I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about how, due to the pandemic (which is what pretty much everything is due to these days), women have been taking on even more unpaid labor, and families stuck at home are realizing just how much unpaid domestic labor women do. Taking care of children – who require near-constant supervision for the first few years of their life, until they learn not to stick forks into light sockets – is hard work, even when it’s your own kid and you love them tons. Cooking, cleaning, endless loads of laundry – and now, we’re adding remote schooling on top of that.

It just got me to thinking about the unpaid labor in my parent’s marriage. For the first half of their marriage, they had a pretty traditional setup – my dad was a lawyer, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom for several years when my brother and I were young. Now, Dad was always an involved, hands-on father, from the very beginning. I recently found a notebook of the first few months of my life, filled with the extremely boring but vital minutiae of a newborn’s day-to-day schedule. Right along notes like “V cried – nursed 1/2 hr. – fell asleep 4 a.m.” are records of “V woke 2 a.m. – Ross soothed – fell asleep” and “V woke 5 p.m. – Ross fed bottle.”

In the world of archives, we call notebooks like these “primary sources.” It’s nice to have a primary source documenting that my dad did in fact love me enough to sacrifice as much sleep as he did. (My poor parents. I’ve been a night owl since Day One, apparently.)

But mostly, Dad worked 50 or 60-hour workweeks and Mom eschewed paid work so she could focus on my brother and me. Because our society is extremely capitalist and business-focused, the more money a job makes, the more respect its workers receive, generally speaking. And if work doesn’t pay anything at all – like raising your own children – well, it can often get looked down on. I know there were times when Mom felt unappreciated by Dad, and Dad thought Mom should get a real job. But until we were old enough to go to school, the labor arrangement worked. Dad provided the family with the money to live on, and Mom’s work allowed the family to, you know, exist. Even when Mom rejoined the workforce, she, like a lot of working mothers, had a job that paid less, and had fewer hours.

Then halfway through their marriage, my parents both changed careers. Dad became an elementary school ed tech. Suddenly, he was making less money, but he also had more time on his hands. Mom published her first book. (My sister was also born around this time. Because why not get all your chaos over at once?) And that’s when my dad took on the unpaid labor of a second job. I would say that he was Mom’s publicist, but that isn’t all-encompassing enough for what he did. He wanted his wife to be as successful as possible as an author, and he threw himself into every aspect of that.

I was thinking about all this because I was sorting through a box of his papers this week. Yes, another one. The man’s been dead for three years and he was such a pack rat that there are still boxes to sort through and figure what’s treasure and what’s recyclable. (It’s mostly recyclable.) But this box contained notebooks scribbled through with Dad’s master plans for making Mom a best-selling author. There were dozens of business cards, because he kept the contact information of anyone he thought might be able to help him in this quest. He read trade publications and compiled lists of independent bookstores. He also made me and my brother put together enormous mass mailings. After all, what’s the point of having children if you can’t make them do chores? At the time, of course, I was in middle school, and did not notice the upheaval of traditional gender norms in my family. I was just grumpy about having to put stamps on approximately one zillion postcards. (During this time period, my sister was too young to be useful.)

After the career switch, my mom became the family breadwinner while working from home. And of course, Dad benefited from Mom’s success, because the money all went to the same bank account. (Also, he loved traveling, so when Mom got invited places, he got to go along as her Professional Husband.)

In the box I found a press release where Dad was simply referred to as “Julia Spencer-Fleming’s husband, a reading teacher.” Now that I’m older I have realized that it takes quite a man to be comfortable with his wife making more money than he does, and to be willing to work tirelessly in the background to ensure her success.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: mainemillennial


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