I’m one of those guys you hear about breaking the mold on what it means to be a man today: a stay-at-home dad. I’ve been at it for five years, ever since our son was born, and now we’ve got a daughter who is closing in on her third birthday. They’re healthy, happy, and alive, so I think I’m finally starting to figure this parenting thing out.
In Natick, where we live, stay-at-home fathers aren’t a rare sight these days. There are as many as 2 million of us around the country now, nearly double the number in 1989. And we’re a diverse group: young and old, straight and gay, well-off and just scraping by. The fact is, we’re everywhere.
Although we’re still far outnumbered by moms, you’d think modern dads would be respected for breaking down gender stereotypes. Turns out it doesn’t really work that way. Even in 2016 it’s tough to be an at-home dad, and for reasons you wouldn’t necessarily expect.
Here are five things that people get all wrong about us.
WE’RE NOT CAREER BURNOUTS
The Great Recession helped temporarily swell the ranks of stay-at-home dads to around 2.2 million by 2010, and it’s safe to assume not all those guys were happy to take on their new duties. But a growing number of us are actually choosing this job, not having it foisted on us.
Still, many assume we’re watching the kids because we can’t do anything else. A 2013 Boston College survey of at-home dads found “it was common for friends and family members of many of the fathers to regard their at-home role as temporary, wondering when they were going to get jobs.”
I already have a job. I’m a full-time father.
STAY-AT-HOME MOMS CAN BE MEAN GIRLS
I once arranged a playdate for my son with his friend’s mom. As soon as we got to the playground, she took off to talk to some other mothers and never came back.
For generations, stay-at-home moms have understood the many challenges of dealing with children hour by hour, day by day without getting the support they deserve. But the irony is that some of these moms aren’t very good at welcoming dads doing the same work.
I think dads are still seen as the parenting JV squad — the baby sitters keeping watch until mom returns home — not active participants in a child’s growth and development. Hey, let’s get something straight: Dads are doers. We’re in the same trenches and do the same job serving meals, wiping butts, and folding bras.
Try inviting my kids (and me) over for a playdate. You might find we’ve got a lot in common.
THE DADS AREN’T ANY BETTER
With more hombres on the home front, you’d think playgrounds would be booming with bromances. Not quite.
Visit a park before nap time and you’re likely to see clusters of moms talking while dads stand apart, scowling into their smartphones. I’ve tried to talk to some of my fellow fathers, but they put up the kind of wall Donald Trump is always talking about.
Perhaps the problem is they are embarrassed. After all, we live in a culture that judges men more by the size of their paychecks than the happiness of their children. But guys, you’ve gotta get over yourselves. As Elsa says, “Let it go.’’
WE NEVER SAID WE WERE PERFECT
Not long ago, I took the kids to their favorite playground. As my daughter napped in a car seat beside me and my son was running around, I decided to take a minute to check SportsCenter on my iPhone — that’s, of course, the moment my son took a bad tumble down a slide.
After a visit to the emergency room, where a nurse wrapped his knee, my wife and I agreed to keep a closer eye on our boy — me by paying better attention at the playground, she through a body cam.
BUT WE STILL DESERVE YOUR RESPECT
It’s not all bad news for dads. I once read a CNN.com report, for instance, that found ladies find at-home fathers sexy for how we nurture our children and our scruffy beards. It’s nice to know we arouse something other than suspicion.
Yet most Americans still believe moms are better parents. One survey found that 51 percent of respondents felt kids were better off with a stay-at-home mother rather than a working one. Only 8 percent felt the same way about a stay-at-home father. See what I’m up against?
So let’s have a little more respect for the stay-at-home dads who give it their best shot. This job isn’t easy. Raising kids well takes Brady’s guts, Bond’s cool, and Elmo’s energy. We’re trying to be a bedrock for boys and a go-to for girls, just like moms, and we’re succeeding more than we’re failing.
Don’t believe me? Talk to my wife. She’s got the video feed to prove it.
Anthony C. Fireman is a writer in Natick. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
STAY-AT-HOME DAD BY CHOICE
> 5% — Percentage of stay-at-home fathers who were home primarily to care for family (rather than because of illness or unemployment, for example) in 1989
> 21% — Percentage in 2012
Source: Pew Research Center