*A post by Matt.*
After nearly 20 years as a police officer and detective, I was involved in a fight with an arrestee and injured my back. Due to the extent of the injury, I was forced into early retirement from law enforcement.
While my family was happy I was leaving a dangerous career, I had many reservations about being forced into retirement. Yes, the thought of sleeping during nighttime hours was something I had craved for years; but, I knew I would miss the excitement, quick thinking and spontaneous problem solving I did on the job.
I became the primary caregiver parent for our two boys while Lori started working more. A few weeks in my new role it became clear that I wouldn’t miss out on excitement, quick thinking and spontaneous problem solving. C.J. would provide it.
Chase has always been a very easy child. He’s easy-going, he listens, he rarely argues, he’s not impulsive and he never raises his voice in frustration or to make his point.
C.J. however, is a totally different story.
This past summer was my first summer home with the boys full time. By August, I couldn’t wait for school to start.
I’ve worked through triple-digit Southern California summers on the street in a wool uniform atop a bulletproof vest or locked in sweltering stake out cars with no air conditioning. Those summers weren’t the hardest. Summer 2017 was the hardest because every day I had to match wits with a strong, sassy, opinionated, confident, creative, spontaneous 10-year-old who was bored and adjusting to having dad – not mom – home the most.
Nothing was easy. If I said black, he said white. If I wanted yogurt, he wanted ice cream. If I wanted the pool, he wanted the beach. Everything was a battle. If I never hear “Mom doesn’t do it that way…” again, it will be too soon.
He would tell me when I was having a bad hair day and needed to put a hat on or if, worse yet, I was wearing an unflattering outfit. How can swim trunks look “not swim-y” and a tank top look “too arm-y”?
While Chase was busy with high school football practices and weight lifting, I was shuttling C.J from art camp to tennis lessons to sewing camp. It was more than 100 damn degrees and I was in and out of the car carrying racquets, sewing baskets and more clay projects than we have space for. Every day, after every camp, C.J. told me how I didn’t pack a snack, I packed the wrong snack or I packed too much snack (how is that even possible).
When I was working, I used to envy stay-at-home parents. I pictured parents – especially moms – enjoying free time with their kids. During the summer I pictured them lounging by the pool with their mom-friends and their kids, reading magazines, gossiping and maybe sipping on an adult beverage. I assumed they felt kid-free as their children entertained themselves in the pool. During school holidays, I pictured the stay-at-home moms sleeping in, doing a craft stress-free, watching a movie and feeling happy, relaxed and refreshed.
I’d been wrong. So wrong.
That’s not stay-at-home life; I’m sorry for ever thinking it was. I know better now.
Occasionally, I call Lori at work to vent about stay-at-home life.
“I have to go. Work is crazy-busy today,” she says to me. That used to be my line. Now it’s hers and it’s hard to hear.
I know I can be difficult to deal with. I’m confident and loud. I have difficulty hiding my true emotions. I’m honest to a fault. I can be impulsive.
Being a stay-at-home parent, I’ve realized that C.J. is exactly like me. Lori always said so, but I never listened. How could an effeminate little boy who wears skirts and plays with dolls be exactly like me?
But, he is, my feminine son is exactly like masculine me. It took me being home with him full-time to see how glaringly obvious it is.
.While spending countless hours with him in the car or at home doing homework and projects, we have grown incredibly close. For a father and son to have such different interests, pursuits and goals, we have the same humor, personality and sarcasm. Since being home with him full-time, I’ve seen his assuredness and confidence grow. He’s become stronger. That’s not to say he’s become more masculine, it’s to say he’s become more confident and unapologetic in his feminine gender expression. He knows he can be exactly who he is and he has all of my love and support.
He can sashay into school wearing French braids, carrying his pink emoji lunchbox and he – and all of his schoolmates – know that I’ll greet him with a smile and hug when school gets out.
Being the primary caregiver parent has changed me, too. I’ve grown. I retired before age 40. Most people say I’m lucky, and I am, but it also takes some adjusting to. I went from being a cop to being the parent responsible for a lot of the emotional care of our children. I’ve traded traditional gender roles with my wife to stay home with our blue teenager and pink boy. Now, I know where things are at the grocery store and in the pantry and my wife doesn’t. It’s my job to know when we’re almost out of toilet paper and what flavor jelly the boys prefer at the moment.
As much as we’ve prided ourselves in ignoring society’s ideas of traditional gender roles, we’ve had some adjusting to do. At times, it’s been challenging for our relationship and my friendships with other guys. Longtime guy friends think it’s weird that I search Pinterest for recipes and know when the local bakery has 50 percent off cupcakes (Tuesdays) and cookies (Thursdays).
Our lives have been full of adjustments. The adjustments were hard for a while. The loss of my professional identity. The physical pain of my injury. The role reversal in our marriage. Getting used to being the stay-at-home parent. But, as the four of us always do, we found our way.
I’m so proud to be the father of our boys and grateful to be able to be home with them. I realize now more than ever that I missed a lot when I was working. This summer was difficult and challenging and the school year couldn’t come fast enough. Now, I see winter break winking at me from a few weeks away and I look the other way while I can. But, I wouldn’t change a thing.