The Man At Home

Stay-at-home dad. Ashten with our two daughters on the day we brought our youngest home from the hospital
Ashten with our two daughters at their first meeting

With today being International Men’s Day I wanted to concentrate this post on the most important man in my life, my husband. International Men’s Day focuses on men’s health, improving gender relations, highlighting male role models, and promoting positive expressions of masculinity.

This year, the theme for International Men’s Day is “Better Relations Between Men and Women.”

Our society hasn’t really grown to a point where they’re comfortable with the concept of women being at work. Thus, they’re not going to be comfortable with a man staying at home.”

As a society, we most often hear of the experiences of women, from single mothers to even stay-at-home moms. However, we very rarely showcase the dads or try to understand their own unique experiences in the role.

This is an interview I conducted with my husband which focuses on his time as a stay-at-home dad, the stigmas and various social issues surrounding the concepts of gender roles, masculinity, and much more.

1. How did becoming a stay-at-home dad begin for you?

Well, around the time I was getting out of the Marine Corps I needed time to decompress. You were pregnant so it was just a matter of what were going to be our next steps. We both came to the conclusion that it would work better for us if I stayed at home with Eris.

Work better financially or for ‘us’?

Yeah, yeah, financially and for us. I mean, childcare is a thing that a lot of people dread. I know a lot of families who are sort of forced into the position where both members have to work. And that’s a very big thing, a very modern trend that is going on, the dual work households.

But we did have the flexibility of you being in the military at the time and it just made sense. Who can raise your child better than you? So, yeah, that was the big motivation behind it. I think I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would.

2. How do you feel about the fixed ‘Provider’ social role for men in our society?

I think it’s archaic. It’s archaic just because the last couple years there have been a lot of pushes for women in the workforce. Or at least there have been working women being acknowledged for what they are. Our society hasn’t really grown to a point where they’re comfortable with the concept of women being at work. Thus they’re not going to be comfortable with a man staying at home.

It’s a point of contention that I have experienced just in casual conversation with people. They were like “Oh you do that? That’s interesting, what does your wife think?” It’s like bro, obviously my wife fuckin knows [Laughter]. But, it’s that internal programming where we think we have to fulfill some certain component in society regardless of our intention to fulfill it, or if we even are.

“What does it mean to be a man?” I think that’s a hard thing to put into words…I’ve always considered the only thing a man can be, is himself.

It’ll take time for us to get past it. I think that as more women continue to be active in the workforce and people start understanding that we don’t really exist within those gender norms then we will change and evolve, as all things do. And in time the idea of a stay-at-home dad will become more commonplace.

3. With the modern upward trend of stay-at-home dads, do you think it is redefining masculinity?

I don’t know about redefining it. If you’re looking at like old school days, then yeah I guess. I don’t feel like the idea of masculinity has been so closely attached to that as people think it is.

Would you say that it’s socially considered “manly” or “masculine” still to be the provider? It’s really where that man of the house title comes from. The concept of you are the ‘executive, financial provider, and head of the household’. If you aren’t those accepted things then society just looks at men like, “Then what are you?”

Yeah, but I don’t think we exist within the little cartoony sitcom world that exists within television. I’ve never really considered it to be an adequate representation of what it means to be a man. That idea of the head of the household, in a lot of cultures, means that, running the household. I mean, that is still by definition the role of whoever is at home.

So, I mean, no [Laughter]. But I think that the parts that would be redefining masculinity would be that “man not at work” concept. The fact that it’s attached to masculinity is one of those things that exemplifies those more negative aspects of it. When I think of masculinity I don’t really focus on things like that. I more so think of the “way of the man” or the way of the individual. You know, that Clint Eastwood idea of masculinity where you’re carving your own path doing your own thing. I don’t think that is how some people view it but that’s how I’ve always viewed it.

Yeah definitely, I get what you’re saying. I agree, one of those negative aspects is when society tells men, “You’re not a man unless you’re working!” I mean, did you personally experience that at all when you were a stay-at-home dad? Or did you ever feel like your importance as a man was being judged and weighed by what you were doing with your time or with yourself?

See, that probably comes into my own interpretation. I’ve always felt like only a lesser man would say something like that. “What does it mean to be a man?” I think that’s a hard thing to put into words. Especially when you have so many outside influences. That’s why I’ve always considered the only thing a man can be, is himself.

Right? And in that, if you’re trying to adhere to some sort of rules or standards for what it is to be a man then, no, you’re just a follower. That is the opposite of what it’s supposed to represent. A man is supposed to cut his own path. That is the concept behind even the most rugged of men. The men who tread the path of all who followed.

4. Did you ever struggle with self-worth or pride?

In the beginning, yeah, it was definitely a big thing that I stressed over. I had to get over myself to get over that aspect, the thing that was a part of my identity. You go to work, you go home, come back to your people shed, and then you wash, rinse, repeat. You know I, and every man I’ve ever known, have enacted that way of life. For me to stray from it, even though I can say now it’s flawed that we are expected to live this way, it was a thing I had to get over myself. I had to realize it was just about doing what was right for my family.

As I said, we came to the conclusion that we’re making enough. There was no point in me getting a job when most jobs in Jacksonville were service jobs before $15/hr. was a thing. I would have been going to work to pay for childcare and that would have become redundant. I would’ve literally been going to work for the sole fact of keeping the appearance of being a man. That is just dumb. That’s that dog and pony show that makes no sense in the terms of stupid things we do for social reasons.

5. What were the biggest challenges you faced?

Biggest challenges, I’m gonna be honest, it was pretty easy. I’m, as you know, an older brother, so I have been around kids my entire life. So, being around Eris when she was growing up I already had a cemented understanding of what I was doing.

When your partner comes home from their place of work it then becomes co-parenting. So, you are literally never leaving that role or job, and that is what causes friction.

The biggest thing I had to learn was how we were going to interact. Cause I would spend all day with Eris and you’d come home expecting a different experience from me. But it was like, Ok, I watched the baby all day, your turn [Laughter].

And then a typical response from me. Ok, damn let me take my boots off, decompress from work, take a shower [Laughter].

I think it was a thing that you never really got ‘til you got out. Cause then you spent more time with them and it was like ok yeah I definitely need some adult time. I need my alone time, to be out of the child atmosphere that I have been surrounded by. I mean, it can be overwhelming, they do have a lot of demands, they do have a lot of needs, but that is what it is.

Were you ever or more able to take part in hobbies or things you have a personal interest in?

Yeah, I had time to actually do things. I’ve always been a really cerebral person who likes to do things. Constantly being in the day-to-day of working I didn’t have the opportunity to really indulge in any of those things.

I ended up trading stocks as I was able to do research and understand how it worked. That’s really only because I had the time to be at home to do it. I wouldn’t have been able to do that under any other circumstances. I don’t think that, with the amount of research and time that is needed, it would’ve been possible without having space and time to 100% concentrate on it.

6. Did you ever feel stigmatized for being a stay-at-home dad?

Uh, yeah, absolutely. After I got out, dealing with anyone from within our direct circle people were like, “Oh, you’re living the dream bro!” That just completely trivializes the work that I had to put in on a daily basis. Or it was, “Why aren’t you doing something?” and I experienced that a lot from my family, my dad especially, that was a big thing.

“Oh, you’re living the dream bro!”

“Why aren’t you doing something?”

I tried being very direct about it in the very beginning. Later on, when I realized he just wasn’t getting it I was like alright, fuck it. I’d say things like, “I don’t know, I’m figuring it out” you know, to do something. But I mean, that’s exactly what I was doing, I was a stay-at-home dad. It’s like if you don’t get it then you don’t get it, but I have my own shit to worry about.

7. Did you learn anything new about yourself or your partner?

I learned that not all mothers are made equal. Nah I’m joking [Laughter]. No, I learned that you needed more practice. I think that when it came time for you to be around the girls more you had to start from square one. It was a complete learning process for you.

And you were super protective about everything, it was super funny too. Like, they needed to learn to cry, they needed to learn to cope. I mean that’s parenting 102 [Laughter]. That’s the next phase, you know, you gotta let them work it out a little bit. When you are there for the certain cries, you learn what the certain cries mean.

Man, that would stress me out and leave me feeling useless. I would hear them crying and be frantically trying to figure out what was wrong. You’d just be like, oh that’s the tired cry, that’s the pick me up cry, that’s the I’m hungry cry, and that’s just the I’m crying to cry, cry. Do you think that came from your personal experience growing up, being with our girls constantly from infancy, or both?

The comfort came from being around kids for most of my life. Being able to manage, knowing what to do came from being at home. I definitely spent enough time around them in those developmental stages.

You spent some time too, I mean you had a pretty good maternity leave. You still couldn’t be there all the time though. So, throughout the day when a lot of things are going on you couldn’t be there. I think you were there for pretty much all of the important things, like their first steps. I don’t think you missed any of the important things like that.

We see a lot of parents butt heads about that. They say things like, “You’re never here” or “You never help me out around here” and “You’re always working, all you do is work.” Was that ever how you felt?

It was, but as time went on I realized that was short-sighted. It’s not that you weren’t there or you were going out of the way to not be there, even though you were going out of your way sometimes to not be there [Laughter].

When you’re the stay-at-home parent you definitely put that burden a lot more on your partner to understand your position, which is due to a lack of communication.

But if you’re at home, then that’s your place of work. When your partner comes home from their place of work it then becomes co-parenting. So, you are literally never leaving that role or job, and that is what causes friction.

When you’re the stay-at-home parent you definitely put that burden a lot more on your partner to understand your position, which is due to a lack of communication. That’s a thing that you eventually have to figure out a time and proper way to communicate. You gotta realize they’re not escaping the house just because they have to go to work, they are at work.

They’re doing their best to provide for the house, the same way you are. It’s just a lot of that getting out of the first-person view, learning a little bit of sympathy and empathy. Of course, having that expectation of going to work my entire life made it easier to understand.

8. What was one of the most important things you have learned from your experience as a stay-at-home dad?

Whew! Everything is a choking hazard and kids are awful little things that just like to sneak. You think they’re being good, but they’re not, they’re doing the exact opposite. They’re finding all those little things that they shouldn’t be messing with. They’re going to ruin them or they’re going to ruin other things with those things. Yeah um, RIP the two TVs [Laughter]. But it is what it is.

9. What would you say to women to help bridge the gap of understanding one another in regards to a man’s role in society or the male experience for those that stay-at-home?

Be more understanding. Yeah, just be understanding. It’s not easy deprogramming yourself from behaving or feeling the need to act in a certain way. Those growing pains, they can be difficult. Just be understanding.

If a dude needs time to go for a walk, let him go for a walk. I think all of the things that we say to husbands as a society work for women as well. Be patient, be understanding, value their time, show them you care. Just be there.

Do you think men value stay-at-home moms?

No, I feel like that is a societal failing. We don’t put enough importance on the people at home. I know my mother homeschooled us by her own choice and even before she decided to do that she was an active player in our life.

Without that kind of influence, I wouldn’t be the person that I am and for that reason, I owe her me doing as best I can for my children. That’s how I was raised, those were the expectations that I was given. That’s not to say anything about my dad, that’s not to say he didn’t bust his ass, because he definitely did.

I’d say it’s a unit, a team, and everyone needs to have their game cap on.

Do you feel like your experience has helped you to better understand stay-at-home moms?

No, we are simply built differently, I just cannot relate [Laughter]. But yeah, you know, I finally understand that meme of the nagging wife, that was me. It all comes down to understanding, it’s hard to see someone else’s side of things until you choose to look outside of the first-person view.

I think that we can interpret a lot of how another person behaves and overreact like they’re disregarding us. But how much can you understand if you’re not in my position? Likewise, how much of what you’re going through can I understand?

The nagging wife concept only works within the realm of no one really communicating with each other properly. There’s a reason why it holds up, not saying it holds any water, but it reflects reality. We as people lack the ability to communicate sometimes.

10. Is there a message or any advice that you would like to give to other stay-at-home dads?

Just do your best homie. Kids will let you know what they need. And if you’re a stay-at-home husband and don’t have kids then do your best there too. You’re not upholden to anyone or really any societal expectations other than yourself and the person that you love. When it comes down to it everyone’s just pretending to know what they’re doing. If you’re moving forward with staying at home then just do what you’re going to do and stay dedicated to it. And for couples, drop the expectations of what society says you’re supposed to be doing. Do whatever it is that you need to do.

11. So, is it a choice that you would make again?

Absolutely not, maybe [Laughter]. I love our girls, I definitely value the time that we spent and continue to spend together. So yeah, I don’t think I would rather have done it any other way.

Stay-at-home dad collage.

In 2016, Pew Research data showed that 17% of all stay-at-home parents were fathers, which shows the number of stay-at-home dads had nearly doubled. I can also imagine that this number has only drastically increased due to the impacts of COVID-19.

What I find deeply discouraging is how much we act as if men must have it easier as the stay-at-home parent. At the same time, we are congratulating and uplifting stay-at-home mother’s for all of the hard work and dedication they put into child rearing. It’s as if we do understand that it is laborious work. That the job takes a toll on the individual, yet somehow society seems to expect men to handle it with ease.

Stay-at-home dad’s are continuing to experience being viewed as nothing more than a temporary babysitter which deserves a lot more attention in social discussions. Their role at home needs to be equally recognized for the job and role they are fulfilling, a full-time parent.

I think it is beautiful that men are increasingly choosing to stay-at-home. It most certainly is something that should be celebrated more in our society, not judged or demeaned.

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