“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?
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.
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