Now there's a new kinda man in our land
With lonely pride he makes his stand
Raisin' babies is his first love
And he works all day in Playtex gloves
Househusband Macho! Music and lyrics by Mike Nobel
When Mike Nobel pulled his '72 Buick into Winslow's Mobil station in Gorham, Maine, one chilly morning last February--a few hours after the Portland Press Herald hit the newsstands with an article about his life as a househusband--a burly, beer-bellied pump jockey named Bob jabbed his head in the car and snickered:
"I jumped out of the car and suggested Bob take a certain course of action which I won't share with you now," recalls Nobel, a 36-year-old part-time songwriter and full-time househusband, who had spoken at a local college symposium titled "Modern Househusband, Maverick or Milquetoast" ("that's 'que' as in wimp").
"Even though I'd been a househusband for several years and done a lot of thinking and talking about the changing roles of men and women, my gut reaction was still the desire to smash Bob's face. I was embarrassed and defensive. I wanted to show him I was a real man."
That incident inspired Nobel's campaign to improve the image of those growing legions of "toilet-training, egg-frying, car pool-driving men."
Not easy. Especially in an age of sissy-phobia, where men are warned against public consumption of a socially unacceptable egg pie and other un-Cosmos Club-like acts.
So Nobel turned to what he considers the most powerful tool for social change--the comic topical song.
"Humor is a great way to ease tension," says Nobel, whose ad jingles are often written with the help of his 12-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son and whose timely tunes are frequently featured on National Public Radio. "The tension here was between what men were raised to think they should be and what reality is demanding of them.
"For all the enlightened talk, people still look on the man who stays at home as a little strange. The spoof, then, poses the househusband as the ultimate he-man."
"Househusband Macho"--sung in "Big Bad John" bass--applauds a fearless ("he shoots from the hip with lemon Pledge"), gutsy ("he tackles a mountain of domestic chores") and sexy ("he'll be ready if his wife needs him later tonight") hero. It was produced this summer as one of four songs on a 7-inch record by Collector Records of Silver Spring, and is "far and away" the biggest hit in Nobel's program of family-life songs that he presents around the country. (His next appearance is Wednesday at the Baltimore Convention Center as part of the sixth National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect.)
Since writing and performing the song, says Nobel, "I no longer stare down at my shoes when people ask me what I do." Instead, he thinks about "Macho's" warning to "chauvinist pigs:"
Ya better not give him any lip
He kin fight with a baby on each hip
He has Ivory Liquid hands
He's a mean 'n' lean, baby-weanin', bed-straightnin', meal-making', car-pooling, Tupperware-selling man.
Nobel took up househusbandry in 1981 when his wife got a full-time job as a community health nurse--a step he admits was "extremely difficult."
"I come from a very high-achieving family of six boys from New Jersey," says Nobel, who studied music at the University of Rochester, drove a truck in the Army, worked as a community organizer and barroom entertainer. "My oldest two brothers are doctors, the next is a lawyer, one is a farmer and the youngest just graduated from the Wharton School of Business."
At first, he says, "it was the classic reversal. My wife would come home excited and happy about her work, and I would be feeling frustrated and short-tempered after only being able to squeeze in 20 minutes of songwriting in a day of chasing around after the kids."
In time he began to enjoy the closeness with his children. "Now that they're both in school and I have chunks of time for music," he says, "I like my hours with them even better.
"Many of the men I talk to now, after we get past the haw-haws, admit they would love to spend more time at home with their children. For 90 percent of them, I think it's the image that gets in the way. When you're raised to think masculinity is paychecks and chewing tobacco, it's hard to take pride in changing diapers and packing lunchboxes."
Nobel is also considering forming an organization called M.A.C.H.O. (Men's Alliance of Contemporary Househusbands) or T.H.E.N. (The Househusband's Empathy Network).
"We could have joint conferences," he says, "of NOW and T.H.E.N."