Because I get published a couple times each year, I fancy myself a freelance writer, but the reality of my career is that I’m a full-time father: My wife slogs off to work every morning to some inscrutable professional job that pays our bills while I spend the days with our son. There are diaper changes and puking jags and occasional fits, but for the most part The Toddler and I spend our time careening from Central Park playgrounds to city water parks, prowling for rock outcroppings to climb or fountains to ford. Regardless of any consternation I might feel about my wife being the primary breadwinner in our family, at least I no longer get endless Outlook invites to yawn-inducing conference calls and marketing meetings – and that’s a trade-off I’m happy to make.
While content in my new role as a stay-at-home dad, however, I was still perturbed to read about a study featured in the New York Times (“In Study, Fatherhood Leads to Loss in Testosterone“) that correlates increased parenting with decreased masculinity. In sum, research showed that the more time a man spent with his child, the less male hormone he’d have in his bloodstream. Even before reading the article, the headline made my eyes narrow, my fists clench, my blood boil. With a frisson of indignation at the idea that being an involved father would make me less of a man, I responded as George Costanza once did in an episode of Seinfeld when his masculinity was called into question:
“Do you wanna have sex?” I asked of the world. “I’ll have sex with you right now.”
After the initial sense of emasculation, however, I began to wonder how bad it would be to have less testosterone. While I’ve clearly enjoyed many benefits of that male hormone pumping through my veins – the ability to sire a child, bone mass, a steady supply of erections – there have been drawbacks, too – getting kicked out of too many soccer games, a bald head, a time-consuming propensity to look at naked women online. So, while I wouldn’t argue against testosterone, I certainly could concede that less of it might not be all that bad.
Plus, I do recognize that over the last year my parenting style has changed: I’ve become much more attuned to The Toddler’s needs and much less invested in my own. When, twelve months ago, my son occasionally failed to fall asleep for his mid-day nap and thus interfered with my writing time, I would become annoyed. I’d swear to myself as I tried to coax him to sleep, muttering under my breath that the little brat was seriously impeding my attempts to add to the literary canon. But now when The Toddler is standing up in his crib at noon, giggling instead of snoozing, I respond by hurling myself into his bedroom, dancing in the doorway, sometimes attacking him with a green alien-man balloon. I tickle his belly and bite his feet and we laugh, two happy guys, until eventually my son does nap, wrapped in his blanket, holding his bottle, immersed in his father’s love. If in spending that time with The Toddler I am less likely to write another self-deprecating, half-pornographic, probably un-publishable story about being a modern man, so be it – that’s another trade-off I’m happy to make.
But despite these myriad ways I’ve matured as a parent over the past year, I have yet to see any evidence that my testosterone levels have decreased. There are plenty of refs at sporting events around the city that could vouch for that fact, as could any of the many people I regularly have trouble with when crossing the street. The last guy who just inched his car towards my stroller and my son when we had the right of way in the crosswalk, got the full testosterone treatment, and the only reason the earful of curses I fed him wasn’t accompanied by my crawling through his window was that my wife was in a hurry to get to work.
In fact, I think I have an excess of testosterone – and it shapes the way I parent, too. My style is light on communication, but heavy on teaching survival skills and, truth be told, lunch. At this point The Toddler may barely say a word, but he does know where in the city to find a great cheeseburger and delicious banh mi, not to mention fresh tortillas in Queens, if it comes to that. Meanwhile, although my son is a good sharer, when some other kid steals his stuff from the sandbox, I’ve trained The Toddler to recapture it with the single-mindedness and dedication of Seal Team 6.
“The kid in the red shirt,” I whispered to my boy the other day, pointing his little body in the right direction. “Behind the circular slide.”
Another reason why I think this study is bunk is that my libido continues to rage. It rages in the marriage bed (where our various perversions are perhaps sanctified only because they occur within the bonds of holy matrimony), and in unexpected places, too. For instance, it was with innocent intentions that I first started taking The Toddler to Central Park every morning – to help him make friends and learn how to swing, slide, and climb – but I couldn’t help notice that the place was swamped with hotties. While The Toddler frolicked every day at the playground, I reveled in what seemed a cauldron of teeming lubricity, with pretty nannies and beautiful moms at every turn.
In recently answering a question of my wife’s about a day at the park, I launched into a dissertation about all the gorgeous women I had ogled that day. My wife – wearing a look best described as “confounded” – clarified what she had been asking.
“Our son,” she said more specifically. “How was the day in the park for our son?”
“Oh, him:,” I answered.
How could it be, if my testosterone is abating, that I still find myself at the playground every morning doing terribly dirty things in my mind to all the nice women I have come to know there? Moms and nannies both have become my friends over the year, sharing with me children’s toys and parenting advice, and in return I find myself imagining various kinks about all of them, defiling each and every one of them each and every day. It’s disgusting, I know.
So, while I don’t know whether I believe that full-time fathering leads to less testosterone, neither do I care. Frankly, I’ve had enough already.
The other day, at a time of day when many of the fathers I know were at their offices, I was at the playground with my son. He saw me from afar and smiled, yelling “Daddy, Daddy” before sprinting over to throw his arms around my thigh and kiss my knee, puckering up his big, fat lips before giving me the tenderest touch. He stayed only a moment, with his eyes closed and his cheek pressed into my leg, his arms squeezing tight. “Uv u,” he said in his soft voice, a phrase no one in the world heard but me. It was for me and only me. I wouldn’t trade that moment for all the erections in the world.