If You Can’t Win at Yoga, Why Do I Feel Like a Loser?

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Goddess Pose: So named because men can’t do it?

Having recently crossed that ephemeral line where I can no longer say I’m in my mid-forties I’m beginning to think about my body. Its not that I’m suddenly losing my capacity, but I’m conscious that the window of physical potential is getting smaller, so its time to look after what I’ve got.

Thus, I’ve taken up Yoga.

Last spring the first twinges of plantar fasciitis sent me to the running store to get proper shoes and the yoga studio in search of disciplined stretching.

I chose to do hot yoga, which involves practicing in a room heated to 90 degrees. You sweat. I sweat heaps, but I like getting a sweat up; it makes me feel like I’ve exercised. It is the same reason my father preferred tennis to golf. I’ve tried other types of yoga on my travels, thanks to the very handy MindBody App, but I still like returning to the warm room. Hot yoga seems like yoga for men.

My wife doesn’t like yoga. She lives and breathes and now works in fitness, but she has never taken to it. Recently, a friend asked if it was because she was competitive, and it clicked. She doesn’t like yoga because she can’t WIN.

I get that. Competition is the antithesis of yoga. It’s all about your practice, and sharing energy and being grounded and giving thanks. I’ve seen men fart and go shirtless, when I wouldn’t, but that is all accepted. There is no Nasty in Namaste.

But that doesn’t stop me feeling like a LOSER when I’m on the mat.

And often I’m on the mat; in child’s pose, in a pool of perspiration, panting like my lab on a hot day. Downed dog.

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My Downward Dog is still oblique even with knees bent and heels up.

At the end of the class the yogi will often direct us into child’s pose to take a moment and recover. Then she will offer this as a time for people to do anything in their practice that might not have been covered in the previous 50 minutes. The first time this happened, I looked up and the woman next to me was recovering by standing on her head. It was hard not to feel like a loser in that moment.

I returned to my child’s pose, which at least has the benefit of somewhat sheltering one from the outside world, but my mind still wandered to the fact my pose is far from textbook. If I rest my sit bones on my heels, my limited spine curvature means my head is sticking up. Its the only one.

If I’m face to the mat it feels like there is a 45-degree angle at my knees and my bum is 24-inches away from where it should be. That it is an open invitation to the instructor to come and press down on the base of my spine. She is working under the assumption my pose needs correcting. So I have to go through the additional ignominy of letting out a little squeal to inform her I’ve reached your maximum elasticity.

It’s the same with most of my poses. My downward dog is very oblique. In pigeon my folded leg is very acute.

I dread the phrase “and the full expression of the pose is”. Its something like what the concert-goer feels when the 80s band declares they are “going to play something from their new album”, but worse. It’s more than a buzz kill. It is like a buzz saw to my body image.

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Squatting is the not full expression of Crow pose.

“So you think you are a fit and healthy guy, try this buddy!”

And by this I mean squatting without falling over backwards as opposed to crow pose, which is what people who can squat do to challenge themselves.

My balance is terrible. If I arrive to class late and can’t get a spot next to the wall, I have a moment of panic. My tree pose is more coconut palm in a hurricane than stately oak. If, as the yogis like to say, we are all contributing to the energy in the room, I fear I’m inflicting chaos theory on the people next to me.

As for the breathing; the one breath, one movement mantra is beyond me. My practice is totally disassociated from my breath. If I’m not flat out panting, I’m breathing double time. I’m usually breathing out when I should be breathing in. Focusing on the breath just adds stress. At this point Yoga is hard enough without having to manage my oxygen intake.

I get it in principle. If I was using my breath my vinyasa might actually flow like a gentle river. I can visualize that languid stream, but I imagine my movement resembles a body plunging over a series of waterfalls.

And let’s face it if you are going over a waterfall, you are probably not winning.

Like the chest to straight-legged forward fold, the balance and breathing will have to wait. As will the spiritual dimension. Gaining awareness and reaching a zen state; that is post-grad yoga. I’m still doing YOGA 101.

Right now, yoga is just a glorified stretching regime and to that end it is working. I keep telling myself that I’m undoing years of neglect; that each session is unwinding a day of backpacking or ten miles run. It’s a very arbitrary measure, but it accounts for my incremental progress. There are no shortcuts in life.

I just completed a half-marathon up a mountain, racheting up my hamstrings with every step! Throughout the marathon-level training I put myself through for that race I used yoga to keep me limber. So what, if I still can’t touch my toes, the plantar fasciitis didn’t get any worse!

After around 60 yoga sessions I still feel stiff and sweaty when I compare myself to my classmates. But most of that is in my head. The vibe much less intimidating than the environment on the weights floor at the gym. I’m getting better at accepting that I’m not going to win any yoga accolades and just moving on … awkwardly to the next pose.

I’m giving myself plenty of practice.

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Tree Poses: Coconut Palm in Hurricane and Solid Oak.

Thanks to Lauren Porat of Yoga Spark for posing with me.

 

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A Middle-Aged Man Tackles the Pikes Peak Ascent: America’s Ultimate Challenge.

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Pikes Peak from Manitou Springs. Its unusual to see the finish of a half marathon from the start.

Last week, I did the Pikes Peak Ascent, a half marathon from Manitou Springs, Colorado up to the top of Pikes Peak, almost 8,000 feet straight up to the rarified air of 14,115 feet. As befitting a peak known as America’s Mountain, the race up it is described as America’s Ultimate Challenge.

True, the Marathon deserves that moniker, but at my age turning around at the summit and running 13 miles down hill just seemed like a stupid idea. I’d rather keep my knees in tact for other adventures. And a month before my 48th Birthday, with life’s finish line visible in the distance, I’m all about maximizing my time.

The Ascent was appealing to me because I got to climb a mountain. My Bucket List includes hiking the Colorado 14ers; the 50-odd peaks in Colorado that are over 14,000 feet high, and this seemed like a nice way to knock Pikes Peak of my list.

“Make no mistake this not a run. It is a collective hike with competitive people.”

I’m not a runner. Sure, I’ll jog 6-10 miles with my friends at the weekend, and I’ve done a few half marathons, but I’ve never run a marathon and the desire to do so has never taken hold. I’ve always described myself as a “13.1 Miles Ain’t Half of Nothing” kind of guy.

People say I should do the NY Marathon. No thanks. I’ve driven through Queens and the Bronx. They are grim. I can’t imagine willingly running through the outer boroughs. I prefer the trails, and with an average grade of 11% this was much more manageable than most mountain trails.

After registering for the race during the winter I forgot about it until, after I completed the North Face Endurance half marathon at Bear Mountain in New York on Mother’s Day. That run took me 2:49 and was definitely a step up from the local trail race, the Paine to Pain Half Marathon around greenways of Westchester County, NY, which was my qualifying event for the Ascent. I did that in 2:04 for those using me as a yardstick.

When I finally dived into the Pikes Peak online community, I was confronted with the advice that as a flatlander I should train for the Ascent like I was training for a marathon. That was not particularly welcome news, as I’d never met anyone who enjoyed training for a marathon. Fortunately, I only had 12 weeks left before the race so I got to avoid the standard 18-week marathon-training program. Surely, having run a hilly half was worth an additional 6 weeks?

By early July, I was running longer than I had ever run in my life. I did an 18-miler around the local trails. Even though it is 10 degrees cooler in the trees, it was brutal in the New York heat and humidity. Driven by a fear of chaffing I took my shirt off to wring the sweat out of it fours times during that run. I even did a couple of sessions on the threadmill simulating the grades I’d be running at; neutralizing the boredom by watching rugby on my iPad in true Kiwi-expat style. My training was interrupted by a slight calf muscle pull on July 9. That was followed by two weeks intensive physical therapy. On Thursday 20th I asked my physical therapist when I could start running again. He advised that I should try a 10-minute jog over the weekend and see how I went.

That Sunday, I went for a jog in San Francisco. After 10 minutes all was well, so I carried on and completed the San Francisco Half Marathon. I figured if the therapy had worked I needed to get back into training for the Ascent, and if I pulled up lame? Well, it wasn’t meant to be. Besides, when you are 48 you can’t throw away the opportunity to run across the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Heading to Godley Head from Taylors’ Mistake on the Port Hills, Christchurch, New Zealand.

After San Francisco I flew to New Zealand to visit my mother. I was able to map a few runs for the Trail Run Project on the Port Hills overlooking Christchurch, before arriving in Colorado the weekend before the Ascent. Most people don’t have the luxury of having a week to acclimatize for the race. The first day I was there I drove up Pikes Peak, walked a mile down the Barr Trail and “ran” the last mile. After 200 yards I was gasping for air, and I was soon reduced to a fast walk. It took me almost 19 minutes.

Working on the dictum that the best way to acclimatize was to climb high and sleep low, I decided to base myself at 9000 feet in Frisco, the cheap-man’s Breckenridge, and polish off a few 14ers. First up was the DeCaLiBron loop, which enabled me to summit four 14ers in one day: Mounts Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross. There was a lot of heavy breathing involved, but by the time I’d summited Torreys and Quandary Peaks mid-week, I was feeling much less breathless above 13,000 feet. I was tempted to check off Mt. Sherman to complete the 14ers in the Mosquito Range, but my wife cautioned that I didn’t want to overdo it before my race. In tackling the Class 3 Kelso Ridge on Torreys and the even gnarlier West Ridge of Quandary I was more than satisfied with my efforts.

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Crossing the Knife’s Edge at 14,000ft on the Kelso Ridge of Torreys Peak.

It was on to Manitou Springs the day before the race. Manitou is a lovely looking town, with the impressive Garden of the Gods as its backyard. I would have liked an extra day to enjoy it, and if I’d arrived on Thursday I might have got a PPA running cap before they sold out. At the Packet Pickup I was adopted by a group of Kansans, who couldn’t quite fathom that I would show up for the race without friends or a support crew. They were repeat runners, and over dinner they convinced me to ditch my hydration backpack and tackle the race with a water bottle and a pouch full of snacks.

Race day morning dawned bright and clear. It was warm at the start line. I didn’t feel cold in a t-shirt. At the last minute I threw my thermal top into my sweat bag, and decided that meeting it at the top of the mountain was a risk I was prepared to take.

I was well-versed in the course description provided by legendary Pikes Peak competitor Matt Carpenter at skyrunner.com. I had it well drummed into me that passing runners on the Ws, the first steep hill above Manitou Springs, was a waste of time and energy, so I stopped running half way up Ruxton Ave. Now, that was a slope I could easily handle, but as most of the runners had started walking by then I didn’t want to become one of those hares who blew his race in the first mile and got overtaken at the end.

Once the course hit the trail, it was pretty much single file up the Ws. A few people tried passing, but they hardly advanced their cause.

I was expecting after we got to the flatter stretch between No Name Creek and Barr Camp things would open up and we would start running. That was not really the case. After the 7miles to go sign the trail rounded a corner and headed down hill for a bit. That was the only time on the whole trail section of the race I saw everyone in front of me running in unison. I suspect that once I got on the trail I ran less than half a mile, and I feel I ran passed more people than passed me.

Make no mistake this not a run. It is a collective hike with competitive people. Sure if you were in the first few waves you might get to experience the race as Skyrunner describes it. I was bib number 1497 out of 1842, so there were 1500 people ahead of me when I crossed the start line; 1496 competitors and 4 random people who decided the hike the trail that day. Among my Kansan friends even those with lower bib numbers found themselves stuck in traffic.

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Join the Queue. On the Ws section of the Pikes Peak Ascent.

Hiking is my thing, but this was quite different to a hike. When I hike I will stop and take in the view, but when I pulled off the course with 2.5 miles to go to reapply sunscreen, I felt the pressure, as all the people I’d passed during the previous few miles seemed to stream by me.

Truth be told when I rejoined the procession up the hill, I was glad for the wee rest and concluded that had I not dropped out of line I might have fallen back naturally. The last two miles were a struggle. I was more than happy to settle in behind a woman I’d previously passed and let her set the pace.

If I had run more of the course I doubt I would have placed as high as I did. My official time was 4:52. Strava gave me 4:20 and 14.4 miles, which is consistent with the usual distance error on my phone, but it is hard to see how my cumulative stops would add up to 30 minutes. That said there were numerous points where my Nike+ decided to pause my workout even though I was still actually moving. As a result of failing to register a few restarts it only credited me with 11.5 miles when it is normally over 14 for a half marathon.

The last mile took me over 35 minutes. Maybe a week of hiking had done more harm than good? At times I had to slow my hiking stride to allow people running next to me to complete their pass or to avoid kicking the person in front of me. How much energy did I waste slowing down during the previous 12 miles? Who knows?

At the end I was pretty knackered. I must have been, because I managed to sleep on the bus on the way down the mountain, which is no mean feat on a long and winding road with no headrest. I met my friends from Kansas in the beer garden, and we spent the afternoon soothing our aching muscles with free ale. As we were limited to one slice of pizza for lunch, there was little to stop the alcohol finding a nerve to dull.

Apart from the official store running out of merchandise, and a bit of a scrum to get your sweat bag at the summit, the race was very well organized. Thanks to the volunteers who staffed the route at various remote points on the mountain.

That evening my 8 year-old daughter, who has yet to relinquish her child’s understanding of “a race”, asked me if I’d won.

“No,” I replied.

“Well, who did?” she continued.

“Some guy who finished in more than half my time!”

“Uh?” she muttered, he voice trailing off as she handed the phone to her brother.

Someday she will understand. Besides, my friends from Kansas said it was much harder than a marathon.

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At this point the finish-line selfie is more important and a few seconds of my time.

 

Can the Prime Minister Have a Baby?

Asking if a 37-year-old woman can have a baby and run a country smells of misogyny. But not asking men or women how they balance family and work reinforces the impoverished status of the caring domain in our society.

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Jacinda Ardern takes over the leadership of the Labour Party. (Image/NZ Labour Party.)

A New Zealand story appeared in my Apple News feed recently. As an expat from a couple of islands at the bottom of the world it’s always thrilling to make the news, even if this is the headline; New Zealand Political Leader Quizzed On Whether She’ll Have Kids

Eight weeks before the General Election, the opposition Labour Party had changed leaders after some less than promising poll results. The new leader, and prospective Prime Minister, was 37-year-old Jacinda Ardern, and some men decided to ask her if she would have kids.

“A lot of women in New Zealand feel like they have to make a choice between having babies and having a career or continuing their career at a certain point of their lives, late thirties. Is that a decision that you feel you have to make or that you maybe feel that you’ve already made?”asked a male host on the TV show The Project.

As the NPR article pointed out it this is not a question that is usually asked of male politicians in their thirties; “The double standard is closely tied to misogynistic assumptions about parenting and ambition.”

This is true. The current New Zealand Prime Minister, Bill English, a devout Catholic, has six kids and a working wife and he doesn’t appear to have had any problems juggling his family and the nation’s direction. He’s been asked about it on occasion, but the questions hardly amounted to a grilling or posed family and work as an either/or dichotomy. Any discussion of Bill English’s family life quickly comes down to him being internationally lampooned for feeding his kids canned spaghetti on pizza.

It’s even more frustrating that it is a question being asked in New Zealand, a country with a long history of promoting women’s rights. In 1893 it was the first nation to give women the vote. In 2005 all three branches of government were headed by women; the Prime Minister was Helen Clark, the Chief Justice Sian Elias, and Governor-General, the Queen’s representative in New Zealand, was Dame Silvia Cartwright. Hell, in the 1980s the future finance minister, and member of the conservative party no less, made news by beast-feeding her baby outside the Parliament chamber.

But this question is also absurd. Jacinda Ardern is clearly a high flyer. She has the necessary combination of drive and talent to be in position to lead a country at the age of 37. It is that, not her gender, which should be the primary consideration in any assessment of her ability to be a Prime Minister and a new mother at the same time.

Most people experience the demands of parenting, but most people never reach the pinnacle of their chosen career. Even fewer manage that before they are 40. At a visceral level this lack of experience makes it easy to question the capacity of someone like Jacinda Ardern to take it all on. Call it the ‘Parenting is hard enough, I couldn’t imagine being Prime Minister at the same time’ response.

Like most people I can’t imagine being Prime Minister. But that doesn’t mean being a new parent and being on top of one’s game can’t be done by someone with the necessary qualities. I’m married to a woman who did it.

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My wife rocks out on the Wii at night, while leading the recovery of Gatorade during the day.

My wife gave birth to three children in three different states. During that time her career took off. She was pregnant with our third child when we moved to Chicago and she embarked on the post-Recession task of turning around Gatorade. The G branding, the pre-game fuel and post-game recovery products, and from a New Zealand perspective, the first moves that lead to the signing of the All Blacks rugby team, all came to be under her leadership. She turned around a $500 Billion dollar business while she had three children under five running around at home.

It wasn’t easy. She took maternity leave, but like many people in this hyper-connected world, she found time out of the office was not necessarily time off work. I remember her breastfeeding while on conference calls. Her maternity leave was much like the “holiday mode” former British Prime Minister Tony Blair went into when his fourth child was born while he was in office.

My wife is a woman of extraordinary energy and determination. I don’t know where she gets it from? Sometimes it is tiring just being around her, but it is the thing that has made her successful. She will say she couldn’t have done it without my help. As our family grew I shifted to working part-time and then not ‘working’ at all, but there are plenty of couples who raise kids while they both work.

There is a double standard here. But the original question asked of Jacinda Ardern does clumsily get to a truth. I suspect a woman is more likely to think about juggling work and family than a man. My wife frets about it all much more than I do. That makes writing this off as misogyny a little too easy.

The issue is not so much asking a woman how she will deal with having family and a high-powered job, but not asking a man in the same situation. Men also move between the worlds of family and work. They might be better at separating those domains, but how much of this is because we don’t make the same demands on men to focus on both home and career at the same time?

In a very real sense the caring domain is under-valued in our society. That is a problem and ultimately it is to the detriment of both genders. While calling out this out as misogyny is a valid criticism, it could have the unintended consequence of sweeping this conversation about families and caring under the rug.

We have to stop framing these issues in terms of what we can’t ask women, and start thinking about what we should ask men.

Learning to Walk in Your Wife’s Shoes

Here is a story of my Domestic Delinquency; An episode where I failed to do my share of the work around the house, and left it to my wife, who was working longer hours than me. I was sleeping in.

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Image/Pexels.com

My last post was Husbands: If Your Working Wives Are Doing Too Much Housework, That’s On You. In my mind it is a matter of fairness. You both have full-time jobs so you should share the work when you get home. I would say to men, if the shoe was on the other foot, and you were coming home and doing most of the work, would you think that is fair?

I’m far from perfect, and to expect other men to change with out acknowledging my own faults would be pointless. So I’m sharing an event that sticks in my memory.

My wife was pregnant with our third child and I was working part-time, having scaled back my hours after our first child was born. My wife’s sister and her family arrived for a visit one afternoon and my wife didn’t return from a business trip until later that evening.

She got up early the next morning to look after our toddlers. My sister-in-law made a passing comment about her not getting to sleep-in.

My wife repeated the conversation with me. It became an entree into a wider discussion about me stepping up. She was pregnant, starting in a big new job and we were about to move from Los Angeles to Chicago. I was quitting my job as a result of the move so it was my responsibility to manage all the non-work related stuff.

And she was right.

Our relationship was moving towards a much more defined separation of roles. She was about to make the biggest leap of her career, and I was about to assume the role of full-time homemaker. If anything in that moment I should have more time on my hands, as it was my last week at work. I suddenly had an extra 18 hours at my disposal, although as anyone who has run a household knows 18 hours can disappear quite easily.

Years later she has no recollection of this conversation, but I was chastened by it. I distinctly remember putting myself in my wife’s shoes and looking at it from her perspective. When I did that there was no disguising that she had gotten the raw deal. It’s an exercise I’ve often repeated over the years.

imagesThe reason this particular story stuck with me goes back to the early 1990s. In college I read a chapter of Arlie Hothschild’s The Second Shift. Her research found that even after they entered the workforce women still take care of most of the household and childcare responsibilities. I vowed to never be one of those guys, so being confronted with that reality hurt.

Today, I am a stay-at-home dad and the dynamic between myself and my wife is different to that of a couple where both partners are employed. The basic logic of fairness is harder to apply. Whether one partner is doing more than his or her share of the work, both paid and domestic, can only be discerned within the particular relationship.

It’s tempting to make simple division between one works outside the home and the other within it. This is no solution. That approach might benefit a man who thinks that the workweek ends on Friday evening, but fails to account for the life work that his wife does through Saturday and Sunday.

The second pitfall of comparing the contributions of a homemaker with that of a “gainfully employed” partner is we tend to undervalue domestic work. Running a household, raising kids and doing the volunteer work that knits communities together can easily add up to a full-time equivalent job, but it is seldom given the same status as paid work.

It’s not hard to imagine a working spouse coming home and saying I’ve had a long day at the office and I just want to relax. But try the reverse; Good luck to the homemaker who declares “I’m done,” at 6pm!

My wife works hard. She has a well of internal energy that I still can’t quite fathom. She’ll come home and say she’s had a long day at the office, pour herself a wine, a ask for her dinner, but that is usually followed up by the declaration that she has a hundred emails to catch up on because she’s been in meetings all day.

Tonight, I’ve cooked, done laundry, and put the kids to bed. I’ve finished my working day, and all I can hear from the next room is the click, click, click of my wife furiously putting her keyboard through another stress test.

There are times I feel frustrated, where I would like a little more help, but it is seldom because my wife is expecting me to wait on her while she binge watches “The Gilmore Girls”.

If I remind myself to walk in my wife’s shoes, I realize that she is doing more than her fair share of the work required to keep our family functioning.

And, so far, my wife hasn’t had to ask me to up my game since that morning. (That was her edit by the way.)

Husbands, If Your Working Wives Are Doing Too Much Housework That’s On You.

No Trolls, I'm not implying African American men are lazier than Whites. I like the photo and it highlights the need to get boys attuned to housework.
Frank Mckenna/Unsplash

If you are interested in gender equality this is a depressing conversation:

Jancee Dunn Wrote a Book Called “How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids” and We (Heleo) Made Her Talk to Her Husband About It.

A brief backstory; Dunn and her husband, Tom Vanderbilt, were living a life of domestic equality until their baby “shot out” and “these very traditional gender roles just came out of nowhere.”

Jancee Dunn and Tom Vanderbilt during their Heleo chat
Jancee Dunn puts her husband on the spot.

As they tell it, Vanderbilt stopped being the primary chef. He took up road cycling, which consumed several hours every Saturday,  and played online chess in the evenings. He was more likely to enter the kitchen in search of a glass of wine than dishwasher to empty. Dunn noticed that a lot of moms shared her anger about husbands being so “blithely unhelpful” after having kids, so she wrote a book about it.

I remember studying The Second Shift, Arlie Hochschild’s seminal work on the division of domestic labor, at university in the early 1990s. Hochschild found that working women still take care of most of the household and childcare responsibilities. As evidenced by Dunn’s book, things have not changed much in the intervening 25 years. That is DEPRESSING.

This issue is about men. The solution is quite simple; Men need to do their share of housework. It is easily quantifiable and its much easier to open the dishwasher than it is to open up emotionally. Towards the end of the interview Dunn and Vanderbilt briefly discuss their resolution of the issue, but the title of her book misses the point; the solution, to this problem lies with men.

It is not a woman’s job to stop hating the fact she is doing the lion’s share of the housework. Dunn goes through all sorts of emotional hoops; confessing to martyr tendencies, reframing her perception of Vanderbilt’s behavior and admitting fault for not having relinquished control to her very capable husband. That’s all well and good, but much of it would have been completely unnecessary if her husband had done some work around the house.

How can we reach a point where men pull their weight?

First, let’s acknowledge that housework is tedious. If doing laundry, washing dishes, cleaning toilets and changing diapers was fun and fulfilling work, we wouldn’t have feminism. We can’t blame men for not wanting to do it, but all these things are necessary to a functioning household, so someone has to do it.

This morning my son scrambled himself some eggs. During the subsequent discussion about cleaning up afterward his tween angst exploded, “This is STUPID!”

To which I rolled out my familiar retort, “Yeah, it sucks, but its got to be done, so get on with it.”

Which brings up the second point; it is necessary to teach boys how to do housework. My wife reports conversations with her working mom colleagues who lament that their husbands are useless around the house. Serving cheerios for dinner or washing brand new jeans with white shirts. Nobody wants to be incompetent, but as evidenced by my son attacking the egg pan with a sponge, boys don’t acquire these skills by osmosis. Credit to my mother more teaching me to do housework, apparently a number of mother’s do everything for their sons.

An added benefit of educating boys about the domestic sphere is it puts housework on their radar. Translating that awareness into action is a harder battle. My father was a great role model. When my mother started a business in the late 80s, he began to cook and clean. I don’t know if the chores where equally apportioned, but he did a lot more that most of his peers. Today, I’m a stay-at-home dad. I do most of the work around the house, which is a different dynamic to the one we are discussing here. Having progressive parents certainly made it easier for me to follow my current path.

Dunn and Vanderbilt’s solution is to have regular family meetings to dole out the workload.

“Expert after expert said, “Sit down and have a family meeting,” which is not that fun, but they [all] would say, “You have to very clearly parcel this out because the arguments arise from ambiguity.”

Jancee  Dunn

Setting boundaries and expectations is great. Tracking progress is also important. I have a chore chart on which we track whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher. That works for my kids. It can work for you and your spouse.

My suspicion is that some couples will go through all of the above and the men will still shirk their responsibilities. As many people have found traditional gender roles are quite resilient. I’ll admit I can be a domestic delinquent at times (There’s a future column.) If we are going to move beyond traditional roles, then putting the focus on the next generation of husbands might be more productive, hence my attention to setting an example for boys.

To my fellow dads, from a man whose primary role is the Second Shift, do more around the house. When a working dad like Tom Vanderbilt writes a book titled “How Not to Make Your Wife Hate You After Kids” we will be getting somewhere.

How to Turn Kids’ Difficult Questions Into Meaningful Conversations

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Unsplash/Pixabay

“What’s an abortion?” my 10 year-old son asked.

“Ah, it’s when a woman decides not to have her baby and goes to the doctor and has it removed from her body,” I scrambled to reply, as my blithe assumption that anyone who lived in America would be familiar with Abortion caught up with me.

“So, it’s like taking away a life,” he declared, stating the pro-life position most plainly.

Being pro-choice, I started to explain that it wasn’t that simple. There is a debate about when the embryo becomes a person, which is why using the word “baby” was something I quickly regretted. Furthermore, the rights of the woman were also under consideration.

As I talked with my son, I experienced some discomfort that the points I was making were unconvincing when held up against the right to life, which in a child’s mind was such a plain and simple concept.

It was an uncomfortable position, but as anyone with a passing knowledge of ethics knows, it is always complicated when you have to weigh moral imperatives against each other. The entrenched nature of the Abortion debate in America works to jam complex decisions into a binary. I almost feel I’m committing pro-choice treason; handing the other side a talking point, by admitting I am conflicted. But, while I am breaking out of the box let’s be clear; I don’t like the idea of an abortion. I hope my daughter never has to make the choice to terminate a pregnancy.

My struggle is nothing compared to the anguish of a woman who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant and considering her options. I know women who have had an abortion, put their baby up for adoption or created their own little family. These are not easy choices. None were ill-considered or taken lightly. All these choices had, and continue to have, great impact on the women involved. The biggest decisions in life are the most prone to second-guessing.

As a man, I feel like an imposter even commenting on this; a Martian describing life on Venus by peering through a telescope.

As a father, I have to talk about it with my children about abortion, especially my boys. You can’t teach your sons about sex without discussing the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy.

So boys, What does it mean to be a Pro-Choice Man?

Believing in a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body is to give away your power. That is tough for a man. Both mothers and fathers have rights, but the impact of a pregnancy on a woman is much greater than it is on man. That means if you and the woman you conceived with want different things, her rights have precedence over yours. It’s her body, her emotional life, her finances, her career, her time, her anything that will be the most effected by the decision to have a baby. An unplanned pregnancy should throw up these issues for the father, but if you want to claim men have equal rights in this situation I would ask if you have ever heard the expression Dead-Beat Mom? No, in reality women don’t have that option.

The risk in granting the ultimate decision to the woman is the man is let off the hook. That would be wrong. A man has to make his choices before he has sex.

Ideally, you should talk about this scenario prior to getting down to your underwear. In a slow burning relationship that might be possible, but often things move rather quickly. Let’s be practical, having a chat about what she would choose if she got pregnant, while you fumble with her bra hooks would be a bit of a mood killer.

I’ve never discussed it before I had first had sex. I’ve slept with women who I wouldn’t have wanted to start a family with. I’ve continued to sleep with women after they told me they could never have an abortion. I’ve always used contraception and therefore judged the risk is rather small.

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Sasin Tipchai/Pixabay

By the way contraception is an altogether quicker and more significant conversation. One you can and should have before she flings your pants across the room. I’ve never met a woman who was turned off by my offer to wear a condom. Faffing around trying to open it with sweaty palms and lubricated fingers is another matter.

But I’ve gone to withdraw after sex, reached down to secure the condom and discovered it is not where I last left it. Trust me, feeling around for the thick end of a rubber in the dark really is a mood killer. There is no hiding for the sudden increase in perceived risk, and if you haven’t had the conversation before hand, you still have to bear the consequences if your sperm finds its way to her egg.

My grandfather would have said a man should do right by a woman he knocked up; make her an honest woman. Today, there are more options than a shotgun wedding, but if you father a child, there will be consequences in terms of your time, your income and freedom. They might not be as great as those faced by the woman you slept with, but they will be there.

And if that happens, you, son, will be bound by the choices the woman makes. That is being a Pro-Choice Man.

I Thought The Asian Woman Was A Nanny, But That’s Not The Problem

The uproar about stereotyping the Asian woman in the Kids Interrupt the News video reveals something troubling about our view of caring.

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Professor Kelly’s wife removes the kids during a live TV interview. (Source: BBC/You Tube)

I admit it. I assumed the Asian woman removing the kids from the live BBC interview was the nanny.

Actually, the first time I saw the video that took the internet by storm over the weekend, I assumed she was the mother. I was laughing so hard, I didn’t notice she was Asian. It was only after I was given the context that Professor Robert Kelly was discussing the political crisis in South Korea on the news that evening, that I noticed the ethnicity of woman evacuating the kids from the home office.

When I clicked this link in the Guardian: BBC interview hijacked by children prompts social media debate, and was confronted with this subhead, “Widespread assumption that Asian woman in video that went viral was a nanny – not the mother – leads to accusations of racism”, I felt a little chastened. The woman is Professor Kelly’s wife Jung-a Kim.

It is always good to have ones biases and assumptions challenged, especially if you are a well-off white male who is seldom on the sharp end of negative stereotype. But, stereotyping is an inescapable part of the human condition. Our brains are hardwired to categorize things, and we make thousands of judgement calls based on these mental silos every day.

There are strong evolutionary forces at play here. If you see a slithery animal out of the corner of your eye, you are going to recoil. It’s an almost automatic response. Once you are in a safe zone, you can then assess if the snake has a rattle at the end of its tail or the right combination of red, black and yellow bands before deciding what to do next.

We do that with other people. Strangers, people not like us. Think of aliens, the ultimate outsiders; they are almost always portrayed as a threat. It is like we are almost hardwired to assume the worst. Which is useful, as long as you are aware that can lead to some undesirable outcomes. So, I am not going to beat myself up about putting this woman into a mental box. Hopefully, I will learn something about myself, and my experience of the world, by standing back and assessing the box I put her in.

But there is another problem here. This kerfuffle exposes a real problem with our attitude to caring?

As a stay-at-home Dad I have some experience of being at odds with the assumptions people make. Every time I meet a total stranger, inevitably they ask, “Where do you work?”

“Um, I don’t technically work in that sense.”

It is uncomfortable at times. Even though the material impact on my privileged white guy life is not great, I do struggle with being a carer. How do I define myself without a real job? Do I chat with the men or the moms at a cocktail party? There is not even a convenient word for what I do with my days. Microsoft Word just inserted a big red squiggly line under the word “carer”. Caregiver is more acceptable to the software. Its a British versus American English thing, but either way, the word doesn’t capture the distinction between a nanny and a stay-at-home parent, which is at issue here.

Why is that distinction even important? Whether a mother or a nanny, the woman in the scene is still looking after the kids. From my perspective the real problem is the assumption that calling someone a nanny is a bad thing. For this stereotype to be a negative, being a nanny has to be an undervalued. And if being a nanny is bad, what does that make the person who does the same thing as a nanny, but doesn’t get paid? Am I sucker or a dupe?

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Familiarity has eroded gay stereotypes. (Source: Stanley Dai/UpSplash)

Imagine the person who collected the kids in the video was a middle-aged man. I suspect many people might have assumed that he was Professor Kelly’s gay partner. I would have thought that pretty cool. Others would have condemned him to a hellish afterlife.

Now, visualize this all-male scene occurring on TV in 1957. My grandfather would likely have thought the man was Professor Kelly’s cousin visiting from home. The idea that a gay man would live out of the closet was an anathema to people in his generation. Indeed, to even suggest he might have been gay, would have sullied the good professor’s reputation.

Stereotypes change as social attitudes change. The judgement’s we make about people we type as “gay” have changed rapidly in my lifetime. In many places gay is no longer a slur. As we get to know gay men, at work or play or as part of our families, we realize they are just like us. When that happens basis of the negative judgments about gay people is eroded.

Gays have an advantage in that respect. Now they are liberated from the closet they are everywhere. Asian women are not so ubiquitous. If people’s primary experience of Asian women is as home help on a TV sitcom or Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother or something sexual, then we shouldn’t be surprised that stereotypes of the servile nanny or the driven mother exist. (Vera Chok delves into this topic.)

But everyone has a parent. Being brought up is universal human experience. The idea of not being loved or cared for as a child is horrible. So why is it that we still fall into the trap of assuming that calling someone a nanny is bad? Why is it easier to tell a stranger I am a blogger, rather than describe myself as a stay-at-home parent?

Could it be we don’t value caring enough?