Today’s stay-at-home dads have little in common with Mr. Mom. Responsible, nurturing, and home by choice, they are eager to prove that—aside from the breastfeeding—they can do whatever a woman can.
A note inscribed in the margin of an ancient book connected me, across an ocean and a century, to a fateful decision.
May in Los Angeles is breathtaking. I know this because it’s all people talk about when the city explodes in Technicolor and flowers rip open. Everything is lush and living, or so they say. I live in Los Angeles too, but I don’t see it the same way. Not anymore. The sunshine is harsh. The colors unkind.
When I walk to the corner liquor store with my sunglasses on and hoodie pulled up, hoping to be left alone, neighbors still yell out, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” I smile politely, nod. Always polite.
I stood on this same street four years ago, a few days before Mother’s Day. It was early in the morning, around 3 a.m., and I was on the phone with a steely 911 operator, wondering why she was being so cold to me. I realize now it was probably better that way, but in those moments I hated her. I remember saying, “This doesn’t feel real. This feels like a movie. Is this real?” There was silence on the other end of the line.
At the height of my teenage apathy, my mom made me squeal with delight by smuggling a kitten into our home in a cardboard box she’d found at work. She burst into my bedroom excitedly and shoved the box toward me. When I saw its tiny, grey nose and bright, yellow eyes, I fell in love just like my mom.
My dad, however, had a strict "no pets" policy. Caring for a cat would cost too much money, he said. He and my mom already struggled to afford food. For days, my parents fought over the kitten while I held out hope I could have this one little, good thing in a house that all too often felt devoid of good things.
Lately, as a result of planning my wedding, there’s been a lot of talk among my buddies about what drives the expensive social conservatism we see during our various social and religious ceremonies in India. There is, of course, the cash-flashing, wealth-waving syndrome that leads to obscene shows of buying power, and the media-spurred my-fairy-tale-wedding delusion, but what spurs people with sensible plans and ideological commitments to chuck it all and take a nosedive into these pro forma spectacles of self-destructive wastage?
Like many children of immigrant parents, I was told story upon story that began, “When I came to this country…” But certain details of my father’s journey weren’t shared until I was twenty-six. Even after all these years, the story of how he emigrated from Mexico isn’t one my father likes to tell. He came from a generation where one’s citizenship status was something not to be discussed. I only learned of the specifics because I poked and prodded until he finally gave in, saying, “Tell my story when I’m dead.”
As I wandered around a local craft festival last November, my mind was on my seven-month-old niece. I wanted to give her a Christmas gift that was thoughtful, soft, and sweet. When I’d almost given up hope, I spotted a small stand outfitted with handmade stuffed animals that, upon further inspection, were all velveteen. I picked out a gray rabbit with long, floppy ears. I envisioned the little girl snuggling up to her new sleeping companion, a subtle yet constant reminder of her loving aunt. Unfortunately, this idyllic picture would not come to pass. A few weeks after I bought the bunny, I got a phone call from my brother that irrevocably changed our relationship.
Stitching the past together.