walked over to the appropriate aisle so he could select his next tube of fruit-flavored cavity protection.
He narrowed his choices for which toothpaste to get down to two based on the character on the front of the package: Thomas the Tank Engine or My Little Pony. After going back and forth, he finally settled on My Little Pony. There was another shopper on the aisle we were on, and she had been watching our debate on the pros and cons of which toothpaste to select with more than a little interest. After we put Kai's selection in the buggy, she approached me and asked me:
"Excuse me, but you are aware that toothpaste is for girls, aren't you?"
Clearly, these examples cite how I am failing as a father and as a man. I'm allowing my son to make poor life choices that will affect his sense of gender identity by letting him play with fake produce, to say nothing of how letting him use toothpaste with a cartoon horse on it will obviously cause him to not understand how to use a urinal.
Here's the thing: he's not even four years old yet. So what if he loves to pretend to cook? So what if TANGLED is his favorite Disney film? So what if he, in the cutest, sweetest manner possible, finds babies adorable and says "aww" whenever he sees one? So what if most mornings he wants to just sit and cuddle under a blanket on the couch for a few minutes while we watch TV?
Because he stays home with me, he sees me cook, clean, shop, do laundry - all the stereotypical "mom" duties. We spend hours each week reading, making crafts, and even hosting "dance parties" in the living room or outside in the backyard. I love the fact that he sees me - his dad - doing all of this. I love that he's going to grow up without a sense of predisposed gender roles within a relationship. I love the fact that instead of him staying all day in daycare, most of which have a predominantly female staff, he gets to see both of his parents interacting with him.
I've been called a "man fail." I've had my faith called into question because I have chosen for three-plus years to stay home with my kid and "let" my wife's work be the primary source of our income. I've had total strangers - moms, usually - look at me with distrust because I'm out alone with him at the park, the store, or elsewhere.
But I've also been called "daddy" by a bright-eyed kid with a mop of curly, sandy-brown hair. And the trust and love this kid shows me (which, admittedly, a lot of which will expire sometime around puberty) drowns out the voices and glances of people who would probably prefer it if I took him to a monster truck rally instead of Whole Foods.
The thing is, we play what he wants to play. He will go from pretending he's a superhero one minute to a ninja the next. We'll put on puppet shows followed by going to the kitchen to prep lunch or dinner. We'll draw maps detailing everything we did that day before we go outside to play "robot tag" or any other game he comes up with. We'll use sticks as swords before we play soccer in the mud.
So if he wants to ask for the Pink Power Ranger outfit for Halloween? Big deal.
And after his brother is born? Yep. I'm probably going to screw him up just as much by staying home with him as well, loving on him, and letting his personality shine brighter than my expectations.