It’s always the mom, isn’t it? Driving the carpool, rushing forgotten sneakers to school in time for gym, baking at midnight for tomorrow’s teacher-appreciation breakfast.
And now, going to the clink.
Yes, it’s true that Felicity Huffman committed a crime. She paid $15,000 to get her daughter a better SAT score, and in the process cheated everyone who’s playing by the rules.
But now that Huffman is bracing for two weeks in federal prison while the uncharged William H. Macy plays the supportive husband — holding her hand as she walks drawn and somber into a Boston court for sentencing, writing an emotional letter to the judge (“Watching Felicity being a mother is a wonderful thing to see”) — some say a second injustice has occurred.
She’s being vilified and he isn’t.
“It’s the same jacked-up scenario of when a dad shows up at school to help in the classroom and suddenly he’s a hero,” said Sherry Kuehl, author of the Snarky in the Suburbs books. “Or when a dad posts a picture on social media where he’s doing his daughter’s hair and the Internet explodes with warm, fuzzy accolades.
“She’s getting all the daughter angst,” Kuehl added. “For the rest of Huffman’s life, her daughter will always have the comeback of, ‘Well, what about when you didn’t believe in me and thought you had to lie to get me into college?’ Meanwhile, the dad is sitting pretty.”
(To the many dads who are in fact equal parenting partners, we’d like to acknowledge you here. Thank you!)
What’s going on? Why was Huffman arrested at gunpoint by FBI agents in an early morning raid at her Los Angeles home in March, while Macy has (so far, at least) escaped charges?
Lawyers have their theories (which we’ll touch on later) and moms have theirs.
Theory number one, voiced by a surprising number of women, stems from the fact that Macy, while definitely supportive, seems removed from the kids, as if he were a very nice second husband who came along when the girls were in high school.
“It seriously made me wonder whether he’s the real father,” said Shari Noe.
Noe, a Newton psychologist who helps diagnose learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders, sees many families where the mother takes on the vast majority of child rearing responsibilities, a job that starts when the kids are born and continues through the college application process.
“Not that I’m supporting her,” Noe said, “but you see these moms that get uber crazy in the process.”
Indeed, Huffman said as much herself in a Sept. 4 letter she submitted to US District Judge Indira Talwani. After the mastermind of the college bribery scandal, Rick Singer, suggested that she pay to have a proctor improve her daughter’s SAT score, Huffman wrote:
“I couldn’t make up my mind for six weeks. . . . I felt an urgency which built to a sense of panic. . . . As warped as this sounds now, I honestly began to feel that maybe I would be a bad mother if I didn’t do what Mr. Singer was suggesting.”
Theory number two, which is also erroneous, is that Huffman kept the caper secret from Macy. Perhaps whispering on the phone with the crooked college coach while Macy lolled about elsewhere in the mansion in ignorant bliss.
“Mothers do all sorts of things that their partners are unaware of, especially when it comes to micromanaging their children,” said Michelle Ephraim, an associate professor of English at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and the mother of four.
The secrecy, she said, stems from the desire to avoid a fight with a spouse. “College admissions gets into our deepest fears and anxieties, and it’s very easy to get into an argument” over different strategies, she said.
As for Macy’s so-called ignorance? “I think sometimes husbands learn not to ask about things,” she said. “It’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.”
Considering their different trajectories — Huffman’s next wardrobe call will be a fitting for a prison uniform while Macy is awaiting the November premiere of the 10th season of his hit show “Shameless” — the only thing that would seem fair is if he were ignorant of the shenanigans.
But as media outlets have reported, references in the prosecution’s criminal complaint suggest that Macy — identified in the complaint as “her spouse” or “Spouse” — was not only aware of the plans, but a participant in at least some of them.
Seeking to explain the prosecutors’ reasoning, Rebecca Roiphe, a former prosecutor and a professor at New York Law School, told The New York Times that, “The bottom line on Macy was that he seemed to have been less involved in the conduct. There is no doubt that the conduct could have been charged, but prosecutors use their discretion all the time, and decide not to charge somebody because they consider it either unfair or not worth the resources.”
Once again, mom’s the one on the job!