We went back and forth for a while. She told me how she appreciated all that I do to help around the house, but she hated the way I acted like I was doing something really great, when in fact I was just doing what a father should.
My knee-jerk reaction was to get pissed off. I wanted to give her a list of other fathers we knew, family and friends, who still subscribed to antiquated notions of gender roles. I went to open my mouth, but stopped for just a moment, thought about my feelings, and realized it was best to leave before I said something I shouldn’t.
So I left for work without saying a word.
I drove to work angry.
I was 20 minutes into my 30-minute commute when I thought about the last time I had washed dishes. I’d assumed that I should be getting praise or a reward, and for the first time I asked myself, Why? I ate there, too. Then I thought about vacuuming the carpet, or doing the laundry, realized I had the same expectations about those chores, and suddenly I felt like a jerk. The understanding that Mel was responsible for home and child care was so deeply ingrained in my understanding of family and contribution that I’d placed myself on a pedestal for doing something as simple as helping my wife with our baby in the night.
By the time I parked and walked to my office, I felt really low.
I called Mel from work, and told her I was sorry. “You’re right,” I said. “This is a partnership, and I shouldn’t act like I’m doing some amazing thing because I get up in the night. I’m going to stop.”
Mel was quiet for a moment. Then she said, “Thank you.”