Stay-At-Home Dads Speak Out
Danny, Michael, Chuck, Stuart and Mark worked day jobs for a living. Then, one day, they slipped out of their expected career paths onto a new road, one traveled with small children ready for a long walk in Velcroed shoes. Now they are at-home fathers. They are not alone.
There were roughly 154,000 at-home fathers in 2010, compared to 93,000 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. However, Daddyshome Inc., a national website for at-home fathers, disputes the Census Bureau’s numbers.
“Perhaps a more accurate number is the U.S. Census report on Childcare Arrangements, in which 25 percent of the 11.3 million U.S. children under 5 are being cared for by their father, while mom is at work,” according to the Daddyshome website. “If we assume that each of these fathers is caring for, on average, two children, the true number is about 1.5 million at-home dads.”
Approximately 1.5 million at-home fathers is the equivalent of roughly all of Idaho populated with men doing, as their critics might say, a woman’s job.
Woman’s job? Hogan Hilling begs to differ. The Californian is a Daddyshome board member, a fatherhood author and the married father of three sons ages 23, 21, and 17.
“At-home fathers have high self-esteem, and realize after several months they can do the job just as well as their wives,” Hilling said. “They wish to parent like a dad and not like a mother. And they understand that being a real man is more than just about his earning power.”
While more men are enjoying their role as daytime dads (and pushing against decades of gender role stereotypes), more women are trading diapers for daytimers. According to a January 2010 publication by the Pew Research Center titled “New Economics of Marriage: The Rise of Wives,” women have, in recent decades, outpaced men in education and earnings growth.
According to the study, in 1970, 20 percent of women between the ages of 30 and 44 were married to men who were less educated than they. That number grew to 28 percent in 2007. In 1970, only four percent of husbands were married to wives who brought home more money than they. That number was 22 percent in 2007.
The statistics of traditional gender role shifts hold true in Tulsa. Local couples are renegotiating their employment situations following the birth of a child, which sometimes means that Dad becomes the stay-at-home parent while Mom takes the role of breadwinner.
Meet Some Local SAHDs
Stuart Dervish with 5-month-old daughter Nora.
Stuart was the manager at a local tie-dye factory, and his wife Catherine is a pharmacist. Before their daughter was born, both parents assumed they’d return to work following Catherine’s maternity leave. But then an employee of the cay care facility they’d selected to care of their infant was charged with child abuse.
“I think [the day care administrators] did everything right – the background checks, [making] rules to where that kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen – and it still did,” Stuart said. “When that happened, we sat down and talked and decided no one was going to love and take care of our daughter like we would.”
The family wouldn’t survive on Stuart’s income, but it could on Catherine’s.
Stuart is currently taking evening classes with the goal of getting an engineering degree. At that point, he and his wife hope that he can get a job that will allow her to spend more time at home. But, for the time being, Stuart enjoys being home.
“I’m absolutely the traditional housewife,” he said. “I’ve got a load of laundry in right now. Tomorrow is clean-the-house day. She’s the lactating, working dad, and I’m the bottle-feeding, stay-at-home mom.”
Mark Hodge with 10-month-old Hadley with Brewer, 2, Brady, 4, and Hayden, 5.
Mark Hodge is the stay-at-home father of four kids, ages 5, 4, 2 and 10 months. His wife, Michelle Linn, is the co-anchor for FOX23 News Daybreak. The family moved to Tulsa from Columbia, Mo., in January of this year, in part because Michelle’s higher-paying job close to Mark’s hometown allowed him to stay home full-time with their children.
In Columbia, he worked for the Missouri Department of Conservation and, rather than put their kids in day care, the couple alternated their schedules. Michelle worked mornings for the ABC affiliate in Columbia, then stayed home with the kids in the afternoon while her husband worked.
But they didn’t get to spend much quality time together, and Michelle wasn’t getting enough sleep.
Mark says he doesn’t miss working, though he does, on occasion, crave some adult stimulation. Other than that, though, he enjoys being at home with his children. And the family only required a couple of minor adjustments in order to acclimate to their new situation.
“It was hard for (Linn) at first, giving up some of the control at home, like how to do the housework,” Mark said. “If I’m home with the kids all day, I have to be in charge of all that stuff. We decided, if I was going to stay home, it needed to be my full-time job, rather than me watching the kids while she was at work and then me watching them while she cleaned the house.”
Danny Morris with son Beau and daughter Bella
Before Danny Morris, 37, married his wife Bernie some eight years ago, the couple agreed Danny would someday become an at-home father. So when their now 3-year-old son Beau was born, Bernie went back to work at Blessings International, which provides pharmaceuticals and medical supplies for Christian ministries in developing nations. As for Danny, he became an at-home father who eventually cut back his work hours at Trophy & Plaque Plus to 9 p.m.-midnight almost every weeknight, and a few hours on Saturdays and Sundays.
Later, the couple’s roughly 1-year-old daughter Bella gave Danny yet another reason to stay home.
“It’s an adventure, I’ll tell you that much,” Danny said, “but it’s fun.”
Michael Drummond with son Braxton and twins Preston and Peyton
Some people know Michael Drummond from his days playing trombone with the Tulsa-based world music group Citizen Mundi, and with his current party band the Jetset Kings. But Michael is simply Daddy to his 6-year-old son Braxton, and his 3-year-old twins Preston and Peyton.
Michael, 34, first became an at-home dad in 2004. Not long afterward, the manager of the Tulsa Comedy Club lost his job due to the club’s closing. At the time, Braxton was just over a year old, so Michael learned to balance the last few semesters of a music degree at the University of Tulsa with his Citizen Mundi gigs and his duties as an at-home father.
The juggling of school books, trombone and plenty of dirty diapers was worth it: Braxton’s first word was “Dad.” These days, Michael works at home designing websites for small businesses, and spends his weekend nights playing Jetset Kings gigs in Tulsa and beyond.
Staying home with Braxton was especially important to Michael once Braxton was diagnosed at 18 months as being on the autism spectrum.
“I took the problem on myself,” Michael recalled. “I said, ‘I’m going to be there for my son, because I’m Daddy. Daddy is supposed to take care of you, protect you and make sure you have what you need.’ ”
Chuck Forbes with Chris, Griffin and Ally
There was a time when Chuck Forbes worked 60-70 hours a week handling bookkeeping and human resources for Expo Square’s food and beverage department. Then, some five years ago, Chuck and his wife Emily decided Emily made enough money at the Tulsa-based Hilti for Chuck to become an at-home father.
These days, though, the 40-year-old at-home father isn’t at home much. After all, his children Chris, 11, Griffin, 9, and little Ally, 5, keep him busy with their various activities. Chuck helps his children’s teachers in the classroom; he serves on the Jenks Public School Board of Education; volunteers in the PTA and he’s helped coach almost every one of his children’s teams.
Compared to his former life on the job, Chuck said, “I’m much happier. Much happier. I can tell you that I’m more patient. You wouldn’t think that with kids, but I’ve become more patient with them. I’m not sweating as much small stuff as I would have. I don’t nitpick. In a job, you need to worry about every single detail. As a parent, you can’t worry about each and every detail.”
Chuck doesn’t sweat the details, but when he became an at-home father five years ago, he had to overcome the at-home father stigma.
“The thought that everybody was thinking, ‘What the hell is he doing? He’s a stay-at-home dad,’ was difficult,” Chuck said, “but I got over it. It probably took six to eight months.”
Neither Mark nor Stuart said he’s received any negative feedback from family or friends for his career choice.
“If I had, I quite frankly would have told them to jump in the nearest lake,” Stuart said.
Hilling, of Daddyshome, said there are a few misconceptions about at-home fathers:
“The choice to be an at-home dad was by default due to loss of job,” Hilling said, “and that a man can’t do the job as well as a woman, along with others like, a father is trying to replace the mother, and that at-home dads experience ‘a loss of masculinity.’ ”
Danny said, “Not every guy can be a stay-at-home dad, just because of the stereotypes. They might feel like they’re not manly and that they’re supposed to be providing for their family. As I see it, I’m providing for my family, just in a different way.”
Chuck had this advice for newbie at-home fathers.
“Dude, you’re a stay-at-home dad, it’s OK. You’re not the only who has done this. It’s more frequent than what you think it is. You’re there for your children. It will be fine and you’ll be fine.”
Dollars and Cents
One of Danny’s greatest concerns about being an at-home dad is the financial sacrifice.
“It hasn’t been super easy,” Danny said, “but it also hasn’t been super hard.”
As for Michael, avoiding the cost of daycare for his three children proved more than worth being an at-home father.
“Daycare can run you upwards of $250-$300 a week, easy, for kids, especially for little ones,” Michael said. “I’ve got friends who are paying $130 a week for one kid. If I was doing that, I’d be looking at $390 a week. That’s $1,600 a month.”
Over all, Michael said the family’s financial state is “not as comfortable as we’d like it to be. Some months are a bit leaner than others, but we’re able to make it. Everything is for my kids. My family always comes first.”
When Michael’s wife, Carmon, who is a business consultant, thinks about her role in the family, she said, “It’s hard. It takes an entire mind-shift to make this work. It’s still hard at times to think that my husband is home with the kids and not me.”
Sometimes Carmon wishes the already reversed gender roles were switched back.
“It’s probably always going to be a recurring thought in my head,” she said, “but I would rather have Michael home with the kids than someone else.”
Though he’s adapted to his new role quite readily, Stuart says his wife would probably appreciate being the at-home parent, rather than the working one.
“I know that it’s a big sacrifice for Catherine,” he said. “I know that it is, and I appreciate it all the more for that. I think if she could, she would send me to work and stay home. And if I could, I would do it because that’s what she wants me to do. I live a charmed life, and I have for a long time now.
“So I think there is some — it’s not resentment. That’s too strong a word. And even ‘jealousy’ still sounds… There’s some wistfulness that she didn’t have to go to her job and I get to stay home.”
Years ago, Danny’s wife, Bernie, planned for her future husband to stay at home with the children. Still, it took some time to acclimate to the arrangement.
“I think I’ve learned to be flexible and relax some of my type-A personality high standards,” she said. “I remember the first day Danny stayed home with Beau. I didn’t know if I should expect ‘Pak ‘n’ Play UFC’ or ‘Duct Tape Arts and Crafts.’
“I’ve realized that Danny will have his own routine, and agenda and although it may not be exactly how I would have done things, the universe is not going to get out of balance.”
To keep the family’s balance, Bernie stressed the importance of communication between husband and wife.
“Check in with one another often to make sure the routine and arrangement are working for both of you,” Bernie said. “What’s working now may not in three months, especially during the preschool years, when the only constant is change.”
There are days when being an at-home dad overwhelms Michael, but he doesn’t turn to female-dominated playgroups.
“Yeah, that’s going to go real well,” Michael said, “Me walking into a mom’s-day-out and saying, ‘Come on girls, let’s go to lunch.’ It’s going to be uncomfortable. I’d be there, and they’d be all talking about what women talk about at those things. I’d be real uncomfortable, so I don’t take advantage of those kind of things.”
Instead, Danny vents his frustrations on Facebook.
“When things are getting tense during the day, I have support from friends who will say, ‘It’s cool. You’ll make it through.’
“Whenever I need to, I call my mom and say, ‘Mom, what am I going to do?’ And she says, ‘It’s OK, you were three times as bad as your children.’ And I’m like, ‘That’s not possible.’ ”
There is, however, one local fathers-only playgroup. Tulsan Tim Williston, a 36-year-old father of children ages 5, 3 and 1, hosts a fathers-only playgroup each Thursday from 3-4:30 p.m. at Bentley Park in Bixby. It is usually just frequented by Tim, who maintains Tulsadads.com, and one other at-home father, Tim said.
Children of an at-home father thrive, according to Hilling of Daddyshome.
“The benefits include positive child characteristics, such as empathy, self-esteem, self-control, psychological well-being, social competence and life skills,” he said.
Stuart says all dads, whether they stay home during the day or not, can and should spend more time with their children and be active participants in their lives.
“If I had to say anything to working dads out there who have this mentality that it’s the woman’s job to raise the children, they have no idea how much they’re missing out on,” he said. “Roll up your sleeves and get involved in your kids’ lives. They’re insane to think bringing home a paycheck is enough.”
Danny hopes his days spent as an at-home father will have a lasting effect on his son and daughter.
“I want them to know they can do whatever they want to do,” he said, “And, you know, if they one day become parents, I don’t want Beau to think it would be weird to stay at home if he had children. The same for Bella: If she got married, I wouldn’t want her to think, ‘Well, I have to stay at home, because I’m the woman.’ ”