One day while my wife was at work, and my six-year old daughter was at school, I took a break from my work to make my three-year old lunch. During the meal, he calmly, told me, “I love mumma and Copper more than you.”
And thus is the life of a stay-at-home dad.
For the record, Copper is the family dog. Now, I fully expected mom to be number one on the depth chart, but to be beaten out by the house beagle? My first reaction was to laugh. Then, I thought that perhaps I should cry. Finally, I thought that I should feel bad for my daughter, who also failed to make the top two spots on her little brother’s “love list.”
Yes, I am a stay-at-home dad. Actually, I am a sub-classification of stay-at-home dad –the work-at-home dad. I work full-time as an editor, and try to pick up a freelance writing gig every now and then. When I am not juggling my full-time job duties, and responses from potential clients offering to pay me the ridiculous sum of $20 to write their 1,000 page manifesto, I am handling the whims of my two young children, both of whom publicly state their preference for mom over their dear old dad.
It’s not just my children, however. Misconceptions run rampant about fathers who stay at home while their wife heads right smack dab in the middle of the old rat race. Such misconceptions as:
-Stay-at-home dads (or as those of us in the community refer to ourselves-S.A.H.D.s) are lazy, lounge around the house all day and watch the daily offerings from “Jerry Springer,” “Cheaters” and “Judge Judy.”
-S.A.H.D.s have had their manhood symbolically and literally ripped off their bodies from their domineering wife who insisted they stay with the kids while they “bring home the bacon.”
-To stay home with the children is a “woman’s job,” thus if a man stays home with the kids, he must be a “woman” or “less than a man.”
-A dad could never, or should never, be that involved in his son or daughter’s life because a man is just not wired that way.
-My personal favorite: A S.A.H.D. will have his pick of single or stay-at-home moms wanting to channel her boredom (and, apparently, the dad’s mutual boredom) into a torrid affair. Almost as if committing adultery can fit neatly into a non-stop schedule of lunches, snacks, school drop-off and pick-off, and soccer practice.
Of course, there is the granddaddy of all words one can say to a S.A.H.D.
As Ralphie, in “A Christmas Story,” said, “I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the ‘F-dash-dash-dash’ word.”
Saying the “F-dash-dash-dash” word to a S.A.H.D. is nothing compared to uttering the “Mr. M-dash-dash” word. Yes, if someone laughingly calls a dad who stays at home with his children “Mr. Mom,” expect a minor war to break out. It’s not that “Mr. Mom” was not a funny and timeless film, (I watched it endlessly as a child of the 1980’s) it is just that the term is rather dismissive. It is as if society has still not quite grown comfortable with men being the primary caregiver for the children while mom is at work. So, to try to understand it, they use a reference from a movie that was released 30 years ago.
The main difference between “Mr. Mom” and today’s S.A.H.Ds is that the character of Jack, played by pre-Batman Michael Keaton, was forced into the role temporarily while laid off, whereas many of today’s fathers who care for their children have chosen that role.
Truth be told, it took me a long time to accept the role of the father who stayed at home. I had started working part-time at the early age of 14 and spent almost two decades having “water-cooler” conversations, and building camaraderie with my various sets of co-workers. When that all ended, it was hard to replicate that environment when the only ones to talk to all day are asking for their diapers to be changed or when the next episode of “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” will be coming on.
People can have their misconceptions about me or what I do, but for parents, the only thing that truly matters in life is to raise children the right way and prepare them for their own journey through life. Having a caring parent at home throughout their early years can only offer a positive influence on their lives in the future.
Now, that is not to say that a child who resides in daycare is worse off than one who stays at home with mom or dad. For me to insinuate that would be akin to someone throwing out the “Mr. M-dash-dash” word to me, but whenever anyone questions what I do, or how I do it, I know that I have and will always have a bond with my children that other fathers may be extremely envious of.
Does that make me a better father than one who works 40 to 60 hours a week far from home? Absolutely not, but it makes me comfortable with the choices my wife and I have made. It makes me feel lucky to have these little tykes as my “co-workers.”
So even on the days where I slide down the “love list” past the dog, the cat, the mailman and the lady who works childcare at the gym, it still feels good to be on that list.
And I will never stop trying to be number one.