13 Nov

Interview at Virginia Quarterly: link, plus a quick clarification of awkward phrasing on my part

Guy Gonzalez interviewed me over at the Virginia Quarterly about being a dad and a writer. One of the reasons I was psyched to do the interview is that almost no one has ever asked me as a dad how I juggled parenting and writing, but almost every married women writer friend of mine has been asked. The assumption is interesting, but I think dads are worth asking about parenting as well. And I’m proud to be a dad, so it was something really new to talk about (we should either assume it effects both sexes of writer equally and ask both, or stop asking the question of women). As Guy says in his introduction:

As a married father of two who has long struggled with finding the right balance that allows for enough time to write, I was disappointed by the absence of voices that resembled my own experience, and was inspired to do something about it. And so, “Writer Dads” was conceived as a series of interviews with professional writers who are also fathers, discussing how they balance the two, what the real challenges are, and how it affects both their writing and parenting.

Some of my thoughts:

How have things changed versus five years ago? Is it easier, harder, or just different?

I find it different. I do have less leeway to have an unstructured day than I used to. When everyone comes home, it becomes difficult to have a “late day at the office” so I tend to save smaller, more administrative tasks for the end of the day. I have to be more disciplined.

Some days I think harder, but then I mainly just realize I wasted a lot of time before I had kids. You know the old story about the professor who points out that if you put sand in a pitcher and then try to add rocks you can’t pack as much in when compared to putting in rocks first then sand? Focus on the big important stuff, and let the little things sort themselves out. I have more big things in my life, but realistically, I’ve mainly cut out a lot more TV and video gaming, and other things.

One of the things I wanted to clarify was this paragraph:

Women have a harder time of balancing this stuff. The expectations of society, the biological necessities of nursing, and so forth, plus the fact that women often end up doing more of the household and parenting stuff, means that it’s simply a matter of many women having less time. Many women writers who have kids don’t have the option of daycare, and the kids are around until kindergarten. If they’re doing the writing part time, it’s got to be tough. I can’t even imagine.

I failed to add a qualifier or two in there to better explain myself, as I was working quickly on this interview while in transit. What I mean by ‘expectations of society’ is that many women parents have more pressure to take on a larger portion of the domestic sphere in a way male parents do not get. Because of that, I think women writers who have children, both historically and today, can expect a larger pressure than a male writer (like me) to cede writing time to taking care of the kids. As a result, if there is no daycare or the money is tight, I think a woman writer has a harder, unfairer pressure than a male writer would in the same situation.

Talking about being a writer who is a dad is a little awkward for me, because obviously society does toss more cookies your way for doing the same job as a writer who is a mom. Our society expects a mom writer to raise the kids and write by default, the mom gets no hero’s welcome for doing that. A writer that is a dad who steps in gets a hero’s welcome for basically just hitting the same bar. Forget writing, whenever I’m out in public with the twins (particularly in the midwest) everyone acts like I’m the best dad in the world and stops to tell me about it, particularly when they were at the diaper stage I used to get a lot of unfair pats on the back. Few stopped my wife to encourage her to ‘stay involved’ with them as I was, or say out loud ‘it’s so great to see a mom out with her babies’ as I was often told.

That being acknowledged, I still want to talk about being a parent and art, because I think there are many experiences out there and I feel I have something to add. And, also, I wanted to let potential writers know that art and family aren’t totally incompatible, as I was told by many while starting out.