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Can I Please Speak to Mrs. Glaser

“Now dear,” said the school nurse. “You seem to be sick. I will call your mummy to come to get you.”

“You should call my dad,” Ali replied. 

“But dear,” insisted the nurse, “I don’t want to bother your daddy at work. I’m sure that your mummy will come.”

“Listen,” said Ali with the eye roll of incipient adolescence. “My dad is sitting at his desk, at his computer, next to the phone. He’ll be here in 20 minutes. My mom could be anywhere in the hospital, she could be seeing patients, she could have her hands you know where.”

In those pre-cellphone days, it could be a challenge to chase me around the hospital, but the school could never seem to wrap its head around the idea that Dave was a real and capable parent. 

“Can I please speak to Mrs. Glaser?” was the tip-off when my kids were young. No one who actually knows me calls me Mrs. Glaser. 

“I think you want to talk to my Dad,” Ali would say while bringing the landline over to the couch where Dave was unpacking school bags and unearthing orange peels, half-eaten sandwiches and long lost notes from teachers.

I have my two youngest in my lap as Dave takes the phone. “Yes, yes, I do know about the Purim party,” he says. “Next Thursday, right? Yes, I’ll bring them in costume.” 

He gets off the phone and looks at me. “Why do they talk to me as if I am a complete idiot? I do know the name of my children’s teachers, and I’m acquainted with the major Jewish holidays.” 

From the first time David started taking the major role in caring for our kids when I went back to work after my first maternity leave, he faced prejudice and incredulity. In the ’80s and ’90s people just couldn’t wrap their heads around a man who was the primary parent. At that time, there was a popular movie called Mr. Mom about a dad who ineptly took over household duties when he lost his job, only to gratefully cede this role to his more parentally accomplished wife as soon as possible. People would often call Dave ‘Mr. Mom,’ thinking he was a parasite, a gigolo, or perhaps a secret Lothario having it on with all the other mums in the carpool. He really enjoyed being home for that year, and after that, we both arranged our schedules to be available to the kids as much as possible. 

Though to be honest, it was always Dave who kept track of things, who organized, who knew what school supplies needed buying, where each child should be and what they needed bring there. I’m notoriously disorganized, to the point of once having gone to Halifax a week early to give a talk. On the other hand, Dave has all the organizational skills and slight OCD tendencies of an exemplary computer analyst. Plus, he thought of being a dad as his true calling and his work as something to supplement our income, whereas I was more career-oriented. Having a point-man at home made my life significantly easier.

Even today, when women physicians are more common, many of my colleagues complain about their second shift. Their husbands aren’t unwilling to help them, but they think of this as “helping,” not as their own responsibilities. This leaves the mental home management up to their wives and partners. It’s something many control-freak lady doctors may want, but end up resenting. 

My husband  does what he enjoys: caring for those he loves. Now retired, and his plans to take care of grandchildren delayed and derailed by COVID-19, he’s still cooking for the kids and I live in the lap of luxury. 

A long time ago, I met this tall, lanky man with the sweetest smile. When we first walked together, I had to run to keep up with him as he loped along. “Stop,” I said, annoyed. “Stop, I don’t like running after you. It makes me feel like a little girl!”

A few weeks later, I we were walking again and I noticed he kept pace with me. “How come you are matching your stride to mine?” I asked. 

“Well,” he said. “You told me you didn’t like it, so I stopped.” At that moment I fell in love. 

The world spent last week celebrating women physicians. As one, I’d like to pause for a moment and celebrate someone who made it easier for me to be one all these years. For 46 years I’ve been with this remarkable man, who is loving, fully present and self-assured.  Happy Birthday, my darling, Dave. 

Dr. Perle Feldman is a family doctor practising in Montreal.

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