Not that I’m the most self-confident person to begin with, but I’ve found that since being a stay-at-home dad, I’m hyperaware of my surroundings and how I might be perceived. Even though no one has ever said anything to me, I feel like there is more pressure on me because I’m a guy. It’s such the stereotype for the dad to be a buffoon. You know, “that guy.”
The one who never has his act together. Who is always late and confused. Who is unable to handle the “domestic” tasks, like cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, administering naps, grocery shopping, etc. When I found out I was taking this job, it seemed as though I developed a neurotic hang-up of not wanting to be “that guy.”
I remember showing up for Ellie’s first story time class at the library. I didn’t know what to bring and I didn’t want to be in any tricky scenarios, so I brought just about everything I could possibly need. I tried to make it look like I didn’t though. I tried to play it cool. I brought two diapers, wipes, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, a change of clothes (for her), crackers, and spit rag in my back pocket for quick, easy access. You know, playing it cool. The class was only 20 minutes, but I didn’t want Ellie to puke or poop and not have the tools to deal with such an intense situation.
I could picture her leaking and not being prepared and one of the other moms thinking, “Of course he’s not prepared; typical dad.” But to my surprise, I didn’t see anyone else with a diaper bag there. Maybe they had them, but they were hidden in a secret mom’s-only closet? So, I ended up being “that guy” with a spit rag in my pocket and the only one with a non-covert, totally obvious, overloaded diaper bag.
I don’t want to be “that guy” who is too cool to participate in Ellie’s activities or sing the songs at swim class or story time. But I’m super uncomfortable with the songs, so I kind of mutter the lyrics until the chorus part. “The mumble mumble mumble bus, mumble round and round, round and round.” Or “Old McMumble mumble mumble E-I-mumble mumble, Moo Moo mumble, and a Moo Moo mumble …” You get the idea. So I’m “that guy” who mumbles the songs. But at least I’m participating.
It’s also the stereotype that guys aren’t that good in the kitchen. I know there are many men out there who are excellent proficient cooks. But generally, you hear about the ones who can barely make toast. Well, I didn’t want to be “that guy,” so I devised a plan that wouldn’t let me slide into a habit of ordering pizza every other day or heating up cans of ravioli. I plan my meals for the week and then I grocery shop specifically for those meals. I try to have a balance between meat, chicken, fish, pasta and vegetarian dishes. It’s a well-oiled machine now and doesn’t require a lot of effort. Sure, I still don’t know how to pick out a ripe cantaloupe or avocado, but I pretend to. So, I’m “that guy,” the overachieving-kitchen-nerd who doesn’t know how to pick out fresh produce.
I don’t want to be the quiet, creepy guy either. You know, “that guy” with the shifty eyes. To avoid this, I find that I either stare too long, or I avoid eye contact all together. I can be horrible with small talk with strangers, too, especially with the cashier at the grocery store. I always have this image in my mind that when I walk up to the cashier, I’ll give a big smile and we’ll have this pleasant chat about the weather or what I’ll be cooking for dinner. But it seems like as soon as I approach, the cashier drops her smile and my confidence turns to panic. So I stand there with a weird look on my face. As she scans things, I try to think of something to say. But usually my mind just turns blank and thinks: “Dude, say something. Anything. Try the weather. How about all that rain? Just say it. Really? You couldn’t say that? What’s wrong with you?”
One week in particular, I bought a lot of fresh beets and beet greens. I was going to have a week of beets. Either as a side dish or main dish. Every day, the meal was going to feature something made with beets. So when the cashier seemed surprised with the quantity of beets I was purchasing, I just blurted out, “It’s beet week.” Only I didn’t offer the explanation of what “beet week” was. We stood there in silence after that. I was “that guy.”
I also don’t want to be “that guy” who has the kid with dried food on their face or dirty hands. Or the kid who doesn’t clean up after story time. Or the kid who’s crying all the way through the grocery store. And I don’t want to be “that guy” who loses his diaper bag at the park with his fancy camera inside. I know these things happen to everyone and they are unavoidable, but I still find myself desperately, and sometimes unsuccessfully, trying to avoid them.
But over the past year, I’ve found that no matter how hard I try not to be “that guy,” I wind up being “that guy” who’s trying not to be “that guy.” So at the end of the day, it turns out I am “that guy.” And I’ve learned it doesn’t matter what I say or what I do, I think it’s all in my head anyways. Maybe being “that guy” isn’t so bad after all. And you know who has two thumbs and likes “that guy?”