If I told you a male college professor were having an affair, what subject would you assume he teaches? Accounting? I think not.
You would probably assume he teaches English, that intimate field of luscious prose and arousing poems. At least this is the romanticized view of literature professors that Hollywood has frequently portrayed (Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys comes to mind, among others).
As a former English professor, I am amused (and slightly flattered) that the more mundane details of the job are often overlooked in favor of a sexier image. On the other hand, it troubles me that a presumption of immorality seems to be attached to English professors, as if we’re all just a shared sonnet away from naked bliss with a colleague or student.
Consequently, imagine my chagrin a few years ago when Hollywood again sullied the moral integrity of my current line of work as a stay-at-home dad. In the movie Little Children, Kate Winslet played a disillusioned stay-at-home mom who gradually has an affair with a stay-at-home dad played by Patrick Wilson. (I’ll skip my rant here about how beleaguered at-home parents have no time for things like torrid love affairs.)
While I am happy to see at-home fathers start to be represented in popular culture as more than just bumbling “Mr. Moms,” again I am troubled by the link to infidelity. As a literature professor turned stay-at-home dad, I seem destined for moral depravity.
In fact, shortly after the movie’s release, my wife discovered apparent evidence of such depravity. I had spent part of the day at a variety of the usual kid-friendly venues: a playground, a shopping mall, and a recreation center. Early that evening, my wife needed a pair of socks for our youngest child, so I said casually, “Check in the diaper bag.” (I should add that I had recently replaced my light blue Fisher Price diaper bag with the most manly diaper bag I could find: a dark green Eddie Bauer.)
As my wife rifled through the bag, she suddenly stopped, looked closer, and slowly removed a long, black piece of clothing.
“What . . . is . . . this?” she asked. What she was holding was now obvious to my eyes but unclear in my mind: a large, black, lacy brassiere.
“Uh . . . it looks like a bra,” I said with no emotion.
“Yes, I know. But what is it doing in your diaper bag?”
“Isn’t it . . . yours?” I tried to say with some conviction, but clearly the bra was not hers. (Why did it have to be so huge?!, I thought.) I stifled a giggle as the absurdity of the situation grew.
Fortunately, my wife started chuckling too, for we knew we were entering a ludicrous zone. After a few more questions reassured her that I really didn’t know anything about the bra, “How did it get here?” became the question to explore. Our best guess: a mom must have mistaken my bag for hers in one of those shared family dressing rooms at the recreation center. I chose not to present the bra to the woman at the Lost and Found desk, for fear of losing my membership privileges.
I suppose it’s a testament to the strength of our relationship that my wife did not suspect the worst of me upon discovering the bra. Another (equally plausible) explanation is that she knows I would be incapable of covering my tracks if I were to have an affair. In my case, there is some truth to the stereotype of the absent-minded professor.
Occasionally, I fantasize that one of my stay-at-home colleagues found me so attractive that she planted the bra in my manly bag to break up my marriage and lure me away, as in some bodice-ripping romance novel. But that would be the Hollywood version of the story.
I prefer to end the story in the spirit of Freud: sometimes a bra is just a bra.