A New Outlook On Being A Father

Matt MacDonald
Bring up the idea of staying at home with the kids to most men and I am sure that you would get the same reaction: a visual shudder followed by a type of whimpering that you would expect to come out of a dying animal. Staying at home with your own children is not that bad. Being stuck on the idea that a man goes to work while the woman stays at home with the kids is a different story.

I became a Stay-at-Home Dad by way of getting fired from my job. This stung a little bit since I had three children and a wife to support. My untimely dismissal wasn't that much of an issue because:

1. I knew I was going to get fired. Management was completely turning over the staff. Anyone who had a negative thing to say about how things were going got the axe. If things weren't that simple, employees were set up to fail. Towards the tail end of my "career", I cried foul every chance I got. I just couldn't help myself.
2. The plan that the wife and I had from the beginning was for me to be a Stay-at-Home parent as soon as she finished school and got a job. For us, this as merely an acceleration of our plan.

My wife was so great about me getting fired. She knew about everything that was going on. I think that some part of her thought that it was just a matter of time as well. Her reaction, her acceptance of my failing was the nicest thing that anybody had done for me in nearly a decade.

As a Stay-at-Home Dad, I had it relatively easy at first. My wife was completing her last semester of nursing school. This necessitated her being unemployed as well. The "hardest" part of my day was keeping the younger two kids occupied long enough while Mommy found a quiet part of the home to hole up and study in.

Keeping the house from looking like a bomb just went off? Piece of cake! Our home was a bit on the small side plus there were two adults there for most of the day. Keeping the kids occupied and happy? No problem! I completely loved being there for them. The title "Daddy" was synonymous with playtime and all around merriment.

Two months into my “new job”, the wife and I eventually made the decision that we needed to move in with someone until we got "back on our feet". The unemployment benefits I was receiving at the time were enough to pay the bills, but there was no way we could make it last forever. That summer, I moved my family into my sister's house.

As a man, this was a tough thing for me to do. Men are conditioned to provide for their family. As far as I am concerned, it's been this way since the dawn of time.

It wasn't until the move that the feeling of being a failure began to sink in. On some levels, I still have this feeling. Being the breadwinner and getting fired from your job is a rough thing to go through. Being a dad, let alone the main caregiver may seem impossible in this situation. But you need to keep in mind that "even if it is forced on you by a layoff or any other external circumstance it (being a Stay-at-Home Dad) can only work as long as you stay in touch with the feeling that you are doing something important" (Gill, p.50, 2001).

By July, we had completely moved into my sister's house and my job gets even easier. Now, there's even less ground to cover and there's a third adult! I hit the jackpot.

Within weeks of moving in, the wife found a job and things were pretty good. The hardest part of my life at that time was trying to figure out what got capitalized in "stay-at-home dad". That summer was the most relaxed I had been in about five years. It wouldn't have happened if my sister weren’t there for me. The gratitude I have is indescribable.

We stayed at my sister's through the middle of November. After Thanksgiving break, we moved into our first house.

The honeymoon came to an abrupt and hellish halt.

After the last few boxes were unpacked, the wife and I constantly butted heads on every little thing. There was no middle ground.

If you’re a Stay-at-Home Dad who’s just starting out, don't get scared: this is perfectly natural. "Expect dads to do things differently from moms... Men and Women are different... Their differences should be recognized and embraced" (Gill, p. 50, 2001). Personally, I would take a fight about the type of soap in the bathroom any day than complete indifference. If you're fighting at least you know that the other person cares enough to put in that kind of effort.
It got to the point where I wanted to say "The hell with everything!" and run away screaming into the night. Irrepressible feelings that I was underappreciated around my own home became the norm. It wasn’t pretty.

Consider this the next time that you are thinking about walking away regardless of your personal situation: While the phenomenon of dad's who stay at home is relatively fresh, it has been argued that "divorce will become less harmful to children than it is today. Father's who share the care for the children will feel a stronger attachment to their children and will be less likely to stop visiting or helping..." (Smith, p.49, 2009)

Still don't think your presence has made a difference?

That's all right. I don't blame you. Anyone who says that they were completely prepared for being a stay-at-home parent is a complete liar.

I have long been of the opinion that the one thing that keeps transitioning from being a breadwinner to a Stay-at-Home Dad an easy right of passage is the stigma that is attached to it.

My first encounter with it was during the paperwork portion of moving into our house. I was on the phone, talking to the woman who ran the office in an attempt to build a rapport with her and to galvanize the fact that my family and I weren't hillbillies.

Then she asked me what I did for a living.

I told her that I was a Stay-at-Home Dad.

It was like someone had flipped a switch. She went from being all chummy and glad to having someone of solid character in one of her properties to a cold-hearted shell of a person. She couldn't get off of the phone fast enough.

"...This myth, (that) Stay-at-Home Dad's are dysfunctional parents who are so demoralized by unemployment that they are incapable of pulling their weight around their house" (Smith, p.58, 2009) is perpetrated by every member of society who has every given a man playing with his kids at the playground before noon a funny look.

While as a society, we are constantly evolving and creating; there are just some things that won't go away. Racism, ageism, (and in this case) sexism to name a few. What adds insult to injury is the fact that these things, these -isms are all born of our personalities. Who's to say if this stigma will ever be put in the ground?

Consider this: Today, 4 out of 10 mothers are the primary breadwinners in their families. Additionally, there are an estimated 143,000 Stay-at-Home Dads with children under the age of 15, worldwide (Stout, 2010).

While men being the caregivers for the children may be a relatively new twist that our society has taken it should also be noted that gender roles as a whole are starting to change. More fathers are starting to participate in the daily mechanics of their families (dropping kids off and volunteering at their school) than their predecessors. If you want further proof, you needn't look any further than the diaper-changing table in the men's room (Gill, 2001). Additionally, "more and more fathers are filing complaints with the federal EEOC claiming that their employers have discriminated against them because of their care giving roles... (Some) employers have wrongly denied male employees requests for leave for childcare purposes while granting similar requests to female employees... (This results in) men deciding that they want a work/family balance" (Smith, p. 76, 2009).

As our society continues to grow and evolve so will the number and nature of parents who stay at home with their children. While having a traditional approach to how your family operates may work for most men, consider the idea of staying at home with your kids. It may be hard terrain to navigate at first but that is a small price to pay for the chance and experience to provide for your family and gain a different point of view.