But Can The Marriage Survive When Dad Is A Kept Man?


This is the bullshit subheading of Leah McLaren’s cover story in the most recent Toronto Life magazine: Power Wives and Their House Husbands. This is typical of many Toronto Life stories – all sizzle, no steak. Beyond the lack of any real analysis, the article fails to deliver on its premise – that marriages are in trouble when Dad stays home to raise the kids. In fact, the entire article showcases families that are perfectly happy and well-functioning under this set up. So WTF Toronto Life and Leah McLaren? As usual in Toronto Life stories, it is gossip, opinion, narcissism and unsubstantiated claims masquerading as journalism. Hey, my blog can fall under those categories too but it makes no pretense at journalism and you don’t have to pay to read it

What the article really is about is Leah McLaren trying to get her head around why ANYONE would choose to stay at home to raise their children if they had any choice whatsoever. The fact that she is a mother makes this difficulty a little concerning. Really? No conflict about leaving the raising of your children to other people? None? That, to me, is weird and maybe more of an interesting story. At least then the preening self-absorption is up front and not the subtext of a story claiming to report on external reality.

Admittedly, I did not go into reading this article with an open mind. It seemed like crap from the get-go but I was drawn to see what she had to report. The short answer – not a lot with substance.

I am not going to blow a lot of smoke about how fulfilling being a stay at home parent is because much of it is not. Much of it is repetitive drudgery and frustration. But it is important. It is worthwhile. Unlike a lot of jobs, like say, being a freelance journalist writing middlebrow articles for disposable magazines like Toronto Life. Being a stay at home parent doesn’t usually pay very well but if your boss is a demanding megalomaniacal jerk it can be somewhat forgiven in that he is 5 years old not 45, unlike in a lot of jobs.

McLaren mentions the old paradigm of mothers having to stay at home because they had no other choices, power or education and gave up money, status and a larger role in the world. She wonders why anyone now would choose that, be it a man or a woman. The answer is built into the very question: choice. Choosing to do something makes all the difference. These are not “kept men” or “trophy husbands”. The men in the article are all well educated and professionally successful who chose to put their careers on hold for a while to raise their kids. It’s not like they are condemned to spending their lives doing it.

Yes, there will be professional consequences but they don’t care. Maybe part of that is that they have learned that many jobs (and I’d venture to say most) or aspects of them are NOT fulfilling either. Most people work because they have to and they get paid to do it.  If you had a choice, why wouldn’t you spend time with your children? You had them after all – they’re expensive creatures. Why did you have them if not to spend time with them? That said, nothing made me happier than to go back to work after spending a long parental leave at home. That soon passed though. What I really liked was being able to choose (to some small degree) the shape of my life. I am happy I was not constrained by the small-minded attitudes of people who cannot conceive of deviating from the (new) traditional path. The real horror movies are ones like “The Piano”, “Mansfield Park” and “The Age of Innocence” where people could not choose the path to their happiness because they could not escape the confines of their societies.

Mind you, I personally couldn’t spend time at home with my kids if I didn’t have other things going on in my life professionally or otherwise – I do need more stimulation and personal growth than spending all day with small children can give you. I like trying to strike that balance. This points out the false dichotomy in McLaren’s article: you don’t have to choose one or the other.

I would have liked to have seen some dads who did not have the choice and were resentful. There are probably a lot of them – victims of the man-cession a few years ago and the societal shift to shed old-style manufacturing jobs. There might be others whose wives make a lot of money and they didn’t and so it didn’t make financial sense to pay someone else to raise your kids. Rock paper scissors – you lose. Those guys may not be temperamentally suited to the gig or like the fact it was foisted on them. Maybe they come from a background which told them their entire identity came from the job they held and the amount of money they brought home to the family (wait a minute, that’s all of us). Maybe it’s easier for effete liberals like me though. This is tough – society never really held out being a stay at home dad  as a viable and respectable option and for some classes and cultures it would be shameful. This reminds me of women on the cusp of the last sexual revolution who stayed home to raise their kids and watched their younger sisters go off and have careers and despise them for not doing the same.

Or how about featuring some women who despised their husbands for being at home? At least justify the premise of the article. There are women out there, like McLaren apparently, who feel men who earn less than they do or are interested in a more nurturing role are lesser men and not attractive. Maybe this is the real idea behind the subtitle – that if she had a spouse who’d rather spend time at home than work she’d lose interest in him and hook up with some alpha male bond trader, seal hunter or MMA aspirant. I don’t know. She perpetuates this stigma against men who choose (or have to accept) the modern reality of many parents. This attitude is what really pisses me off. Like the old canard about women who wanted careers who must be lesbians, or not able to get a man or are frigid bitches etc.

I don’t get the motivation for this article. Maybe this ties into the last article McLaren wrote for Toronto Life about how she couldn’t make her first marriage work because she was a child of divorce herself. It seemed that she hooked up with her current spouse while still married to her first husband. Nice.

Or maybe it has something to do with not always putting yourself first and doing the hard work of being a parent – especially if you don’t have kids simply to add to the list of your “accomplishments”.