A couple of weeks ago I was talking with a friend of mine who lives in the Midwest. It had been a few months since we had last spoken. I asked him to update me on the status of things—his job, his family etc. … I reciprocated. Fortunately, things are going good for both of us. During the conversation we discussed a number of things and past experiences. What was most interesting was the fact that he brought up the summer when he was a stay-at–home dad.
He further discussed how it was such a defining moment for him. The ups and downs as well as his likes and dislikes about his experience. He also discussed the challenges that such a role presented. As he further reflected on this earlier chapter of his life, it reminded me of a letter I received from an editor who was working with me on one of my previous books several years ago. The editor in question mentioned the fact that my manuscript was being transferred to another person due to the fact that he (yes he) was taking a leave of absence to be a stay-at-home dad for his two young daughters.
I must admit, at the time I had to look at the letter again to make certain that I read it accurately. I did. The fact is that my eyes were not playing tricks on me. My soon to be former editor was about to become a stay-at-home father.
He was/is not alone. According to the most recent 2010 census data, there were 158,000 stay-at-home fathers. This number was up from 140,000 in 2008. These men represent all races and socio-economic classes. The reasons for this phenomenon vary. Many economists argue that the faltering and sluggish economy disproportionately affected male dominated industries such as construction and manufacturing, thus such situations made it more likely that men who would not ordinarily consider, let alone dream of being in such a predicament nonetheless found themselves in such a role.
My friend was only in such a position for a brief period of time. He admitted that while most people were very supportive of his and his wife’s decision, there were some individuals who questioned the idea of a man staying at home while his wife went to work. Truth be told, there are more than a few people who harbor the idea that “real men” do not behave in such a non-traditional manner. David Worford, a blogger for about.com listed some of the most common misconceptions in his article about stay-at-home dads.
- He’s Sitting at Home Watching Sports All Day
- His Spouse Would Rather Be Home
- Men Don’t Stay Home With the Children
- Men Can’t Watch the Kids as Well as Women
- He Must Have Lost His job
- He Must Be Looking For a Job
- He Must Not Have Any Motivation
- He Is Not Masculine
All one has to do is visit websites about the topic to read stories of men constantly stating that every now and then they encounter someone who question their decision to take on a “woman’s role.” The stories are in many cases amusing, however, in some cases, the behavior of some people can be outright insulting. According to Worford, the best way to handle such people is to take the high road, open a dialogue, protect your children and have a sense of humor.
Despite such inappropriate comments from certain ignoramuses, it is heartwarming to read stories of fathers demonstrating their unconditional love for their children. Stories of dads reading nursery rhymes, changing diapers, washing dishes, attending school plays, watching their sons and daughters playing on the swings with other kids in the local park, making pancakes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, macaroni and cheese or preparing other meals for their kids and occasionally treating their kids to a couple of goodies (sweets) as well as bonding with other fathers discredit the responses of any naysayers who dare question the validity of men who stay at home with their children.
While none of my younger male colleagues are stay-at-home dads, the majority of them are young fathers and they frequently discuss their “adventures in fatherhood.” Like those of the bloggers, their stories can be amusing and endearing. For all those homebound fathers there are a number of blogs that such men can utilize in an effort to connect with fellow fathers in similar situations. Among such websites are:
- The Real Matt Daddy
- Almighty Dad
- Daddy’s Home
- The Hossman Chronicle
- Daddy Type
- At Home Dads
The reality is that as traditional gender roles in our society continue to transcend and long-held stigmas eradicate even further coupled with more women continuing to make their mark in once male-dominated corporate environments, the idea of stay-at-home dads will no longer be seen as foreign. Rather, it will be seen as “ideal.”
Dr. Elwood Watson is a professor of history, African American Studies, and Gender Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the author of several books and articles. His latest work Performing American Masculinities: The 21st Century Man in Popular Culture published by Indiana University Press.