Wednesday, October 19, 2011

THE UNKINDEST CUT

Being a stay-at-home dad I get to hang around a lot of mums. Usually this is good, as we men are not supposed to know what we’re doing when it comes to parenting. In fact, when it comes to most things. Thus I get all kinds of kudos for achievements as praiseworthy as getting my daughters out of the house and still alive.

Once, and I’m not embellishing, I took the girls into my wife’s work, whereupon a receptionist noted how great I was for the fact that I’d “even got them dressed!”Had I not been a reasonably capable journalist for a couple of decades, proven able to chew and type at the same time? Had I not once won at Scrabble? Yet this woman must have held this mental picture of me at home that morning, grappling with a toddler and a jumpsuit, possibly stopping occasionally for a bout of tears at the futility of my efforts, before raising my arms aloft in triumph at getting the job done.


The upside is I get lavish praise for achieving the mundane. Maybe I get more because I’m big, bald and have a deceptively grumpy face. Perhaps a small, wiry, more sensitive-looking dad would raise fewer eyebrows. In any event, the plaudits I get make my wife roll her eyes. For as she rightly points out, mothers don’t get the same recognition for the same work. Funny, it sounds a bit like the paid workplace, doesn’t it? Sorry, no, of course it’s not funny at all.

Generally, good vibes come my way from other men too, many of whom would love to have my job. Some, however, shudder at the thought, those perhaps not imbued with the same amount of patience, laid-backness - oh ok then laziness - as me.Not that it’s a walk in the park, but I do find it preferable to going to an office. Real pressure is not having a big white puddle of milk on a table, but having an editor scream that you have five minutes to write a whole new story or there’ll be a big white hole on the newspaper.

I’m also sure there’s some survey somewhere saying stay-at-home dads worry 90 per cent less than their female equivalents. Or as a wise (female) comedian once said: “What’s the difference between a mother and a father? A father is a mother without the guilt”.Still, the mums seem to like me, and embrace me as one of their own, like the fabled human baby in the pack of wolves, or something.

Occasionally, though, something slips out, and the pack turns. I’m exposed, like in that scene from The Great Escape (and yes, referencing this movie confirms I’m still a bloke) where the hint of an accent reveals one escapee is not a German civilian but a Britisher pigdog. Take, for example, what has become known in my Beijing apartment compound as The Haircut Incident.

My recollection of events is this: There was a birthday party, it was a Sunday morning, I was hungover, and the brain was either just nicely relaxed or completely, dumfoundingly disengaged.

So there’s my friend and fellow Australian Susan, a 40-odd mother of two, talking to a couple of other women. I walk over and get nods and smiles only, since Susan is in mid-story. I’m hoping it’s about football, but instead it’s about her hair. I peruse Susan’s head, and sure enough, she’s had a haircut.

Going into as much detail as a stay-at-home dad can, it used to be kind of long, but now it’s quite short and … weeell a bit plain. Pretty bad actually. It’s what Australians might call a dodgy ‘do. Susan’s talking, touching the newly trimmed locks, sheepishly telling her smiling fellow mums how she’d always thought about getting it cut short and so now here it is.

Well, I thought, time for me to wade in. I can hold my own in haircut conversations, so I came in with this knowledgeable sounding effort: “Aah – you’ve gone for the mum haircut, eh?”

Silence.

An icy silence.

"What????" I thought. "What was wrong with that?"

Isn’t it a well known fact that women’s hair gets shorter after motherhood? Isn’t it something to do with hormones or sticky toddler fingers or something? Well, I thought it was anyway. I also thought the comment was completely fine coming from a male background. Generally, we only comment on another man’s haircut to say how shocking it is. Perhaps my lack of hair leaves me insensitive to the more hairy, for it turns out there was plenty wrong with my quip.

The mothers turned on me, especially Susan, whose face rating was downgraded in a nanosecond from “beaming and happy” to “sunken and sullen” by my eight little words which meant so much.

“Thanks a lot,” she hissed. Even in my bleary state I could tell she didn’t mean it.

“What?!” I say out loud, probably with that “Have I erred?” face my wife loves so much. I don’t get much of an answer, just a couple of shakes of the head and rolls of the eyes that remind me of a high school dance. I think carefully about my next move. I walk away and find a bloke and talk about football.
A dodgy haircut, yesterday.
It's alright. I can say that. She's my sister.
That was that, I thought. But later I relate the episode to my wife. She recoils in horror as if I had blurted out that I burn kittens for fun. This, apparently, was what the French people in our compound call a faux pas extraordinaire. A phone call had to be made by my wife, an apology rendered on my behalf for my totally empty head, calloused heart and complete lack of knowledge about how to behave in public.

“What?!” I say again.

I have to be told, patiently and slowly, how women of a certain age and parental status should be reminded how great they look. They should not, conversely, have it suggested that they have thrown in the towel in the great battle of aesthetics and gone for what’s known in China as “The People’s No.1 Mother Haircut”.

Word spreads around the compound. A few days later my innocent blunder bounces back to me through a working dad, who’s laughing his head off as he says: “My wife always says: (cue whiny immitation female voice here) ‘Oh Trevor’s so nice and so sensitive and blah blah blah’, and then you go and say that haircut line!” The scoundrel is jubilant.

A week later I tell my wife how a single male friend had spied Sonia, mother of two, by the pool in a bikini and had thought how attractive she looked. Wife almost fell over herself trying to locate Sonia to tell her this news, like it should appear in our imaginary compound women’s magazine under a headline of “Young single guy finds 40-something mother of two still hot!” Now that, my wife says, is what mums want to hear, not some clown lampooning a brave new haircut.

Now I have two golden rules, critical to my existence around mothers: Never ask a woman if she’s pregnant, and never ever even ask if she’s had her haircut.

(Names have been changed to protect the innocent, and those with lank and lifeless hairdos).



Those bad hair days often
 make us feel like
 a change.

Sometimes we get
desperate.

Funny, the issue
doesn't seem to
bother men ...

... or kids.


1 comment:

  1. Trev,
    I am loving your blog! And... it was my sports loving husband that told me about it! Keep writing (and have a few more kids, just to make it a bit more lively and increase Beijing's population ;)
    Rebecca

    ReplyDelete