Published in The Indianapolis Star, June 20, 1993.
He looked down at me from atop the scaffolding assembled in the family room where he was repairing the ceiling. I was headed for the kitchen to cook dinner after sending the children to the back of the house to play. Seeing me buzz through, he asked, “So, did you take the day off, or what?”
I froze. The essence of his question, of course, was ‘so what do you do?’, and you’d think, as many times as I’ve answered it, it would be easy.
It’s never easy. Sometimes I think I’m somewhere around the bottom of the list in terms of respect society attributes to certain jobs. I’m a stay-at-home dad.
Don’t get me wrong. I chose to do this, and I’m glad I’m doing it. But too many times I’ve encountered cynicism about being a stay-at-home dad. “What did your children get you for Mother’s Day?” I’ll get asked. Or, “Oh, so you’re Debbie’s wife.” I’m a little sensitive about the question.
I looked up at him. This young man had lightly asked a question he didn’t know was loaded. Fortunately, he hadn’t noticed yet I was stalling. My brain worked feverishly on a reply.
I’ve read the replies some stay-at-home moms use, and they are very tempting to adopt. Christine Davidson, author of the book Staying Home Instead, once told a woman she operated a 24-hour-a-day child-care center. Because she was the director of the center, she said, she was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I know how she feels.
My wife Debbie, how stayed at home with the children for four years before I started my stint, used to say she was a homemaker. She always said it plain and simple, without excuse.
I could never use the term “homemaker.” Besides the feminine connotation, it reminds me of an old Steve Allen joke. (“Tell me, Tony, are you a good homemaker?” “Why, yes. Just last night I made it home about 4 a.m.”)
The man on the scaffolding continued to look down at me, waiting for me to say something. He tilted his head as if to ask if I’d heard him. I cleared my throat to gain a few more seconds.
It struck me that if I was so sensitive about this, what reasons could I have possibly had for becoming a stay-at-home dad?
I know why I did it. I did it because of my beliefs. Particularly when children are young, I believe the family works better when there is a parent at home. Family psychologist John Rosemond calls this “undeniable truth.”
I believe in my children. The time we spend with them is an investment in the future.
My wife believes this, too. It’s why she spent four years at home. But after four years, she told me it had just become too much for her.
We decided something would have to change, but what? What price were we willing to pay for extra years of parental guidance for our children? For me, what I was about to say would be part of the price.
I took a deep breath. “I’m a stay-at-home dad,” I said. Then I added quickly, “And I free-lance a little at writing.”
Chicken, I thought.
“Oh, really?” he said. “You know, I envy you. I wish I could stay home with my kids.”
I smiled at him. How refreshing, I thought. Maybe society is changing. Maybe, in time, my occupation will become a little more accepted. I would be very happy to see it.
And more than just a little relieved.