Stay-At-Home Dads Are Weird

How do I know? Because I am one, and I'm all alone. But I also get to be around my son while he's growing up. And that's cool.

Fitler Square was where I realized that being a stay-at-home dad makes me weird. Yes, it’s the 21st century, and yes, gender roles are a bit more fluid than they used to be—but try taking your young son to the park on a weekday morning and you’ll quickly discover that things haven’t changed that much.

Why? Because at certain times of day, I can depend on there to be three groups in the park:

• The mommies.

• The nannies.

• Me.

Simply put, it’s more than a bit awkward—even after nearly two years of stay-at-home parenting—to be the lone adult male in a park filled with women and children. Society has taught us to be wary of such men. Everybody knows that daddies show up in the parks only on Saturdays to give moms a much-needed break, and I’m a huge exception to the rule.

But I can’t keep my almost-4-year-old son, Tobias, in the apartment all day. He needs fresh air, exercise, and the chance to make friends. So despite my outsiderness, I regularly take him out and endure the burden of being exotic.

Apparently, I’m not completely alone. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that stay-at-home dads are on the rise—growing from 81,000 “Mr. Moms” in 2001 to 176,000 last year. So I’m part of a national trend, even if that trend is still small enough to fit comfortably into a single (big) Philadelphia neighborhood.

I wish I could tell you that that my arrangement was the result of my feminist convictions, but that’s only half-true. The story is this: My wife and I moved to Philadelphia in mid-2008; Tobias was born a month later. And at the beginning of 2010, I lost the job that brought us here.

That’s when my wife drew a line. “It’s my turn” to have a career, she told me, firmly. After 18 months of parenting semi-alone in a new town, she was ready not to be home with the kid all day. She adores Tobias, but she also needed the chance to miss him now and again. It helped that my freelance writing career was becoming sustainable, putting me in a position to earn money and stay at home with the kid.

But it hasn’t been easy. At times, I wonder if I’m ruining him.

Why? Because writing takes sustained thought. And sustained thought is hard to come by when your kid needs clothes, needs to go outside, needs to go inside, needs something to eat, needs something to drink—”I’m so very hungry and firsty” are words he utters a dozen times a day—needs boo-boos kissed, needs a book read, needs a hug, needs to interrupt me when I’m on the phone, needs, needs, needs, needs everything but to take a goddamned nap once in awhile.

Sometimes I give him my iPad and send him off to watch Thomas The Tank Engine for a couple of hours—just so I can get some work done. Great parenting, right?

And yet …

My own dad is the hardest-working man I’ve ever known. When I was a young child, he worked full-time and went to college full-time. When I got a little older, he spent a fair amount of time on the road, traveling around the country to make money and support his family. What I didn’t realize until recently is that being “the man of the house” meant he had to forfeit big chunks of watching me grow up. And maybe that was a little painful for him.

Me? Often, my days start with Tobias crawling into bed with me and snuggling while I read the morning papers. We make up songs together—about peanut butter and jelly, about Doctor Who, about cleaning his room. You know what? I get to be there for my kid: I get to kiss the boo-boos, read a book, give a hug, and share lunch with him.

In a way, it’s not a big deal: Moms do this all the time. My mom did it. And I find myself appreciating her more now than I ever did: This stuff is hard work! Men still don’t often get the opportunity to spend this kind of sustained time and attention on their kids. Truth be told, many men probably don’t want that opportunity—or there’d be more of us doing it.

Tobias helped me review the
“Reading Rainbow” app for iPad

These days, I do a lot of my writing work for Macworld, mostly writing about iPads, iPhones, apps, and the like. On Wednesday, I got the assignment to write up the new Reading Rainbow app featuring LeVar Burton. Tobias crawled into my lap, and for a glorious hour working and parenting combined. It’s a privilege, I know, but for a short time this week I got to make my living reading an electronic storybook to my son.

That’s a hell of a thing. And if that makes me weird, so be it.