Bankers as Daddies

I was there when a friend of mine came home from a long day at the bank and was easing out of his proper attire. First came the suit coat, then the tie, then the shiny black shoes. Then came the socks--revealing toes decorated with hot pink nail polish, courtesy of his eight-year-old daughter.

It was a total shock to me to see a banker sporting toenail polish--although I knew perfectly well that in his other persona he is a devoted and delighted family man. I could imagine the scene: his daughter's eyes lighting up when she got the idea, him indulging her pleasure, her working with total absorption, him watching with love. Yet I kept looking from his toes to his banker's suit and back to his toes. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that nobody at the bank would ever imagine, much less see, that little symbol of a father's love.

What a commentary on the life that fathers are expected to lead! They are supposed to be devoted to their families (naturally) but never at the expense of the all-important job. A man who comes in to work bubbling with excitement about his toddler's newest accomplishment, or who talks over lunch about child care or ear infections or homework, is immediately suspect. His mind must not be on the job, people think. His devotion to his career must be less than absolute. Maybe this should be taken into consideration when promotion time comes around. After all, a man like that might consider staying home when his children get sick!

It seems to be the mother's prerogative to complain about the emotional cost of raising children--which is understandable, given the number of hours we put in on the job. But it's useful to remember that fathers don't get that great a deal either. Totally locked out of the birthing process, given no time off work to get to know the hew human being who will be so much a part of their lives, losing precious contact with the wife as she pours time and energy into the baby, counted on for financial support, yet criticized for not being there enough. While this is not the story for every family, it is a depressingly common one. And men's ability to love their children deeply despite all these obstacles is a remarkable testimony to the strength of the human spirit.

Lots of things need to change. Men need to be welcomed fully into the birthing process (as is happening in more and more hospitals--a very hopeful sign for the future). They need time off from work after the birth (now legal but still not socially acceptable). They need to be welcomed by women into the child-rearing process. (How many of us wonder what's wrong when a man brings his toddler to the park on a weekday morning--if he dares--rather than noticing what's very right?) And they need the space to come out as parents at work. What if the bankers got a chance to sit around, loosen their ties, put up their feet, and swap Daddy stories? What if photographs were handed around, difficulties listened to with nods of warm understanding, milestones proudly announced? What if laces could be untied and socks pulled off to reveal our bankers as Daddies in all their splendor?