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Stay-at-home dad wanted his toddler son to 'reject masculine stereotypes,' blur 'gender lines.' It got rough when his boy 'fell in love with tractors.'

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Photo by Lambert/Getty Images

Stay-at-home father Jay Deitcher penned a revealing essay last week for TODAY in which he confesses his pointed aversion to traditional masculinity and that he wanted his toddler son, Avishai, to follow suit — to "reject masculine stereotypes," as his essay title reads.

However, after turning 2 years old, his son "started demanding that he only wear tractor shirts," Deitcher wrote.

Then the author said his "mind spiraled into darkness."

Deitcher even "catastrophized worst-case scenarios, imagining a world where [Avishai] fell for everything stereotypically manly. I envisioned him on a football field, barreling through mega-muscled opponents. Imagined him waxing a sports car on a warm summer day."

What's the background?

After his son was born, Deitcher "became determined" to "create a bond stronger than any parent had ever achieved" — but added there was only one path to that destination: "I needed to distance myself from anything deemed masculine."

"To me, femininity was connected to empathy and kindness while masculinity equated to being frigid," Deitcher added in his TODAY essay. "Men didn’t hug. Men didn’t say I love you. Men were angry. Aggressive. Inept as parents."

Instead he would be the exception.

So Deitcher wrote that he cut his hours at his social work job and became a stay-at-home dad. He noted in his piece that he "cuddled" and "soothed" his son after feeding him — and then "began attending mommy-and-me playgroups and bristled when other caregivers made jokes about me providing daddy day care."

"I shuddered at jokes about men being incapable of figuring out how to work a diaper, yet I felt most couldn’t," Deitcher added in his piece. "I became even more of an avid stereotyper: I grimaced at anyone driving a Ford car, the John Wayne of automobiles. I hated men who wore plaid. Felt ill if someone mentioned a wrench or another tool. When my mom-in-law bought Avishai a coverall with footballs on it, I shoved it into the depths of his closet, never to be found."

Instead, Deitcher heralded that "once my son could walk, I paraded him through the park while he rolled his baby doll down the sidewalk in its stroller. I felt accomplished because he mirrored being a caretaker."

Tractors! Incoming! Take cover!

Despite Deitcher's best efforts, his son soon took a shine to tractors and their ilk: tractor songs, videos about construction equipment, shirts with tractors emblazoned on them.

"I felt like I failed him," Dad confessed. "I pride myself on blurring gender lines. I wanted him to, also."

A fateful decision

"I had to make a choice: buy him clothes with pictures of heavy machinery on them and make the kid happy, or force him to wear shirts emblazoned with fuzzy animals to appease me," Deitcher recalled in his TODAY essay, adding that he recognized his "own bias of what I deemed to be too masculine" and let go of it a bit.

"I started taking joy in his joy. He radiates wearing his shirts emblazoned with diggers and dozers and excavators," the author wrote about his son. "At 3 ½ years old, he can name dozens of types of tractors (I always thought there was only one). He makes up quasi-gibberish tractor stories, sings quasi-gibberish tractor songs. Together, we clean the living room: He uses his tractors to put all his toys away."

Deitcher also noted in his TODAY piece that his own father was all about giving hugs and saying I love you — yet he still took a while to let Deitcher find his own path. Their bond improved after his dad did just that, and the author wanted to do the same.

"Sometimes my dad comes over, and we drive tiny plastic machinery from room to room," Deitcher concluded. "My son beams. My dad beams. I beam, too."

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