It’s tough for dads to be one of the girls.

We go to the park; it’s me and the moms. We go to the Target, it’s me and the nannies.
This is my reality. And it drives me nuts when people feel the need to make a big deal of it.

This quote is from a recent Matt Villano column in the New York Times Magazine’s parenting section. Since NYT articles tend to disappear behind a log-in wall after a few days, the gist is a stay-at-home dad takes his daughter to a library event, and everyone makes a fuss over him being the only dad there. They change the lyrics of songs, the words of stories to reference fathers in addition to mothers.

This annoyed him.

I can sympathize, a bit. I too bristle when random people make a big deal of me being a dad in an environment that is dominated by moms. It’s not that I’m offended, it’s about not wanting to be the center of attention. Though there have been some times when people make comments about me “having the day off” when I do get a little bent out of shape.

The column did remind me that I just began my seventh year of being primarily employed as a caregiver to our kids. Every day is a challenge, as it is with every parent who stays home, father or mother. But I like to think I do a few things correctly each day and have been reasonably successful.

One thing that sticks out is the social awkwardness I feel in my role, something Villano touched on in his column. While I think most people are understanding and supportive of men who stay home, there are unspoken social walls out there. Perhaps it’s just me, but it does feel a little strange to walk into a library, onto a playground, etc. and be the only dad there. While moms are clustered in groups, chatting while their kids play, inevitably I’ll stand on my own or just chase my girls around without engaging in conversation with the moms. I don’t feel like the moms are staring at me, wondering what the hell I’m doing there. But I do think it’s harder for dads to walk into these situations and easily integrate into the parental conversations if we don’t know any of the other parents.

In six years, I can only think of a couple times when I’ve been out with the girls and struck up more than passing conversations with moms.1 Once was at Gymboree, when C. and a little boy kept playing together. After a couple weeks the boy’s mom and I started talking a little bit. The conversations were brief, and I couldn’t tell you her name today. The other time was last summer, at M. and C’s gymnastics class. There were two brothers in their class, and as we were the only parents present, their mom and I passed the hour talking and chasing our one year olds. Even then, once the summer was over, that contact ended.

I admit some of this no doubt stems from my reserved nature. It’s hard for me to walk into a setting where I don’t know people and start conversations. I wait for others to engage me. That’s as true if I walk into a room full of guys as a room full of moms. Along those lines, when there are other dads present at kid events, I don’t rush over and start talking to them. But I feel like I could approach them, where there’s an underlying (imagined?) tension with moms that they don’t want me barging into their conversations.

I have a few friends who are also stay-at-home dads. One has a completely different experience from me. We joke that he’s the perfect PTA mom, fitting in comfortably to every situation despite being the only dad present. He is a much more social creature than me, though. He has no trouble stepping into new settings and meeting people. Also, when he left the working world, he already had two kids in school and his entire family was already involved in school, church, and athletics so he had relationships with other parents already. So perhaps it is more about us as individuals than because of unspoken rules.

I don’t want to overstate this tension. It’s not something that keeps me awake at night, or makes me feel great dissatisfaction in my role as a parent. I’ve survived six years just fine after all. It’s just something interesting that strikes me about my place in society.

  1. I should point out that I’m talking about casual interactions. There are plenty of moms I’ve met at school that I’ve got to know and when we see each other, we immediately start talking. But these were moms I saw multiple times each week and pick-up and drop-off times, special school events,