Dear Dave

Friday 9 May 2008

Judging a book by its shopping

Dear Dave,

Yep, you're right, that's outrageous. When you take a small child in to see the doctor, you need to be put at ease. You don't need the doctor sticking her head out the door for a double-check and then turning to the child and saying, "Is mummy not here?" as if you're invisible. Being treated like a second-class parent isn't helpful.

It's fairly typical, though. I discovered this only a few days after Fraser was born:

During the pregnancy, one of Sarah's blood samples showed abnormalities and so they gave her an extra scan. The suspected problem wasn't there but they did notice a possible issue with one of Fraser's kidneys. We had to go back for another test once he'd popped out. (Translation: Once he'd been yanked forcibly into the world by his head.) As tests go, this one was about as much fun as an oral algebra exam conducted in German. It involved getting him to pee liquid containing a metallic solution and X-raying him to see everything functioned correctly. The really good bit was that they put the liquid into him through the same apparatus they were expecting him to use to get it out again. (Boy, did he look surprised and betrayed.) Everything was being set up and I was told to put on a lead apron. I went to get one and turned back to find the technician was halfway through telling Sarah about the procedure without me. Since Fraser's day-to-day health is my responsibility, this would have been annoying at the best of times but it was particularly unfortunate because Sarah was still sore and drugged up on pain-killers. She was not in a fit state to take in and remember all the information. I wasn't too impressed.

I hate to think what it's like for divorced or unmarried dads. They probably get not only ignored but asked for paperwork in triplicate before being allowed to give medical consent. Gah!

Thankfully, Fraser was fine. These days, on the rare occasions when Sarah and I find ourselves talking together to healthcare professionals about the kids, a weird form of simultaneous translation can end up taking place:

Doctor (to Sarah): Has Marie had all her vaccinations?
Sarah (looking at me): She has, hasn't she?
Me (to doctor): Yep, she's up to date with all her jabs.
Doctor (to Sarah): So she's up to date with all her vaccinations?
Sarah: Yes.
Me (to doctor): When should she take these pills?
Doctor (to Sarah): Three times a day, preferably with food.
Sarah (looking at me again): Er...
Me (checking my hands to make sure I haven't inadvertently turned invisible): That will be fine...

To be honest, it's unfair to pick on the medical profession. Whenever I go to the barber, I'm always asked if it's my day off, despite usually having a gaggle of children with me. There are simply not of us housedads around to make an impact on people's assumptions. I even met a mother of small children recently who was totally unaware of the existence of housedads. That's right - she'd never heard of either of us. (Peculiarly, and to her great credit, she was also the first person in years to work out I'm a housedad without being told. Go figure.)

Sadly, living with bizarre attitudes and false suppositions is going to be part of a housedad's lot for many years to come. Maybe the next generation will fair better. I doubt it, however. My own household isn't that enlightened. The boys are already looking for rich women to marry so they can stay home and play computer games. If they can't find any, they're going to send their sister out to work instead...

As for me, I caught myself making snap judgements of people in the supermarket checkout line the other Saturday, simply on the basis of their shopping. I've been trying to stop doing this sort of thing but if the thirty-something woman in front of me is buying a packet of salad, a bottle of red wine, some chocolate and a sachet of cat food, I can't stop the Bridget Jones alarms from ringing. You know how it is...

On this occasion, I was put in a nosy mood by the middle-aged woman at the front of the line. She was buying six bottles of water and six bars of soap and nothing else. I couldn't help wondering what she was off to do. I couldn't figure it out. The very fact I wasn't able to pigeon-hole her straight off made me set to work on the other people ahead of me.

The man behind her was purchasing two bottles of washing-up liquid. I can't imagine just buying washing-up liquid. If I were nipping into the supermarket to buy washing-up liquid, I'd also buy six pints of milk, a dozen apples, two loaves of bread, a packet of biscuits and some cheese. It wouldn't matter if I'd already bought all these things on a trip to the shops in the morning and I was merely popping back because I'd forgotten to get washing-up liquid - I would buy them a second time since, like as not, we'd be running low once more. There's even a chance I would be so intent on buying milk, I might forget the washing-up liquid again.

I had to suspect the guy wasn't a housedad.

Next in line was a younger man buying sixteen cans of lager. You can't really argue with that kind of focused purchasing. It was doubly impressive, as his mate was in the other queue, also buying sixteen cans of lager. I could only assume there was football on.

Directly in front of me, a thirty-something woman was buying two selection packs of Cornetto cones and eight rolls of toilet paper. I pictured a Bridget Jones convention with much ice-cream and crying.

Then I glanced at my own basket. I had fifty portions of fruit and vegetables, two loaves of wholemeal bread and a large tub of natural yogurt. I was too overloaded to carry milk or cheese and I didn't have any children with me to explain the unnatural amount of veg I was holding. I must have looked like some kind of health food junkie on my way to eat carrot sandwiches and then wash them down with pro-biotic digestive goodness.

I hastily grabbed a packet of biscuits from a display and added it to my supplies. This merely made me look like I had a health food junkie for a wife and I was hoping to smuggle some sugar into the house.

Who knows what the people behind me were imagining? I didn't look much like a housedad.

Then again, maybe I never do.

Perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised at the reactions we normally get. Yeah, it's annoying when we take the kids to the doctor but maybe there's some way we can spin it to our advantage. Obviously, there's a lesson to be learned in not leaping to conclusions about other people but there's also an opportunity to totally mess with their heads at the same time. If no one can guess or take in our actual jobs, we have the freedom to masquerade as International Men of Mystery. We can pull crazy stunts and dress like Austen Powers and no one will look at us any more strangely than they do already.

I went home and pondered this while eating the biscuits. Then I discovered we were out of milk and I had to go back to the shop for some more. When I was there, I bought two bottles of washing-up liquid, eight rolls of toilet paper, sixteen cans of lager, a couple of packs of Cornettos, six bottles of water and half a dozen bars of soap.

True, this probably only ranks me as a Decidedly-Local Man of Puzzlement but it should have kept everyone in the queue behind me guessing. It's a start.

Groovy, baby!

All the best and I hope Sam recovers from his cough soon.

Yours in a woman's world,



Gwen said...

(Well, I suspect that I am disregarding your main point, but I can't help but resonate with your comments on doctors, because I truly hate dealing with the medical system.)

Ah, doctors, what can you say? Even when they talk to me, they don't really talk to ME. They treat me as some bag of symptoms, completely interchangeable with any other bag that happens to have the same set of symptoms. I recently saw a doctor for a sinus infection and I was telling my husband that, during the exam I could have morphed into a 400 pound black man (I'm a white woman of an undisclosed weight, but it's less than 400 pounds) and the doctor wouldn't have even noticed the transformation... I hate doctors. :(

In any event, while I probably can't truly imagine how frustrating it must be to have people blow you off like that, I do like your plan to take advantage of it! ;)

Here's a little poem roughly along those same lines:

You'll probably find that it suits your book
To be a bit cleverer than you look
Observe that the simplest method by far
Is to look a bit stupider than you are


Anonymous said...

A couple of months ago I was talking to two friends of mine who will graduate this summer. They told me about a careers fair they'd been to where one of the companies had made a particularly strong impression on them.

The company were looking to hire people for a technical role, but when one of my friends expressed an interest, the guy behind the desk looked them both up and down and then dismissed them with "You need to have a degree in a technical subject".

In fact both of these (very good looking) young women are expecting to achieve first class honours in a suitable science subject, and would be ideal recruits. They told me they quite enjoyed the guy's discomfort when they told him.

You've got to find a bright side where you can. Perhaps you should change your (middle) name to "Danger"?

Anonymous said...

It works both ways, I guess.

During a job interview once, I was asked if I had children. When I responded yes, I was told that I couldn't possibly do this job because they needed someone who could be the Mother Of the Company. Surely a real mother couldn't accomplish this task. She's be too busy with sick babies and diapers and potty training...

I neglected to mention that the Husband stays home with the children. I didn't want their pea-brains to explode.
I suppose I was making a rather large assumption about what their pea-brains could handle. People manifest their biases in strange ways.

DadsDinner said...

In some ways it's reassuring that I'm not the only one who isn't taken seriously; in other ways it's simply scary.


(Now I just wish I could get the theme tune to Austin Powers out of my head.)