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It's Time To Talk About The "Dad Cold"

Let me paint you a picture: I'm 36 weeks pregnant and was just given the flu shot. At the behest of my OB-GYN, my partner has just received the flu shot, too. I'm still working full-time, and we both care for our 4-year-old son; dropping him off and picking him up at school, cooking dinner — adult things. My partner starts coughing a few hours after his flu shot, though, and says he's "not feeling well." Suddenly he's out for the count. Couch-bound. Useless.

And I'm infuriated.

He's convinced he's somehow contracted the flu, but I know what this "mystery illness" really is: the "dad cold." You know, that not-real-but-apparently-devastating illness that renders every father completely useless for at least 48 to 72 hours. There's no "cure," because they will refuse to go to the doctor — insisting their whining and couch-lounging is their attempt to "tough it out" — and won't have the energy to walk five steps to the medicine cabinet or kitchen to make themselves a damn bowl of soup. Meanwhile, their partners are left to not only mother their children, but mother their poor, suffering, blubbering selves back to life... even though they don't have a temperature and have totally normal-looking throats.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you cannot contract the flu from the flu vaccine. So I knew, immediately, that my partner's aches and pains were probably a manifestation of his flu-shot fears and not anything legitimate or worthy of a trip to the doctor. Plus, his post-flu "health episode" wasn't the first time he's complained about a cold; a cold that, in no uncertain terms, is hardly worth spending a day in bed over.

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This phenomenon, also known as "man flu," is relatively common, and while science can't say for sure if it's just a bunch of dudes exaggerating their symptoms or proof that men are more impacted by colds and/or the flu than women, studies have shown that men take longer to recover from the flu, and are hospitalized with the flu more often, than women.

I'm not one to downplay anyone's pain, and as human beings our thresholds for any kind of uncomfortable or painful feeling will vary for a variety of reasons and due to a number of factors. I also don't want our five years together to somehow preclude me from caring for my partner the way I used to when we first dated — you know, running to his side with a plethora of cough medicines, throat lozenges, soup, 7-Up, saltines, and any other kind of aid I could possibly think of. My partner deserves to be taken care of, just like I do, and I don't buck that wanted responsibility simply because we've been together for a while or because I also have a slew of other responsibilities to tend to.

In the end, I have to admit that my outrage is the result of this country's inability to support or care for moms. I'm jealous, really.

But... come on, my dude. It's not walking phenomena. It's not the plague. It's not something horribly contagious that requires you to be quarantined and, as a result, shuck the parenting tasks that I am now 100 percent responsible for. Embracing the suck and powering through a less-than-stellar feeling in order to be the parent your kid needs is par for the parenting course. A scratchy throat or a few sneezes shouldn't render you completely useless, and to the point that I feel as though I'm caring for two children instead of one.

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Perhaps this is my own exhaustion talking, especially as a very pregnant woman who is actively growing another human being inside her body. I have no idea what it's like to watch your partner endure the various stages of gestation — powerless to help quell the majority of uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms; fearful for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of the fetus they're growing inside of their body — and my partner has no idea what it's like to be pregnant. So we have to find some sort of middle ground and have empathy for one another's experiences, especially if you're going to parent effectively. I have to remind myself that just because he's not pregnant doesn't mean my partner can't feel shitty from time to time.

Perhaps I wouldn't care about my partner contracting the "man flu" if moms were given the same kind of leeway.

And that line of thinking — that rationalization — would help keep me from rolling my eyes into the back of my head if it weren't for the constant whining coming out of my partner's mouth. I know what he is capable of, and I know that as an adult it's not impossible to work through an ache here and a pain there, so why is it that my partner thinks he's dying the moment he has a slight fever? Or an annoying cough? Or a headache? For lack of a better term: suck it up, dear.

In the end, I have to admit that my outrage is the result of this country's inability to support or care for moms. I'm jealous, really. I'm jealous that my partner isn't considered the "default parent" the way I am; the one who is looked at first, foremost, and always to take care of the "kid stuff." I'm mad that we don't have mandatory paid family leave in this country, or that 43 percent of moms end up leaving their jobs in order to raise their children; a decision that isn't always theirs to make. I'm pissed that even though men are more involved in their kids' lives than ever before, moms are still doing the bulk of the housework and childcare.

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Perhaps I wouldn't care about my partner contracting the "man flu" if moms were given the same kind of leeway. Maybe I'd cut him more slack — slack that anyone could easily argue he deserves — if this country took women's pain seriously, too.

That's just not the case, though, so I'm going to need my "other half" to get his ass off the couch and help make dinner.