Dads’ Group Makes Mom Feel Right At-Home by Lisa Duggan

AHD Convention My Dream

“Jobs come and go, raising kids does not.” — At-Home Dad

 

Tomorrow, Sunday June 17 is Father’s Day in the United States, but I’ve had dads on my mind all week long. Truthfully, I’ve had dads on my mind for a number of years now. I think today’s fathers are pretty remarkable, and I hang out with them every chance I get. Last October I had the distinct pleasure of being the first paying, female attendee at The Annual At-Home Dad Convention hosted by The National At-Home Dad Network (formerly known as Daddyshome Inc.).

Started in 1995 by three dads in the Washington Metro DC area, the At-Home Network now provides a space for discussion and support for at-home fathers all over the world, via their website and online forums, and in-real-life in 27 chapters across the United States. They write regularly on the state of at-home fatherhood, their growing influence evident in their ability last year to convince Time Magazine to change the misleading title, and respective URL, of a story about unemployed men: “Unemployed Men Are More Likely to Divorce”, formerly titled, “Why It’s Not Okay For Dads To Stay Home With The Kids”.

Scholarships to the convention are provided for dads who cannot afford to attend, and both in the planning of the program and in the price of the ticket, great consideration is given to families living on one income. Registration for this year’s convention, to be held on October 6, in Washington, DC, is now open.

Last year’s keynote was given by Dr. Aaron Rochlen, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin, who researches and writes about the lives of men in non-traditional work-family roles. I joined Dr. Rochlen, and over sixty fathers, to discuss sleep issues, discipline, education, picky eaters, childcare costs, how to keep your marriage alive after parenthood and the challenges of doing a job that our culture does not properly acknowledge nor appreciate.

Technically I was there as press, (and as a sponsor, as The Parent du Jour) and so I was limited in the sessions I could sit in on. This was done in deference to the fathers attending, to ensure a safe, supportive environment where they could speak freely about their experience and their feelings. When I think about the dads I met last year, I think of Seth Godin’s instruction to “find your tribe”.

What does a tribe of stay-at-home, male caregivers look like, you might ask?

Well….like men.

They were dressed like men; in shorts or jeans, in button-downs, t-shirts or polos, in sneakers or in the case of one special dad, those odd, all-terrain shoes with toe cleavage. They spoke, like men. Of their beloved sports’ team and players, of their grills and cars, and of their favorite beverages—boasting (or bemoaning) the quantity of their past consumption or contemplating their future consumption of same. They teased  — one another, not me — like men. Poking fun at Mr. Toe Cleavage, at another dad’s girth, or asking dads not to “approach the front to speak unless they had recently showered.”

They were not rowdy but they were naturally loud. They were gracious but not insincerely deferential. I fit in – not at all. Although normally an outrageous big mouth, I chose to listen more than I talked. Sports? My husband is a single-sport man so other than the Mets, I have no idea what team is playing let alone what sport ‘season’ it is. I avoid touching the grill at all costs and of cars, I speak not: I’m still driving an 11 year-old PathFinder.

But…still. I felt very much at home.

Despite our undeniable, biological differences (I was the only one who felt the rooms were too cold) I recognized these men as my peers and colleagues. Like me, they had also quit their job or stepped out of a lucrative career to take care of their kids while their spouse worked, sacrificing their status, their income and their sanity. They talked about many of the same issues my mommy-friends and I discuss, or are covered (ad nauseum) by the mommy-blogging world, including the fear that they were doing it all wrong — or the satisfaction in feeling that they were doing it right.

At the end of the convention I knew that my at-home daddy friends and I wanted the same thing: to know our sacrifices were not made in vain. To feel appreciated. To know that we count.

COUNTING AT-HOME DADS

The single most defining characteristic of the at-home landscape is the absence of men doing the traditional work of mothers, in numbers equal to women. Yes, the percentage of dads assuming the role of daily caregiver is rising, but although the 2011 US Census report found that 32% of all married fathers are primary caregivers, the statistics don’t tell the full story. As Al Watts, President of the At-Home Dad Network explained;

 “Statistics on at-home dads are very confusing. The Census is to blame. The average person would consider the terms “primary caregiver” and “at-home dad” to be synonymous. To the Census, they are not. To the Census an “at-home dad” is one who is out of the workforce and whose spouse has been in the workforce for the previous 52 weeks.

Note the significance of a couple examples: if a dad works freelance (like me) or part time, he is NOT an at-home dad; if he didn’t work at all but his wife was out of work for two weeks when she changed companies, he is not an at-home dad either. This narrow definition is why the statistic you have is so low. Almost no one you met at the convention last year would be considered an at-home dad by the Census’s definition.

Does that make sense? Only if you are a statistician with the Census…

Primary caregiver, according to the Census, includes fathers who do the majority of care during the week. As I said, most of these dads would be considered “at-home dads” by the general public. This is why we clearly define our mission as “support, education and advocacy for fathers who are primary caregivers”. We are trying to bridge the gap between the Census and the general public by explaining that “primary, caregiving fathers” are in fact what most people would call “at-home dads.”

Al tells me that he has not been able to determine with any certainty if at-home moms are defined using the same criteria as at-home dads by the Census. His suspicion is that they are not. Vice President Jim O’Dowd writes eloquently about these discrepancies here, for Role/Reboot.

THE EVOLUTION OF DAD

Maybe I’m more impressed by tenderness when it comes from a tough hand.  Men have a harsh history to overcome— where war-making and whore-mongering, brute force and dominance were considered masculine virtues. And from a contemporary culture still happy to hand every little boy a blue hammer and shout, “Have at it, son!”

Much has been written about the affect a father’s absence has on their children, but what of the affect on a father? We live in a culture that has normalized the separation of men from their families.The decision made by these fathers to inculcate their nurturing side and to support and promote that nurturing nature in other men is remarkable.

They say it happened with the coming of the Industrial Age, when men were called away from the micro-economies that previously made up our country — farms & small towns— to satisfy the need for an enormous, continuous workforce to fuel a new scale of unprecedented, mass production. Men traded long hours and longer commutes in exchange for the economic means to feed, house and educate their families, also on an unprecedented scale. This change also meant that women increasingly shouldered all of the responsibilities associated with rearing kids, normalizing the Super Mom, the mother that “does it all”. And kids as corporate orphans, who only saw daddy on the weekend, if at all.

These men swim against a tough tide. But the tide is turning.

The fathers of the at-home network and other dads we know — both dads working full or part-time jobs —are pushing back against these norms, to reclaim their right to be intimately and actively involved with raising their kids. This cultural shift is being documented through the personal stories of more than a few dads, who reject the culture’s characterization of them as clueless or emotionally distant, like; filmmaker Dana Glazer, producer of “The Evolution of Dad”; Professor Don N. S. Unger, author of “Men CAN: The Changing Image & Reality of Fatherhood in America” and Lance Somerfield and Matt Schneider, co-organizers of the NYC Dads Group and their over 500 members.

Rather than an evolution of fatherhood, as Dana’s film suggests, perhaps it’s a restoration— of what was lost so long ago.

Stay-at-home fathers are no longer a novelty. They are no longer an after-thought wrought by economic uncertainty. Men are choosing to quit their jobs, to sacrifice hard-won positions in corporate America earned by education and experience, so they might dedicate years of their lives—as many as they deem necessary—to provide the loving, daily care for their children and families. By their very existence they are liberating our social conventions, our long-held, traditional gender roles, our inter-personal relationships and our playgrounds, forever.

These fathers offer a vision of a future where women are finally and fully liberated, free to pursue their ambitions and adventures, secure in the knowledge that they leave their children in the competent, loving hands of a dedicated parent.

I wish that I could report that I had been joined at the convention by editors from all the national parenting titles, or reporters from national media outlets, but I wasn’t. I maintain that a powerful, experienced group of stay-at-home dads, organizing and training the next generation of fathers is the lead story —and we’d better all get on it.

 

Follow the At-Home Dads @Daddyshomeinc

Lisa Duggan

Lisa Duggan is the Founder and CEO of The Modern Village, and publisher of TheParentduJour.com and TheMotherHoodBlog.com.

12 thoughts on “Dads’ Group Makes Mom Feel Right At-Home by Lisa Duggan

  • June 15, 2012 at 9:30 pm
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    Lisa,

    What a lovely post! The Restoration of Dad. Hmmm. Maybe I did miss the mark with The Evolution moniker:) Regardless, it’s moms like you that are going to make the difference in all of the changes that dads are going through, and I thank you for that – as I’m sure will other dads who take the time to read your article or check out the other fantastic work you do on this site.

    Dana

    Reply
    • June 21, 2012 at 4:13 pm
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      Dana, your film came out in 2010 — you are clearly a leader for the cultural change in how fathers are perceived and the choices they make. I learned so much from Evolution of Dad, and although you might not see the evidence of it everyday, the thoughts and ideas expressed in your movie keep rippling out.

      Reply
  • June 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm
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    Thank you for this wonderful article! I have been an at-home-dad for nearly 16 years now. I attended one of the conventions in the late ’90s, and we were definitely still a novelty then. There were members of the press from Chicago and even the New York Times present to take pictures and ask questions. When the world didn’t end January 1, 2000, I ended up with my picture (in a group) on the front page of the NY Times, with an article about us. Things have gotten better, for sure. When my kids were babies, it was almost impossible to find a changing table in a men’s room, for instance. I still sometimes feel a bit excluded or “humored” by some of the moms at school volunteer activities, but that is better now as well (I am a former high school science teacher.) Again, thanks for the great writeup! You made my day!

    Reply
    • June 21, 2012 at 4:18 pm
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      hi Rusty, thanks for the comment and the kind words. It’s hard to believe that you and so many other dads (Hogan Hilling comes to mind) have been staying home for as long as you have and the world is just starting to notice now. I really do feel that fathers are the answer to so many of our cultural ills — like the need for quality childcare and elderly care, which right now are unfairly heaped upon a woman’s shoulders — and quite frankly, when I quit work to stay home I missed all of my male colleagues. It’s good to see so many more of you “here” now. PS I would love it if you would consider contributing your story for our A Dad a Day series. Take a look at some of the Dads on our site and let me know.

      Peace.

      Reply
  • June 22, 2012 at 12:58 pm
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    Lisa,

    Thank you for the wonderful,
    eloquent article about and in support of at-home dads. It was truly a pleasure to have a woman
    in attendance who not only gets it but also embraces the at-home dad lifestyle.

    As a 20 year
    at-home dad veteran I was very
    touched by your article. There are
    no words to describe how much I appreciate you.

    I’m so happy for
    today’s at-home dads because they have the support of wonderful women like you
    that I didn’t have when I came out of
    the pantry in 1991.

    Today’s fathers are
    truly blessed to have a woman like you as an advocate for fatherhood.

    Keep up the good
    work.

    Hogan Hilling

    Reply
    • June 22, 2012 at 1:30 pm
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      Thank you Hogan! I’m sure when you started down the path of stay-at-home fatherhood you didn’t imagine yourself an educator or a leader, but you’ve become both. Thanks for sharing with other dads (and moms!) what you’ve learned along the way.

      Reply
      • June 22, 2012 at 1:33 pm
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        You’re welcome. Nope I didn’t. But grateful for the opportunity and all the awesome fathers I’ve met along the way. They have all truly been an inspiration.

        Reply
  • June 25, 2012 at 12:28 pm
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    Hi Lisa, what a great story – thanks for sharing. I was particularly interested to read it because I just signed up for the convention this year! I have had a great time getting to know a few of the dads involved and feel honored and excited about joining in some of their discussions. I’ve been talking to a few stay-at-home-dads and have written about my experience so far (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/cara-mcdonough/dads_b_1524862.html) but I know I have so much more to learn from these wonderful fathers. Keep up the great work – I love the site!

    Reply
    • June 26, 2012 at 12:02 am
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      hi Cara,

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I think you’re incredibly lucky to be joining the Dads this year — I wish I were going back but can’t make it this year. Have a great time and be sure to share your reporting with us.

      Reply
  • Pingback: NYC Dads and Stay At Home Dads Group: Start Planning for the … | washingtondcarea.info

  • July 12, 2012 at 11:34 pm
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    Hi,

    Nice story. I attended 9 of the first 10 and was a moderator for a number of sessions during those conventions. My girls are now 24 and 21 and I will proclaim our family’s grand experiment a success, as will most dads who stay at home. Over the past 20 years there has been very little difference in how we are covered by the press. There is a lot of surprise that we are around and some novelty angle or the observation that we are really guys who do what other guys do. What has changed is that this current generation of dads is more organized on local levels and nationally and they are more willing to challenge the stereotypes wherever they find them. In the end, what we should be striving for is that we disappear from the press and we are just recognized as parents who make a choice to stay at home who happen to be guys

    Reply
    • July 17, 2012 at 12:45 pm
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      Hi Marty, Thank you so much for reading and commenting. When I hear your success story I can’t help but think about how lucky the next generation is — your kids, and mine too — who will benefit from having a Dad at-home, and the world-changing, positive modeling they experienced. The way they think about men, and women, and what they “should” or “should not” do, or how they should behave, is blown wide-open by having a Dad who is in charge at home. Miles better and more effective than any book or speech telling them, “you can do anything”!

      Reply

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