There was a bit of confusion when the girls on my daughter’s 8U softball team tried to separate themselves into “tomboys”and “girly-girls.”
My daughter didn’t know which group to pick. “Dad, what am I?” she beamed, expecting a definitive answer.
“It depends on the day,” I said. “Pick whatever group you want.”
“Okay,”she called back, “I’ll pick tomboys to make it even.”
Six and six is how the girls divided themselves, with each group taking one side of the picnic table while they ate pizza. The split was an innocent enough diversion between games but it also struck me as indicative of our society. Feminine or feminist? Masculine or mama’s boy?
It’s not as easy for someone like my daughter, who learned to catch in a sundress. It’s not as easy for someone like my son, who would rather sew the hole in his jersey than ask his mom to do it for him.
My wife Kim and I raised both of our children to be gender ambidextrous, tossing out any expectations in favor of what makes sense for the family and their futures as self-sufficient individuals. It has always been this way in our household, even when it may not have looked that way to the casual observer.
About 20 years ago, I hired my wife to be the office manager of my Las Vegas-based company. The idea behind this decision was simple enough — it provided her with a full-time flex position so we could start our family. On the surface, some might think this was a stereotypical move. Kim adjusted her schedule based on family needs while I worked 100-plus hours a week. It was only our closest friends who knew the lines were a bit more blurred.
Sure, Kim handled more daily responsibilities, especially those that involved caring for our son, but only out of necessity. As necessity changed, so did the roles. About 10 years ago, we sold the largest staffed portion of the business and my wife accepted a position with one of our clients, eventually becoming a public information officer with the second largest city in Nevada. We hired a nanny for awhile after our daughter was born, but mostly it felt like a Band-Aid.
By the time our daughter started kindergarten, we could see our kids needed more parental engagement. It also made more sense for me to scale back my business rather than allow Kim’s career to be slowed by four 10-hour shifts, bookended by 40-minute commutes. So I took on the full-time flex position she once held. This allowed me tocook four or five nights a week, manage the lives of our increasingly active children and pick up the bulk of the chores. It was a decision that eventually felt intuitive, especially after I was diagnosed with cancer.
While I retained both my positions as an instructor at the University of Nevada and Parks and Recreation commissioner for Las Vegas, managing my business during recovery proved to be too much. I cut it back further, holding onto only a handful of patient, right-minded clients and vested interests in place.
Surviving cancer has permanently reprioritized my life and provided a greater sense of purpose. There is nothing better than starting early and working as a creative writer and business strategist, shifting gears in the afternoon to work out, and then knocking off early to help my kids with homework and cook a gourmet dinner before her softball practice or after his football practice. Even managing the majority of the house cleaning to free up time on weekend afternoons feels like a trade up to the workloads that once locked me to a desk.
But beyond that, the real evidence of success resides with my children, who are 8 and 15 years old. Aside from bringing home their best report cards in history, despite being even more active in athletics and extracurricular activities, they’ve learned to neither run to nor shun any gender stereotypes.
It doesn’t really matter if that means looking their best, cooking a meal, participating in a sport, cleaning the house, or prepping for a test. They just do their best because life is more fulfilling being gender ambidextrous —writing the communication plan and baking the cookies. The order, much like trying to choose between tomboy or girly-girl, is always optional.