Sunday, September 21, 2008

There, but for the grace of God......

I have been reading "Things I Learned About My Dad (in therapy)", a compilation of essays on fatherhood compiled & edited by Heather Armstrong. I was struck particularly strongly by Doug French's essay. I remember several months ago when he went public in his blog about his impending divorce (because of it being mentioned in his essay in the book). It has always been readily apparent to me in reading his blog (and the essay) that he loves his boys very much and really enjoys being a father. Reading the essay re-awoke in me the memories of a time in my marriage when we came close to divorce. Laura had moved out. The kids stayed with me in our home as it was least disruptive of their daily routines - school, etc. Since they stayed with me during the week, they spent the weekends with Laura. During the week I was kept busy with taking care of two elementary school-aged kids, fixing meals, cleaning the house, laundry, working, etc. Then Friday afternoon the kids would be gone, and my weekends were a vast wasteland of nothingness. I had been on business trips before, a week at a time, sometimes two, but that time away affected me nothing like this did. I couldn't believe how much I missed the kids. I'm sure that it was partially due to the knowledge that this was probably going to be permanent. But whatever the reason, there was an ache that I couldn't assuage. I tried to tell myself that this was better for the kids, not having to grow up living in a house where their parents didn't love each other. They would grow up happier, Laura and I would be better parents without the emotional chaos that our marriage had turned into, etc. But there was still the emptiness inside of me, knowing they would be like so many other children having separate sets of parents, vacations divided between homes, everything having to be negotiated.

I had told Laura early in our marriage, during a discussion about how so many couples during (and after) divorce use their kids to torture their exes, that I would never let anyone take my children away from me. It wasn't an ultimatum so much as it was a statement that I would ALWAYS be there for my children, a major force in their lives. At the time I never thought we would get to where we had, living apart and discussing divorce. During that 6 month separation we never fought in front of them, and none of the fights were about them. We always put them first, We both went to school events they were involved with. We both attended their soccer games. We discussed rules for them and disciplinary actions - if they were being punished for something, the punishment applied at both homes. Despite this, it still pained me, knowing the inevitable hurt the kids were going to experience because Laura and I couldn't stay together.

Of course, we did stay together. Laura and I resolved those differences as you all know (I am assuming that no one is reading this post during their first visit to this blog!) as we are still married. But I still carry that hurt around, deep in my memories of that time. It makes me especially sensitive to similar situations when small kids are involved. Doug writes so eloquently of fatherhood and what he is experiencing during this difficult time in his life. I hurt for him, having some small measure of knowledge of what he is experiencing.

I had almost forgot.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Annie get your gun

I don't discuss politics here, nor am I going to start today. But I do want to talk about what I am learning about myself within the context of the new vice-presidential candidate of the Republican party - Ms. Sarah Palin.

I find myself wondering if I am more of a sexist than I thought I was.

I have no problem with a woman in the White House - in either job, president or vice-president. I have no problem with a woman having any job - not even in combat on the battlefield. (I've always felt that women as well as men should have to sign up for the draft - ever since I did when I turned 18. Israel, for instance, has mandatory military service, women included.)

My problem with Sarah Palin originates with the fact that she has a baby with down's syndrome and I can't understand why she would want a job that will take virtually all of her time - away from her baby. That's where the sexist part comes in, because I wouldn't have had a thought about her husband pursuing such a demanding job as governor or vice-president.

I've always prided myself that I consider women as equals. I remember having an essay I wrote arguing for equal rights when I was a junior in high school printed in the local newspaper. I always tried to instill in my daughter as she grew up the attitude that she can do anything she set her mind to. I have never subscribed to the clap-trap that women are the weaker sex and are fundamentally incapable of performing certain jobs. It upsets me that to this day women don't earn the same pay for the same work as men - and therefore have to work harder to get promoted when competing with men for a job.

But I am having a hard time understanding why a mother of a down's syndrome child would choose to work if she didn't have to. I don't know what their finances are, but the Palins don't appear to be poor. Mayors of small towns usually don't draw a large salary but have the same duties as large-town mayors. Nor does Ms. Palin appear to be a career woman who was checking off the "have a child experience" on her life's list - after all, she has 5 children and didn't run for office until after she had had several children. I have no reason to think that her husband can't take care of the baby, and I don't actually know if he isn't already taking full-time care of the child. I don't know anything about who takes care of their baby when she is governing or campaigning for vice-president, which is another reason why I'm uncomfortable with my feelings toward her and her decision to run for vice-president.

I just can't help thinking that her political career is more important to her than being the primary care-giver of that child. This is where I guess my buried sexism is coming out. I am disappointed in myself.

I don't know if she should have given up her governorship to take care of their baby. But I've always had the belief that children should be raised by their parent. In today's economy I realize that is extremely difficult - it usually takes two incomes to survive. Laura and I were lucky in that we were able to afford for her to stay at home until the kids were in school. We certainly couldn't afford to do that now, though. I have always felt that women deserve the same opportunity as men to pursue a career. I have always thought that men were as capable as women to care for infants, so no - I don't think that it is a woman's place to raise the babies while the men work. I just think that the best person to raise a child is its parents. When possible.

So, maybe Mr. Palin (I assume that's his name) is a full-time dad to their down's syndrome baby, freeing Ms. Palin to pursue her political ambitions. Or maybe Ms. Palin feels that she has a unique contribution to make to politics and has therefore a higher calling to answer.

Or maybe I am just failing to truly understand equality for the sexes and that mothers everywhere are proud to see her as their potential vice-president, that she is raising the ceiling for mothers everywhere. All I really do know is that I have a lot of thinking and learning ahead of me in order to not see her as someone who is putting her interests ahead of her baby's. Of all of the discussion I've seen in the media with regard to her being on the Republican ticket, no one has mentioned this in particular.

Please understand that I don't have a problem with working mothers. My problem is with a working mother of a special needs child who appears to have the choice of staying home if she wanted.

I am seriously wanting the unvarnished opinion of everyone who reads this blog. Have I lost my feminist credentials here? (Or maybe had I never had them?)