Who Does Silence Around Parental Discrimination Hurt?

“Congratulations on your retirement.”

Two years later this comment still sticks with me.

When I wrote a final column about why I was ending my column in The New York Times and starting The Company of Dads, I received a lot of positive and supportive comments from friends who never knew I had also been a Lead Dad. Naturally, I can’t remember the specifics their kind words.

What I remember is the guy who wished me a happy retirement – in my 40s! He was a hedge fund manager who personifies the antithesis of a Lead Dad – an Event Dad, with a stay-at-home wife who covers all caregiving and life-planning that needs doing.

Men who parent openly at work and at home hear all sorts of crappy things from friends and coworkers stuck on stereotypes about masculinity and money.

Now, to be fair, some hedge fund managers can retire in their 40s. I don’t happen to know any journalists who have amassed such a pile of cash that they could do the same.

Two years on, I care less about that one comment than what it represents. It’s an example of one of those crappy things that men say to other men when caregiving comes up. It ossifies roles and discourages some men from stepping up. Mr. Mom, House Husband, Retired. These are terms I set out to banish by using the phrase Lead Dad.

What I call crappy things are ‘microaggressions’. These are phrases some men at work, in the community, or even in your own family say when you let it be known that you’re confident enough to say, I’m the guy who is the go-to parent. It doesn’t matter if I work full time, part time, or devote all my time to my family, I’m doing it. I’m also going to be the guy who stands behind a spouse or partner in their career and be an advocate for women in the office. With my kids, I’m going to set a better example around equality – whether I have girls or boys.

Over the past two years, I’ve listened to a lot of Lead Dads tell me about microaggressions directed their way. (Lead Dads rarely use that phrase. It’s a bit academic, but that’s what these comments are.)

Some take the form of senior managers musing about what they didn’t do when they had children. Others sound like a person waxing nostalgic when he’s really wondering why men today aren’t working the way he did 20, 30 years ago. Mad Men meets the Mojo Dojo Casa House.

What are some crappy things that you’ve heard at work as men who talk openly about being parents, committed spouses, and caregivers?

And what tips can you give others to respond?

I want to know. I’m not retired – and won’t be for decades! I’m a Lead Dad.