I don’t personally know many Dads who exclusively work this gig as a full-time job… a handful at best. Over the years, I’ve also met a couple of guys who take care of kids while working from home. They profess to having some kind of part-time employment, usually calling it “consulting”. (I’m never quite sure what consulting actually means, but that’s neither here nor there.) What I’m talking about are the guys who are hardcore: the primary caregiver, the meal-maker-in chief, the sole laundry service provider and the built-in family Uber driver. Those guys are a rare breed indeed.
If you are legitimately working part-time from home while taking care of little kids, I’m pretty sure household duties are split (to some degree) between both parents. When I was home with a baby and a toddler, I couldn’t imagine trying to get any meaningful (paying) work done during the day. No sir! No way! No how! Not with dirty diapers to change, clingy rug rats underfoot and constant mundane chores to get through. With a very busy spouse bringing home the bacon and working long hours, I made it my mission to make sure she didn’t come home after a crazy day at the office and feel she had to make dinner, fold clothes or unpack the dishwasher.
A true-blue, 100% legit, professionally certified stay-at-home Dad takes care of all of this, and makes exactly zero dollars and zero cents while doing it. I married a successful lawyer, so I my paycheck was always secondary to Lianne’s when I was still a working stiff. But, going from a relatively modest $50,000 a year income to providing a big ‘ole goose egg to the family financial pot was probably the hardest pill to swallow when I started my new life at home with the kids.
That loss of income, that loss of financial relevance is probably the biggest obstacle that is stopping more guys from taking the leap and leaving the workforce to stay home full time. It’s an unfortunate holdover from the “good old days” where the man HAD to be the provider. He HAD to wear the pants in the family. He had to be, well… a MAN goddammit! And that brings me back to the point of this blog post… and the question I posed in the headline:
Could YOU be a stay-at-home Dad?
I know plenty of guys who have handled the responsibilities for a short period of time. Some brag about being able to keep their shit together and take care of kids when their wives leave for a weekend. Others may survive a week or two of full time daddy-daycare-duty. There are even those who have an entire summer to prove they can handle the rigors of stay-at-home fatherhood. While I certainly salute all of those men, (especially those with the longer tours of duty under their belt), I cannot and will not label them as true stay-at-home Dads. Sorry, but a limited engagement just doesn’t count.
Despite their best efforts, they still aren’t the real deal. The huge difference is, all of them still have their “real jobs” that they will eventually go back to… either in a day, a week or a month. They certainly get a very good taste of what I do for a living, but there’s absolutely no sense of permanence to the experience. Primary caregiving is not what they actually do for a living… it doesn’t define them. They still have the all-important appearance of traditional manhood completely intact, and they always will if they continue to collect a paycheck.
Then, there are the other married guys with kids who have never experienced being the primary caregiver. They are the Dads who have to bring in reinforcements, (like a grandmother), to help out when mommy is away on a girls weekend. These are the guys who are the least likely to leave the workforce for a new domestic vocation. I already know how they would answer my question.
Now, I’m not saying that every family man out there should suddenly quit their job and do what I do… just to prove to the world he is a “modern man” who believes in gender equality. In my case, we had one parent making significantly more than the other. I was the other. I was the logical choice to leave the workforce and anchor the home front. It has to make sense for a particular family at a particular time. Maybe me simply asking if a working father would stay at home to take care of his kids is far too simplistic?
If that’s the case, let’s clarify the question. Let’s set some parameters. Let’s remove the biggest stumbling block to many guys taking the plunge: being the family’s major breadwinner. Let’s say the mother’s income would be more than enough to sustain a comfortable lifestyle. OK, now let’s try this again:
Could YOU be a stay-at-home Dad?
Before you answer this theoretical query, you must ask yourself a few very important questions:
Would it bother you to be called a “kept man”? Would you feel like less of a man? Would you experience feelings of inferiority, a loss of self-esteem or self-respect? Would you resent being called “Mr. Mom” and being compared to Michael Keaton on a semi-regular basis? If you said YES to any of these questions, you may not have the fortitude to pull it off. I have a story that perfectly illustrates this discussion.
Back in the day, I had a friend with two young kids, a successful career and a husband with a good job… but one that paid significantly less than hers did. It seemed both of them deemed their respective jobs more important than their spouses, and that led to almost daily negotiations over who would pick up the kids from daycare. 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.
So, for many guys, it’s not a cut and dry situation. Trust me, it’s not an easy choice to make. In fact, it’s a life-altering decision! Even I second-guessed myself at times, but in the end, I said YES to the question 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 paycheck or succeeding at any job I’ve ever had or will have.
So, how about we try and make this discussion a little more scientific? How about we back it up with some stats? How about you participate in an online poll so I can see for myself just how many of you could take on the role of primary caregiver? Come on people, it’s easy! It’s simple! And best of all, it’s anonymous!
Remember men, we’re talking about deciding to stay home to raise kids… but only if your spouse makes enough dough, enough scratch, enough cheddar to provide a comfortable standard of living for the entire family.
And for those who feel that your womanhood automatically disqualifies you from participating this poll, please ask your significant other how he feels about the question, and answer it on his behalf.
Or, maybe all of you women could just pretend you’re a man and answer it to the best if your ability. It’s not that hard… just empty your mind of all coherent thoughts. Hmmm, upon further reflection, maybe this poll won’t be as scientific as I had hoped.
Anyhoooooo, I will reveal the final poll numbers in one week. Start voting and stay tuned!!!