June 17, 2017

STELLA MORABITO: Rather Than Judging Fathers’ Household Labor, Let’s Appreciate It: As a tribute to Father’s Day, I’d like to describe the household labor of two fathers I’ve known: my own father and my husband, the father of my children.

My father was possibly the most cheerful person I’ve ever known. He worked long hours as a real estate agent, but I’ve no doubt he did way more than 50 percent of the housework. He shopped for groceries on his way home from work. He very often did the laundry, dishes, and cooking. He habitually brewed the morning coffee, put breakfast on the table, and got us kids off to school.

It wasn’t easy for my mother to keep up with four closely spaced children. I’d later come to truly appreciate her many sacrifices and deep love for us all. But she viewed housework as a total waste of time. Her primary concern was to write great poetry, which was often published in an Armenian literary journal.

As an adult I can appreciate the profound beauty of her poetry. As a child, though, I just remember her chain-smoking Kools and pounding at the typewriter. Her days were punctuated with passionate phone conversations in which she’d often rail against various Republicans as the source of all evil. She’d sometimes pause at the greasy stove, where she’d turn on a gas burner, bending sideways to light another cigarette.

The house could go to hell, as far as she was concerned. And it did. My father’s valiant daily efforts amounted to a bit of damage control. It got so bad that when I was about ten I asked my mom why the house was always so messy. Appalled, she said, “If you want a clean house, go ahead and clean it yourself!” . . .

But long live traditionally male household labor, too. Maybe part of the reason I grew up in a house without the so-called gendered division of labor is because my father was not a handyman.

My husband, by contrast, has been unbelievably handy. That’s despite his high-powered career as a national security expert on Capitol Hill, at the Pentagon, and in industry. When we married I was a career intelligence analyst. But once we had kids, I stayed home full-time and never returned to that career. I also did all of the housework. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way because my priority was to have him spend kids-awake time interacting with them (reading, playing, bathing, and diapering) rather than squandering any of that time on chores I was able to do myself.

In any case, why would I have wanted my husband to do housework instead of big-ticket projects I wasn’t as able to do? For example, here’s a partial list of what my husband contributed to our sweat equity over the years:

Built ceiling to floor bookshelf system across 80 square feet of wall
Gutted the old kitchen in our first house
Remodeled that kitchen, installing all cabinets, flooring, and appliances
Did demolition work to prep for kitchen remodel in second house
Installed seven ceiling fans
Installed landscape timbers, terraced, planted shrubs
Built and installed backyard fence and gate
Jackhammered broken up patio and took concrete to landfill
Jackhammered old driveway, and took concrete to landfill
Tore out old walkway, poured cement, installed flagstone walkway
Sanded and refinished about 1,000 square feet of oak flooring in the first house
Sanded and refinished about 2,000 square feet of oak flooring in the second house
Built a pergola and arbors in the backyard
Planted several trees, grapevines, and other cultivars
Installed ceiling insulation in attic
Installed insulation in crawl space (nasty job)
Over the course of 20 years painted about 20 rooms, at least two coats
Installed five toilets
Installed dozens of outlets and light fixtures
Shopped with me for furniture, appliances, draperies
Built custom sandbox for the kids, with built-in benches on the sides
Installed a ceramic tile floor in the laundry room
Installed two sinks and a granite countertop in the bathroom
Installed four large medicine cabinets
Replaced and hung 21 interior doors (which I sanded, stained, and finished)
Built a work station across the back wall of a two-car garage
Installed 12 replacement windows
Installed three exterior doors

That’s just what comes to mind at the moment. . . . If you’re going to put a price tag on the work mothers do, you need to also put a price tag on these “traditionally masculine” contractor tasks as well.

None of that counts because shut up. Also feminism.

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