This is my fifth year being a stay-at-home dad. I have a five-year old daughter and a two-month old daughter. This isn’t the role I expected to take when I graduated college, got married, graduated from seminary, and became a pastor, but it ended up being the role I have embraced with confidence. My wife and I every so often do a check-up of the abnormal roles we have taken on of stay-at-home dad and working mom, and after a brief examination we realize what we are doing really works and we couldn’t imagine doing life together any other way.
Staying at home now with our second daughter I’m reminded of all the emotion I felt the first time around. It was lonely and depressing being a new stay-at-home dad. I didn’t know then what I know now. Back then I thought I was alone in this, I felt ashamed for not being a working dad, and I felt a lack of purpose after being a pastor serving a congregation and “making a difference in the world.” Now I am a part of the National At-Home Dad Network and other dads groups who are in the trenches and breaking barriers of what a dad is on a daily basis. Now I proudly share that this is my job and my purpose. What I did as a pastor to empower people and help them believe in themselves and be who God made them to be and to be loving and kind to all people – especially outcasts, I now get to teach to my two daughters. I moved from a macro-congregation to my micro-family. My focus is on teaching my daughters to feel confident in who they are and to be loving and kind to everyone they meet. It’s amazing to watch this in action with my five-year old.
But being a stay-at-home dad is still not the norm in many circles. Parenting magazines and Parenting Facebook groups might as well be called Mom groups. I’m constantly changing quotes and memes that mention how hard it is to be a mom to include dads too. When they talk about how hard it is to keep the house clean as a mom, I’m like, “I do that too!” When they talk about how stressful and lonely it is as a mom, I’m like, “I’m with you!” Then they bad-mouth their husbands and the father of their children for not being involved, and I’m like, “Actually, my wife is dying to get home from work to help out and spend time with the kids.”
I once was talking with a group of moms and mentioned how tired I was and she said, “Oh, you poor baby…” mockingly. I was deeply offended because I have the same job of taking care of the kids and balancing everyone’s schedules and cleaning the house and cooking the meals and getting the kids to bed just like these moms. But then I considered the source. This mom didn’t have a husband who was active to care for her and the kids. The truth is moms have a right to complain. While I get upset at the lack of including dad in parenting groups, the truth is I’m the minority. For my wife and I, we know parenting is both of our jobs, even though I’m a stay-at-home dad. For the families where both parents work or the mom stays at home and the dad works, the mom is considered the go-to parent. The dad isn’t the active father he should be. He relies completely on the mom to be the parent, the maid, the chauffer, the chef, the finance manager, the budget planner, the party planner, the school liaison, and the domestic CEO.
My wife gets really annoyed when people say how great of a dad I am because I am coloring the sidewalk with chalk with the kids or I am taking the kids on an adventure or I’m playing dress-up with them. It’s not that she’s not really proud of what I do and loves that I’m an active father; it’s that it’s because she’s a hard-working mom that I’m able to do my job at home. And she’s a super mom too! But they don’t always see what she does or get amazed by it because moms are expected to be that way. See, dads get credit when we just show up. Moms have to be the Pinterest mom, the fit and healthy mom who makes fit and healthy meals for the kids, the designer mom who has the kids looking like fashion models and their projects have to be something that goes viral. Dads can put the kids pants on and stick a meal in the microwave and we’re great dads.
I usually fix my five-year old daughter’s hair every day. If we’re out in public and her hair looks great I get, “Oh, mom did a great job fixing her hair today!” And I say, “No, daddy fixes her hair every day.” If she has a bad hair day, I get, “Oh, daddy fixed her hair today…” I’m like, “I fix her hair every day dammit and today was a rough day so give me a break!”
The difference between moms and dads is expectations. Moms need to be cut some slack – working mom or not. They need some appreciation for what they do – because they’re awesome. Dads need to step it up. What I’m trying to change and what the stay-at-home dads and active fathers I know are trying to change is this: we’re parents too. It’s our job to change dirty diapers and get up in the middle of the night and to help cook and clean and to raise the expectations of what being a dad looks like.
There’s a lot of talk about masculinity today and redefining what that looks like (which has become controversial in some circles). Being the dad of two daughters the way I feel is being a dad who dresses up and plays with blocks and plays hide ‘n’ seek and who also loves my wife unconditionally and respects her and gives her mommy time is the most masculine thing I can do. I can show my two daughters what a real man looks like so they know how they should be treated if they choose to look for a husband and father to their children in the (very distant) future. Being a dad is my most important job. It is my greatest responsibility. It makes me more of a man than any power I could have or money I could make or difference I could make in this world. Loving my girls and nurturing and caring for them and empowering them to be awesome is not mom’s job. It’s a parent’s job. And parenting should always include dads.