The Glass Floor

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I have fallen through the glass floor.

Last year I was working in a war zone, earning a great deal of money, flying in helicopters or riding in armored vehicles.

Now I push a stroller. Make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Wipe bottoms and noses. Wash clothes and faces and perform all of the other unpaid tasks of caring for my two sons.

I have also entered a realm filled predominately with women. When I go to the library for story time, or to a "Music Together" session, or walk my son to kindergarten, I see mostly women with their children.

In addition, the vocabulary surrounding this type of work is decidedly feminine. I hear references about Mr. Mom and room moms at the school. At the beginning and end of the school year, there were organized social events for mothers. Even the New York Times blog about parenting is called the Motherlode.


And there is a negative connotation to the work. One mother at the school suggested, "You must really be looking for work," after she saw me walk my son to school on several occasions.

The fact that the work is unpaid reflects the status it holds in our society. Ironically, if I pay a day care center to care for my child, I can claim a tax deduction and credit. If I care for my own children, I get nothing.

Despite the repeated claims that sons need fathers and boys need male role models, our culture does not encourage this form of engagement.

I am not certain what my sons need. I certainly cannot satisfy all of those needs. But I do know that it is important that I care for my children. We missed each other dearly while I was overseas. And I know that I would rather be caring for my sons than attending endless meetings and writing action-memoranda -- an oxymoron if there ever was one.

I cannot say that I enjoy wiping noses, let alone bottoms. I don't imagine anyone does. But somebody must, and I do it when necessary. I do it because I love my children.

And there is a great deal of satisfaction and a certain freedom knowing that my actions are motivated by love rather than money or status. Despite the awkwardness, I am glad to be in the company of others who feel the same.

With a Perspective, I'm Nils Kaufman.