Josh Lansky is a man on the brink. And father-mucker is the story of a day in his crazy life. Josh is a second-rate screenwriter, fledgling freelancer, and stay-at-home dad of two preschoolers. He has managed to keep it together until one Friday morning when he takes his children to playgroup. His wife is away on yet another business trip. And one of the mothers tells him that his wife may be having an extra-marital affair.
Josh needs a break. Sadly, he’s not going to get one.
father-mucker is being hailed as a refreshingly honest, but raucously funny look at marriage and parenting in the twenty-first century.
That’s Not What Friends Are For
(On how it’s not cool for married stay-at-home dads and married stay-at-home moms to hang out)
The assigned reading in my high school English classes included many novels that struck me as anachronistic, if not downright obsolete: some long-dead white guy investing hundreds of thousands of words and a half dozen subplots to make a grand point about social injustice that had become, in the intervening years, moot.
One short story we read involved a couple who couldn’t check into a hotel room because they were — shudder to think — not married. Would the owners of a B&B refuse a room to an unwed man and woman today? Would they even notice? They’re proprietors, not improprietors!
And I graduated from high school in 1991. Twenty years later, the Secretary of State, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, and three Supreme Court justices are female; the notion of a woman being “ruined” by premarital sex and/or adultery — a prominent plot point in countless Victorian novels — is almost unthinkable.
If sixteen-year-old Tess of the d’Urbervilles was knocked up by her rakish cousin now, she wouldn’t be apprehended on one of the Stonehenge slabs — she’d star in the next season of MTV’s Teen Mom.
A modern-day Anna Karenina would hardly be a social pariah for running off with the dashing Vronksy; she’d sooner turn up on TMZ than the cold Russian train tracks.
And the 2011 Emma Bovary, as a “Real Housewife of Rouen,” would be a celebrity spokeswoman for debt relief companies and frequent guest on The View.
But for all the astonishing strides made by women in the last century — the 19th Amendment has only been on the books since 1920, remember — the anti-feminist Victorian notion of impropriety lives on.
For example: it is considered inappropriate for married stay-at-home dads and married stay-at-home moms to be close friends. They can trade gossip at playdates, carpool with the kids, chat in the supermarket, and yuck it up at dinner parties, yes. But spending time together unchaperoned — whether by other adults or their children — is widely regarded as improper.
A stay-at-home dad can’t call up a stay-at-home mom and propose an evening à deux at the local watering hole. He just can’t. The thinking here is obvious: the likelihood of stay-at-home dad and stay-at-home mom knocking back a half dozen inhibition-destroying mixed drinks and repairing to the bathroom, minivan, or Motel 6 to put the “happy” in happy hour is significantly reduced if the two stay-at-homers stay at home with their respective spouses. Thus, the tacit “Impropriety Rule.”
A draconian prohibition, perhaps — like the king ordering every spindle in the kingdom burned for fear of a single one pricking Sleeping Beauty’s finger — but then, it’s not like drunken infidelity doesn’t happen. For all I know, the Impropriety Rule is a good one.
On the other hand, do we really need, or want, the social mores of yesteryear to determine whom we can befriend? What if stay-at-home dad and stay-at-home mom just need to blow off steam after a hard day at work – full-time parenting, I think we can all agree, is work — just like people with more traditional jobs? What if there’s nothing untoward in their intentions? Why is that bad?
What the Impropriety Rule suggests is that we don’t, as a society, trust stay-at-home dad and stay-at-home mom to be alone together, for fear that they will be Led Into Temptation by that most seductive of deadly sins, Lust. That sounds like a fear-based sermon from the 1800’s, not an evolved 21st-century rationale. And it’s decidedly anti-woman, casting stay-at-home mom as Eve.
Furthermore, even if stay-at-home dad and stay-at-home mom have the hots for each other, imposing a restriction on their relationship won’t necessarily cool those flames of passion. That’s another thing I learned from reading all those books in high school: obstacles only abet Lust. Would Romeo and Juliet have fallen so head-over-heels in love if their parents had encouraged them to be together?
Again, I’m not necessarily advocating for an overthrow of the Impropriety Rule. But the reality is, there are (suddenly) more stay-at-home dads now than ever before, and it’s only natural that they should cultivate friendships with other stay-at-home parents, regardless of gender. That they aren’t allowed to do so may not be sufficient fodder for a Dickens novel, but that doesn’t make it just.
Greg Olear is the senior editor of The Nervous Breakdown, as well as the author of two novels: Totally Killer and father-mucker.
His work has also appeared at The Rumpus, The Millions, Babble.com, Chronogram, and Hudson Valley Magazine.
Greg teaches fiction writing at Manhattanville College and lives in New Paltz, New York with his family.
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