Sylvia Plath reads “Daddy.”
You overhear a lot when you’re the only Dad at the playground. Even when I pull up with all the right gear – the stroller, the whiffle ball set, the baggies of organic dried-fruit snacks – the regulars peg me as a non-professional. An unserious person, mommy-wise. As a result, they look right through me as if I were just a tallish plush toy, and they say the most amazing things.
“My son has a long way to go until he’s reading The Brothers Karamazov, but hopefully not so long that he forgets about Stinking Lizaveta before he gets there. I hope I’ll be near at hand, or only a phone call away, when he discovers that the funny name we used to whisper to each other is actually a very sad character in a great novel, and that the line between life and art is arbitrary, if it exists at all.”
Freud’s concept of penis envy seems as ridiculous now as it did when I first learned of it, who knows how long ago. Dad envy, on the other hand, feels as real as the cries in the middle of the night that mean, “I want milk, and you’re the milk lady.” Though fathers are increasingly involved in taking care of their children, they still can’t give birth, or breastfeed, or feel the same kind of cultural — and perhaps biological — pressures that a mother does to attend to her child’s needs. And though it’s amazing to be able to practice these womanly arts, the physical and emotional challenges can wipe a new mother out. (Which is why womb envy, the most prominent feminist psychoanalytic response to Freud, also strikes me as rather dubious.)