When you see us dropping the kids off at school in our slippers – a little shot of whiskey in our coffee – have pity.
The divorce rate for stay at home dads is significantly higher than marriages where dad brings home the bacon.
This is not a happy place.
A few years ago, I was working as a pastor, with a cozy little web business on the side. Since my schedule was more flexible than my wife’s, I was on tap for getting the kids to and from school.
But our kids were struggling. They’re all adopted, still crossing swords with the aftershocks of whatever they experienced before coming home to us. They needed one parent to go full-time.
And I was blown-up tired.
My wife’s career is a bigger deal than the one I had scratched out, and far more lucrative, so I drew the short straw, passed the web business off to a girl I had been working with, and stepped down as a pastor – which was a good thing. I’ve never been good at pastoring.
I’ve had lots of career dreams and aspirations in my life. Stay at home dad never made the list.
Here’s a short tally of things I can’t stand about a vocation that no man dreams of.
No Country for Ass Kicking House Husbands
I come from the south, a culture that espouses a more “traditional” view of manhood.
The man is the breadwinner, the provider. The woman’s role is everything else. I can’t tell you how many southern churches still preach that. As someone who’s spent most of his life as a leader in these communities, it’s hard to take a roll that utterly flies in the face of what most from my camp consider to be “manly.”
So when I’m at a party, and someone asks what I do, there’s a little bit of squirming. I hate saying that I’m a stay at home dad, especially when I’m standing next to my ass kicking doctor wife who pays for everything.
Most people are cool about it and respond to the look on my face with,”That’s so great!” But that’s usually the extent of the conversation, either because I look like I’m about to die, or because it’s a boring answer, or a little of both. When a stranger asks what I do, I’m poised to transition into something else.
I will say this though: while the office of stay at home dad doesn’t require much physical strength, or Nunchuck skills, it does call for a level of emotional strength that most men don’t possess – me included.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat down with someone I’m mentoring and tried like hell to get him to make the transition from physical “manliness” to emotional maturity. Men in our culture know how to flex their muscles and be conquerors at work, but things outside of work that require more don’t get much attention.
At home, when the marriage is unravelling, and the kids are losing their minds, and alcohol is the only thing that makes sense, men in our culture have no idea what to do.
So we hide, abdicate, watch things blow up, and take 0% responsibility for any of it.
If nothing else, my stint as first male at-home parent in my family’s history has taught me how important it is to engage. There are battles to be fought, emotional as they may be. If I can’t find a way to kick some ass here, a litany of bad things will happen.
But man this is boring.
I get up in the morning, cook breakfast, fuss at kids for fussing about breakfast, even on pancake wednesday, throw some box braids, say “get in the car” seven to 13 times, dump the kids at school, and transition into 5 hours of whatever I want to do, except on house cleaning Monday.
But I feel obligated to produce something (see above), so I typically don’t go for hikes, or watch movies, or do anything relaxing.
Then I pick up the kids, who are super drained from being at school all day and none too fun to be around, until bedtime, then they get super sweet and you just want to let them stay up all night, which is what they’re angling for.
Then there’s the weekend.
I’m proud to say my kids love me and constantly require my attention. But I can’t seem to get them interested in golf, or yard work, or anything that a normal adult would find interesting.
Spending time with kids is boring, that’s why most of us don’t give our kids the attention they need.
Tea parties, fort building, My Little Pony watching, hide and seek, crafts that don’t involve power tools or arc welders, etc. are all boring. And while we love our kids and try our best to bite the bullet, it’s super hard to do boring things, especially when you’re tired. And as a 50 year old guy who’s not in very good shape, I’ve got an extra helping of tired.
At Least I Haven’t Killed Anyone
I miss getting a paycheck. I miss working hard and seeing some tangible evidence of success at the end of the week.
Now, I clean the house and get the laundry done, but that’s about it. This isn’t a job for people who take pride in accomplishment, or get their energy from “making things happen.” I can’t stand it.
I loved flying.
It required certificates, knowledge, a ton of experience, and a bit of courage. When I landed my plane, especially when the weather was bad, I felt a tangible sense of accomplishment. Bartending was similar – a rush of people would come in, I’d take care of them, then clean up in the silence after the bar closed. It felt great. I could count my money, run my fingers through what I had procured by the power of my own hand.
I can’t think of a job that I’ve had that didn’t provide me with some tangible, regular sense of accomplishment.
Wouldn’t Trade it for the World
Cambridge don and Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis said something akin to, “If you are acting like you love someone, even if you don’t, you will presently come to love them.”
I cook, clean, break up fights, lead, encourage, mentor, break up fights, push, teach – generally expend tons of energy on behalf of my kids. I’ve never worked this hard for anyone, or anything else.
And it’s caused me to fall in love.
I’d be thrilled to have a job where I spend most of my time in an office, surrounded by like-minded adults, working together for a common goal.
But for now, I’d rather do this.
Seriously. I’m not trying to end on a happy note because I know my kids will read this some day, or because we love happy endings. This job is changing me. While it’s forcing me to redefine my place in this world and strengthening my ability to be happy when things are shitty, it’s building a bond between my kids an me that otherwise wouldn’t be as strong.
What’s ironic is that I’ll be an utter mess when it’s time to transition from this gig. I’ll have devoted my life to these kids and this household for 10 years, then, poof – they’ll be in college and I’ll be left scratching my head, needing to transition into whatever’s next…
…and crying like a baby because I’ll miss this job.