There is a turd in the bathtub. Again.
I have studied my daughter’s digestive patterns extensively, and I thought I had this sorted out. My calculus is off. Or maybe it is the plums.
Never mind the turd.
What the hell am I doing? I used to be someone with a lot of potential. How did I— dreamer of enormous dreams—reduce myself to this, to being a stay-at-home father?
I despise it. And I despise that I despise it. But I can’t help it. I hate the routine. I hate the lack of stimuli. I hate the emasculation. I hate the question, “What do you do?” I hate the stretching gap in my résumé. And I really, really hate fishing for turds.
But hatred is manageable, friendly even. After all, who doesn’t hate their job? No— the things that suffocate me are much more menacing. Jealousy. Resentment. Anger.
And there she is: my wife. Or partner. Or spouse. Or whatever. So accomplished. So networked. So sought after. So in command of her powers. So fucking beautiful. So ridiculously interesting.
Where are my friends these days? My conversation partners? My colleagues? My collaborators? They have all gone away. My brain, my entire life, is shrinking, and I have no structural defense.
God I hate fishing turds out of the bathtub. Used to be I drained the water first, then, with rubber gloves and depending on consistency, I’d either mash it down the drain or, if it was sufficiently robust, I’d pick it up and drop it into the toilet. I am less dedicated now. I am a bare-hand man, and I am proud of it. If there existed a tub-to-toilet turd tossing competition, I’d be the best on the planet.
Whatever. Jealousy and resentment exist in every relationship. So what if I am neither defender nor provider? This is the 21st century: age of the engaged father; the foodie father; the emotionally attentive husband. This is the age of modern man. Of course I am not above childcare; what crushing privilege it is to have such innocence in my charge. Of course I am not threatened by my wife; she is the best friend I have ever had.
Hatred, jealousy, resentment; these are accidental symptoms. The real problems are more comprehensive. They are: first, society’s debilitating work fetish combined with its overpowering expectation of domestic bliss; and, second, the way we suffer the same struggles in isolation.
Status does not discriminate. Whoever you are, you must have a good job and a happy home life. You must be a perfect professional, a perfect partner, and a perfect parent. Never mind that none of us have time or energy to perfect even one of these roles. Anything less is deficient. Anything less elicits condescension. Or worse: pity.
And the consequences are pandemic: Prioritize career over kids and you get an infertility crisis; don’t prioritize your relationship and you wind up with a divorce; don’t prioritize your kids and you get…teenagers.
Now contextualize these pressures within America’s aggressive nuclear focus and its extreme individualism. We don’t live near family. We all have our own houses, our own cars, and our own way of doing things. We prepare our food in isolation.
We live, there can be no other word, inefficiently.
What kind of culture tasks a single adult with the rearing of a single child? What kind of culture segregates generations so completely? We are systematically stamping out the collective memory that shaped our ideas about family and culture. We are eliminating the tools while idealizing the outcomes. We are a positively masochistic bunch, I say.
Which is why this turd is pissing me off. I put my daughter in the sink and fill it with warm water. She looks like Marlon Brando in a Jacuzzi. I return my attention to the bathtub. Seems to be a hybrid, very noncommittal. I am not confident this is a grab-and-drop situation.
Things are breaking apart. I see corn.
I formulate a solution: I will make a movie. It is going to be about how we are set up for failure. It is going to be about how this isn’t anyone’s fault, really. There’s going to be stuff about jealousy and resentment. There’s going to be stuff about how we do not value nontraditional expressions of masculinity, and about how we put a premium on the cheapest expressions of female sexuality. There is probably going to be a scene where the woman is nursing her baby while having sex with her husband at the same time. Because that shit really happens and it’s not dirty. It is going to be a great big question mark about how this is all supposed to work.
I grab what I can of the turd—three, two, one—and I toss it in the toilet. Swish. I do a Michael Jordan thing with my wrist. Damn I’m good. I let the water swirl down the drain, and I wash my hands.
I turn to my daughter. She is happily mesmerized by another turd bobbing in the sink.
Kenyan-born writer-filmmaker Gregory Collins has worked in film and film production for more than a decade. He recently wrote and directed A Song Still Inside (asongstillinside.com), a story about a stay-at-home father struggling in the shadow of his wife’s success. The film is expected to be completed later this year.