I have been back to work now for 5 months after being unemployed for 13 of the last 20 months, and lately, I have been reflecting on those past dozen or so months. It was a tremendous joy to be able to stay home with my twin daughters, something some fathers do not get the chance to experience, so I relished the time I had alone with them.
But, while staying home, I noticed that there was a bit of bias against dads that were in the same predicament that I was. So I recently did a web search and tried to find information on dads that settle in a habitat to tend to the offspring while mom is at her chosen vocation.
We have been called everything from Mr. Mom’s (thank you very much Michael Keaton and Lonestar) to sissies, to momma-daddys (my twins’ inventive phrase for me).
I am talking, of course, about stay at home dads. For 13 of the last 20 months I was a stay-at-home Dad, or SAHD for you acronym-ites out there. While the numbers of SAHD’s are small, by all accounts it is becoming a fast-growing segment of the American population.
Of course, when your sample size is tiny, it is easy to enjoy explosive growth. The next time you read that the number of at home dads has doubled, remember this probably means it went from 34 to 68 dads nationwide - and that includes a few working dads who just sleep in on Saturdays but get counted in the statistics.
Most SAHD’s have a negative view by the outside world but truth be told, we brought it on ourselves. Consider the acronym used to describe stay at home dads: SAHD. Running around telling everyone you are sad may explain why some people look at us like we are lepers.
There is, however, a website devoted to SAHD’s. It's address: http://www.slowlane.com/
What - the domain name www.emasculation.com was already taken?
Now, I'm all for slowing down to smell the flowers, but if you start to brand yourself as the little old man in the far right lane barely able to see over the steering wheel, don't be surprised when no one shows you respect.
Life as a stay at home dad was a constant challenge. I received very little praise for my efforts. Did anyone walk up to me and tell me that I did a great job of getting my children dressed this morning? No. Did I get recognized for my part in the recent family record of 157 consecutive days between visits to the doctor? No. Did anybody shake my hand and acknowledged the hell that I went through to convince my 3-year-olds to wear something besides their Wiggles T-shirts and shorts during the 7-degree/24 inches of snow days? No.
Truthfully, I did receive praise from my wife, my parents and my brother for doing a good job while home with the kids. But, seriously, making it sound like I got no praise makes for a better read – don’t you think?
Another problem with staying at home? Isolation. Not having anyone around to have adult conversations with did start to take a toll on my sanity.
Now, I was lucky, for the first part of my idleness, I was finishing up my Master’s degree and used the downtime (what little of it there was) to work on my thesis. The second part of the idleness, I did have a part-time job teaching some business courses at the local college. For the most part though, I was stuck at home.
Sometimes the isolation worried my wife. You know that you have been a stay-at-home father too long when:
- You invite Jehovah's Witnesses in for a cup of coffee.
- You start to understand the twins’ twin-language.
- You consider cheating at your favorite computer game as a way of "sticking it to the man." Take that Halo!!
- You consider taking a job so beneath you, a gravedigger would have higher social strata that you would.
- You look forward to the change of seasons so that you can look at different clothes when doing the laundry.
- You watch the same shows as your kids, and you start to like ‘em.
- You consider switching political parties because you think Republicans “Care more for the American citizenry and their working future.” (Sure, I believed that as much as I believe Georgie-boy and his claim of responsibility for the Hurricane Katrina fiasco)
This is just a warning to those of you considering staying at home with your children. The loneliness is hell.
But, despite all of the trouble, despite all of the loneliness, my children are absolutely hilarious. Sometimes, the humor is in the form of a monologue. Other times, it would be in the form of a face or an exchange between the two children.
It's time for stay at home dads to get some spine and also some marketing savvy. First, lose the "stay" in "stay at home dad," it brings about images of agoraphobia. Now, I would never make light of anyone’s phobia (what am I saying, of course I would), but come on, it sounds so confining. Plus, the stay in stay at home dad is an incredible misnomer. I would love to have been able to stay at home just one day, but my twins demanded to play outside in all types of weather; rain, snow, intense heat and bitter cold.
Next, the very phrase "at home" has a stigma, and it focuses on the house, not the children (which is why we are home in the first place). I have an alternate phrase, but it raises the hair on the backs of the necks of working parents who hear it. "Full time father." Hey, sorry, but in this country, every group gets to name itself.
In short, it's time we at home dads go on the offensive. Sure, it may ruffle some feathers, but it sure beats being SAHD in the slow lane.
And, I have to throw a big shout-out to the first stay at home dad I ever knew, my Uncle Nishan. Health issues forced him to stay home and take care of his child (my cousin) while his wife (my Aunt) worked. This was in the late 50’s/early 60’s when things like that were REALLY looked at with a tilted head. Never did he flinch in his responsibility; never did he allow other people’s comments to faze him. He cooked, he cleaned, and he raised a child. And he did it well, and he taught me, my brother and our cousins that gender roles should NOT be an influence in our lives.