The sink is piled high with dishes. Dirty clothes are piled up around the hamper and in front of the washing machine (they'll make it in there eventually). Clean clothes are elsewhere: piled up on the guest bed in the younger boy's room, or folded (but not put away) in our bedroom. The backyard is a maze of weeds and dog shit. The boys, both under 4 but both walking, running, and creating chaos wherever they go, have mined the living room floor with carelessly dropped toys more effectively than the Viet Cong could ever have hoped for. Right now they're running around... well, not like wild animals, really. On a scale of 1 (old basset who is so lazy that he lays on his side to drink from his water dish) to 10 (Rabid Coydogbear hybrid defending what it believes to be her young) they're... I don't know, less than a 9, for sure.
Ph.Mom will not be happy when she gets home.
I try to fight it, I really do, but I'm a terrible housekeeper. And since we live in a world where everything is gendered, this matters, because it makes me a Goon Dad. Yes, it's true: on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, rather than picking up the mess that surrounds me as inevitably as Joe Btfsplk's personal raincloud, I would much rather drink a beer and watch some baseball/college football/hockey, depending on the season. Or rather, since I'm a lifelong nerd who only recently has discovered that sports are their own nerd-dom, sitting around watching Star Wars again, or gaming with my friends (also nerds), or working on my planned arsenal of Steampunked Nerf guns, or just sitting back and reading a good fantasy/sci-fi novel. I don't get to do that; I have too much work to catch up on that should have gotten done during the week, but that's what I've imagined for myself once I get my shit together.
Spoiler alert: my shit stays far apart.
The biggest problem with this dream is the fact that it takes a lot of effort to run a household, and it's no big news that women still do more than their fair share of the housework, even when they work as much or more than their male partners. Speaking of a "fair share" of housework is, of course, a bit of a fallacy. It's not as though a couple could quantify and evenly divide all domestic responsibilities (and even if they could, would creating that list be one of the domestic responsibilities to be evenly divided up?) and not all domestic tasks are created equal. I honestly try to balance things, but sometimes, that balancing act amounts to me saying, "Eh, if we both blow this off, no one is doing more than their fair share." (Yes, I realize that I as an English teacher should know that "no one" is singular and therefore cannot be the antecedent of "their," a plural pronoun.) And I try to justify it to myself: I already do infinitely more than the imaginary 50s dad ever did. I probably do more houseworking and parenting than most of my peers. I cook almost every supper we eat at home, and I don't mean grilling (I only do that once, maybe twice a week). Haven't I earned the right to be lazy? But if I've earned that right, who's paying out those earnings?
I credit my parents for this gender-consciousness when it comes to housework. My dad taught high school and my mom worked as a computer programmer for a big bank in Dallas. This meant that a lot of traditional stay-at-home-mom stuff was done by my dad, and during the summer, he was a stay-at-home dad. He cooked suppers, drove us to school and church functions, etc. A lot of that is true for me: I'm at various schools for different hours on different days, but I spend more time at home (although often working from home) than my wife does. I cook supper; I plan meals; I do at least some of the grocery shopping (often with at least one boy in tow). And I try to get motivated to clean the house. Because that's another way in which my life is similar to my parent's: I can't get clutter under control.
My parents' — let's say "less than great" — housekeeping ability is just the first among my long list of excuses for my slovenly existence: While they would never make it onto A&E or even TLC, they both had a tendency toward hoarding, and none of us were ever very good at bringing order to the horde. So I will admit that I went into my adult life without a great grasp of how to run a household and not into the ground. Add to this a job that requires me to spend a lot of time at home, but working on the computer and not focusing on parenting/cleaning. Add to thistwo (soon to be three) small kiddoes and a live-in Mother-in-Law/Babysitter who are each capable on their own of transforming a freshly cleaned space into something not entirely unlike the aftermath of a minor tornado in a few minutes. Add onto all of that a near constant battle with depression and anxiety that means that on some days I devote almost all my energy just to the task of getting through the next moment, so when it comes to cleaning when I get home, it's so much easier to sit back and let the second law of thermodynamics take its course.
I could go on. (See what I did there? Go on... goon... eh, nevermind.)
I'm trying, I really am, to not be a goon dad, to not let it all fall to shit and expect the little lady to pick up the pieces with a smile. I could expect that till the cows come home, but the woman I married would never stand for it, and the cows would literally come to my home, since I would be living in a barn and oh man did I ever whiff on that joke. I love her because she wouldn't stand for it. I love her because I know she knows when to put her foot down. Shit, as the kids say, has got real, real fast: PhBaby III is arriving soon, and PhMom really wants a clean house to welcome her (yes, it's a girl. Yay! and also [expression of terror and anxiety that can't be typographically conveyed]) home. I want that, too... in theory. It's one of those "Everybody wants to go to heaven; no one wants to die" things. But soon I'll have two females who mean the world to me as a part of my household, and I don't want that world to be one in which they are unfairly burdened with an unequal share of domestic duties. If I have to fake it till I make it, I will. If nothing else, I hope my boys learn what my father taught me: there's nothing "unmanly" about any sort of domestic task, whether it's cooking, picking up the disaster of a living room, doing laundry, or watching kids play at the playground. My sons will learn that being a dad means being an equal partner.
And once the house gets clean, maybe we — sons, daughter, husband, and wife together as a team — can sit down and watch Star Wars.
Just as soon as I find the remote. No, the other one. I swear, it was just here... maybe someone could look through that toy box by the fireplace? Did you check under the diaper bag there on the coffee table.....