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Dads at Home Not SAHD at All

Steve Penhollow
Oct. 31, 2007

Maxed-out in January

If you haven't read Brian Braiker's account in Newsweek of being a stay-at-home dad for a year, you should Google it. It's titled "Just don't call me Mr. Mom." Like Braiker, I had a doctor father who probably didn't change too many diapers in his day.

I'd like to think that my dad would be more understanding than Braiker's if I decided to stay home with my kids. Well, kid for now. I will be able to say kids in three months. Our son, Max, is due in January.

Dad's got more time off to care for Baby than Mom

Because of my and my wife's odd employment situations, I may be able to take more paid time off to care for Max than she will. Whatever time I end up taking, it will hardly qualify me as a stay-at-home dad. But I would be happy to become one if the possibility and necessity arose, much happier than men of my dad's generation would have been.

I've known more than a few stay-at-home dads in recent years and almost all of them have surprised me by saying that the loss of salary was far from the hardest part of staying home. Economizing can be liberating, many of them say. I have learned this in my own life. I get most of my clothes at thrift stores and no longer lust for the latest piece of technology. Thrift store clothes are actually more stylish these days than what you can find new at a supercenter-type store.

Guilt and loneliness plague stay-at-home dads too

And I think we would all be healthier mentally, emotionally and financially if we would get to the point in our lives where the only time we acquire new technology is when it is gifted to us for opening a new checking account. The hardest parts of being a stay-at-home dad, it turns out, are loneliness and guilt. These emotions are certainly familiar to stay-at-home moms as well.

But stay-at-home moms tend to have other stay-at-home moms in their social circle whereas stay-at-home dads have a tougher time finding adults to connect with during the day. As for guilt, stay-at-home dads are certainly not immune from the desire to want to do everything and the guilt of failing to get everything done.

There are no hard-and-fast solutions to either of these problems.

Getting out the house is one way to stave off a sense of isolation. Taking your child or children somewhere special, or at least somewhere far removed from your house, every day is as beneficial to you as it is to them. As much as you love your house, it can become a cave if you don't leave it regularly and as much as you love yourself, you can become a bear with insomnia in winter if you don't get a daily sense that you are part of the hustle and bustle of society.

Work on the Guilt NOT on the work

As for the guilt about not doing enough work around the house, the key is to work on the guilt not work on the work. My wife and I both have full-time jobs and our housekeeping is, to use an affectionate term, charmingly ramshackle. We all know families whose houses always look immaculate, even when you pop over and surprise them. Don't envy these people and try to emulate them. Instead, see them as what they are: likeable aliens from another world. Every family should be able to find a level of clutter they can live with and not be judged for.

Finally, keep a toe in the water of your career, so to speak. This is good for your sanity and your employability. As a career journalist, I have learned that there is nothing so suspicious to potential employers than having taken a break from the career of journalism. It's probably the same in other occupations. If there is still a healthy stigma against stay-at-home dads, I suspect it resides here.

The Dad who learns

So a stay a home dad should do what he can to remain at least nominally connected to his career through education and freelance. One of the unquestionable benefits of being a stay-at-home dad, or merely a dad who wants to spend more time with his children than with his workmates, is nicely nailed by Braiker when he calls his daughter "ridiculously fun" and speaks of his desire to "get to know her." When I take care of my daughter I find that she is taking care of me as well. She is showing me the world from fresh perspectives and helping me dig my sense of fun out from under landslides of adult responsibility.

Steve Penhollow is the Arts and Entertainment Reporter for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette in Indiana. He has written for a number of publications, including the Advocate chain of newspapers in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

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