“I don’t know how you do it! I would be so useless at this baby stuff.” That was probably the number one thing I heard come out of men’s mouths when I told them what I did for a living. Sure, a few guys admitted that they would love a shot at being the parent who stayed home to raise kids, but a majority of dudes just couldn’t wait to brag about their domestic ineptitude.
It’s almost like they were proud of the fact they couldn’t possibly master basic child-rearing skills/homemaking duties. Their chests would puff out just a tad when they set the record straight – it was their wives who take care of that baby and kid stuff. In this day and age, I was a bit surprised by this old-fashioned attitude, but I found that while I was out and about with a baby and a toddler, the heartfelt kudos I would get from other moms showed me they were witnessing something rare… a father taking care of very little kids with no sign of the mother.
These random encounters with strangers convinced me that a vast majority of dads really are that hands-off when it comes to parenting small children. Come on! Who can’t pack a diaper bag, a couple bottles of milk and survive in the real world for a few hours? I’ll admit that if you’ve never done it before, your first time out without any backup may turn out to be a complete disaster. That’s when the typical hands-off dad simply gives up and complains, “You see, honey, I tried to take the kids out without you and it was so hard!” Dude, cry me a river.
Gentlemen, I have the solution, and it’s simple. Try learning from your mistakes, and every time you go out solo with baby in tow it gets exponentially easier. That’s why any man who says he couldn’t do what I do is lying through his teeth. He could handle it in a heartbeat. He just doesn’t want to do it, as perhaps he feels this “women’s work” is beneath him or that he’s immensely overqualified for the job. There’s a huge difference between can’t do it and won’t do it. The truth is, any guy could do what I do. Not knowing how to do something is really no excuse. You simply have to want to do it. As the old saying goes, it ain’t rocket science.
Was I an expert right out of the gate? Absolutely not, but there’s a pretty steep learning curve in this parenting business that forced me to get up to speed pretty damned quick! I immediately adopted the attitude that if my kids made it to the end of each day fed, watered, relatively clean and mostly physically unscathed, I had passed with flying colours.
Now, if I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, the week that I started my new mission at home I jokingly played the clueless dad card. I staged several “funny” photographs of me screwing up my first day on the job and emailed them out to all of my friends and family.
There was the picture of me changing the wrong end of baby, another one featured me not knowing that SlimFast isn’t an appropriate breakfast for baby, and my personal favourite was the shot of me testing the temperature of baby’s formula.
I had taken some of Lianne’s lipstick to create the illusion of massive burn marks on my forearm. This was before the age of Facebook, but it was the same idea. I was implying that I didn’t know what I was doing, and I wanted as many people as possible to see it! But in my defense, I only did this particular gag the one time and knew when to give it a rest. I’ve always been a bit of a class clown, and I was simply poking some fun at myself and at the stereotype of the out-of-touch father.
I took those photos over 12 years ago, but the funny thing is, I’m still seeing similar gags from dads on my Facebook news feed. I have one friend in particular who recycles the same, tired joke every time his wife leaves town and he becomes the sole caregiver for his kids. His posts strenuously make the point that taking care of kids just isn’t his bag. What do they eat? What’s the bedtime routine? How old are they? What are their names? Don’t worry, we all get it; you’re a man’s man who couldn’t be bothered to learn basic parenting skills. Yup, we all get it; that stuff is all your wife’s domain and any real husband wouldn’t be caught dead braiding his daughter’s hair. I know that the primary point of his posts were to poke a bit of fun at himself and entertain his audience, but the underlying message of it all is undeniable. It’s better to be seen as a clueless dad with his manhood completely intact than some pansy who is fully capable of taking care of his own offspring in his wife’s absence.
This attitude is not all that surprising, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing. Years ago, I had a married friend with two young kids, a successful career and a husband with a good job… but one that paid significantly less than hers did. They struggled daily with who could leave work early to pick up the kids from the dayhome at 5:00. It seemed both of them deemed their respective jobs more important than their spouses, and that led to almost daily negotiations at quitting time. I asked her once if her husband ever considered staying at home and letting her bring home all of the bacon. She told me that she had hoped he would consider trying it, but the answer was always an unequivocal no.
He simply felt that he needed to contribute monetarily and just couldn’t see himself as completely reliant on his wife for the family’s financial security. I never thought of him as old-fashioned or slightly chauvinistic in any way. In fact, he seemed very much like a modern man, hip with the changing gender roles in our society. He obviously wasn’t, and I’ve come to learn that the overwhelming need to be a provider is a trait that is still very common in a majority of men I’ve met or interacted with. Another thing I’ve discovered is that it isn’t just the obvious, testosterone-filled, macho man who would scoff at the idea of being a stay-at-home dad. It’s actually the norm, and it’s the reason why you still don’t see that many of us out there.
Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’ve never been some kind of “man’s man” or tough guy, or hyper-masculine … or whatever you call that kind of guy these days. That’s not to say that I didn’t have some reservations about having my yearly income drop to zero dollars and zero cents. My salary never came close to Lianne’s, but in my head I would calculate that my monthly wage still paid the mortgage and some other household bills. It wasn’t that much, but at least it was something. My income actually made a difference, and then it was all gone. I became a “kept man”, as some people liked to joke. Did it bug me? Did I feel like less of a man? Did I experience feelings of inferiority, a loss of self-esteem or self-respect? Fortunately, I did not and I’ll tell you why. I knew in my heart and soul that what I was doing was important … way more important than earning a paycheque or succeeding at any job I’ve ever had or will have. As a stay-at-home dad, that attitude remains a must have if I am going to succeed as a parent, a husband and as a human being.
As a group, we are hardly mainstream, but if there is one stat that is encouraging, it’s this. Thirty years ago, only one in every 100 stay-at-home parents were dads. Today, it’s one in eight. The times, attitudes and gender roles are indeed slowly but surely changing, but I’ve never thought of what I do as a big deal, or me as some type of trailblazer or stay-at-home dad expert.
I don’t really have any concrete or detailed advice for anyone considering taking the plunge into stay-at-home fatherhood, but if I had a mantra, motto or catchphrase that summed up my experience so far, it would be this:
If I can do it, anybody can do it.
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