When Sarah and I began to talk about starting a family, the question of who would stay home was pretty obvious to us. Sarah’s job was remarkably stable, and had benefits, while my job as a carpenter was tenuous and had no benefits. On top of this, Sarah’s work has always given her life more meaning, while I thought that I wouldn’t miss going to work as much if I were to stay home. As for the biological, or should I say lactational, reasons why many women stay at home, we figured that if humankind could put men on the moon, we could certainly find a way to get milk to our daughter.
Staying at home took awhile to transition to from a working culture of republican, pot-smoking, knuckle-draggers, to my current reality of a breastmilk-thawing, diaper-changing, library lapsit storytime-singing, stay at home dad. I was a carpenter for the last few years, working in a high-testosterone, git-r-done world, where a a dude passing by with a diaper bag would definitely be called ‘gay.’ I never fit into that culture, but when Sarah requested that I take Josie to something called library lapsit, my knee jerk opposition was simply an affirmation of my manhood and heterosexuality. Apparently something had rubbed off, but it just as easily fell away. I wear a baby bjorn or a kid carrier around town; I carry a diaper bag with a sippy cup on the side, and I could care less if some redneck gives me a look. I’m glad to see other guys show up to lapsit, but they’re always on the sidelines behind their wives. There are times when I miss the routine of going to work, solving problems, and interacting with adults – namely men (who aren’t asses). I’m definitely in a different orbit than the flocks of stay-at-home moms pushing jogging strollers past my window like a v of geese honking south.
I only had a few encounters with people who were surprised at my being a SAHD, mostly when Josie was just a few months old. I remember checking out a book after library lapsit one day, when Josie was cranky for her nap and the librarian said,
“Oh, how darling, how old?”
“She’s four months.”
“Probably getting hungry, huh?
“Giving Mom a break, huh?”
“Uh, yeah, I guess.”
“Is she at home getting some rest?”
“No, she’s at work.”
“And she’s tired, not hungry.”
For the most part though, people have been fine, or they keep their thoughts to themselves. But looking around, I don’t see many other SAHDs, which isn’t really that surprising. According the US Census, there 5.4 million stay at home moms, while only 98,000 stay at home dads – 1.8% of stay at home parents.
I understand why. Men aren’t exactly brought up in our society for a domestic life. But work is work right? And right now at this point in our life, someone’s got to do it. I’m not saying folding laundry is as fulfilling as a meaningful career (it’s not), but when you stay at home, the cleanliness and order of your home becomes your work, and thus a reflection on yourself. Imagine if you’re partner stayed home, and when you came back home you found the house in the same state of disarray as you left it. “What did you do today?,” you’d think.
Its funny because I don’t really consider parenting ‘work.’ Work, to me, is what happens in between life – the things you have to do like the laundry, dishes, sweeping, diaper washing, walking the dog, grocery shopping, bringing in firewood, taking out the compost, recycling and garbage, so that you can enjoy your life. Life is now reading books to Josie, feeding her, playing with her, bathing her, putting her down for her naps, changing her diaper, taking her for walks and thawing frozen breast milk. Obviously, it’s much different than the me-centered universe of my past. Having children is the Big Flip there, and although everyone will tell you that, your world will be rocked harder much more than you know. Sure, I miss being not being able to leave the house at the drop of a hat, go hiking deep into the Olympic backcountry, or work all day on a project in the garage. Any parent who pretends they don’t is kidding themselves. But I wouldn’t trade back. I’ve traded up, for a life that is much deeper, and luckily, nature makes babies pretty cute and adorable, and love will go a long way in letting you forget about your previous life. Its also good that nature programs them to nap during the day, to ease you into the time-vacuum of young parenthood.
Josie naps for three hours a day, so if I can make some sort of forward progress on the house like refinishing the counter tops, or adding something to the house I’ll do it then, and later find myself sweeping the floor around her, or folding laundry and letting her “help.” When I look back to the year before we had Josie, I’m am flabbergasted at how much work I was able to accomplish on the house in so little time. Now if Sarah takes Josie for the day, which has happened a couple times, I honestly don’t know what to do with myself. I’ll finish my list of to-dos by lunch, and I’ll just sort of wandered around the house looking at projects I had been meaning to get to for the last year. I’ll be in my workshop and panic because I didn’t have the monitor on before I realize she’s not in her room.
What I love about being able to stay at home though, is that I don’t have to miss anything. Sarah will comment some days that she feels like Josie gets bigger over the course of a single day. Even though Josie won’t remember any of this, I also have to believe that we’ll have a pretty strong bond going forward. And when she’s older I’ll be able to tell her about every first because I’ll have been there, and these days that’s a good deal more than many children are able to say about their fathers.