“I had to quit my job because of a health issue, and now I’m home taking care of our kids. My wife has become the breadwinner. I know I should be happy that we could make it all work, but I feel like a loser.” – Zach, San Francisco, California
Zach’s dilemma is the dichotomy of the modern male; emotionally evolved and willing able to care give, but pulled toward gender norms ingrained in us all.
The construction of gender identity for men is more fragile than for women. In many cultures, one is born a woman — and one becomes a man. Chip Brown explores wide-ranging rites of passage into manhood from around the world in this National Geographic article.
Often, masculinity is defined as the disavowal of the feminine inside of us. This is complicated for both women and men as we redefine modern gender roles.
Zach, I have worked with many men in your position — lead dads shunned by moms on the playground. Men who feel inadequate because they’re not financially providing for their family (even though they are raising children). For some, pent-up frustration even causes angry lash-outs at their children.
While you cannot control what happened to your health, you can control the outcome. To paraphrase Viktor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning, you cannot always control the conditions you find yourself in, but you have the freedom to choose your reaction to them.
You need to feel worthy, useful and socially connected. Seek out other men who are parenting. Look into the possibility of part-time work. Speak to your partner about how you’re feeling, so you can help one another find a balance. When you’re in the eye of the storm, it seems impossible to find a way out. But know that you are not the first to encounter the shifting sands of gender. As you wrestle with this new world, know that you are not alone.