Stay at Home Dads

This is an article I wrote in 2003 about my decision to become a stay at home dad. It appeared in a women’s magazine in California. You may find some of the data a bit outdated, but I think the advice I offer is just as valid today as it was nearly ten years ago. 

Finally, my mid-life crisis. I’d been looking forward to mine since my early twenties. After all, you hear stories of men in their forties and fifties finally having some extra dough to buy the Porsche, toys like a new plasma flat screen TV to watch the games on and, if lucky enough, meeting a hot chick or two to watch the game with.

And now that my mid-life crisis was in full swing. I had it all: the car, the toys and the babes. The only problem was that the new car was a used mini van, the new toys all needed batteries, blinked or buzzed, and the younger women were twin daughters born nearly eight weeks premature.

At an age when most of my friends were sending kids off to college, dreaming of retirement and pretty much getting fat and lazy, I was just starting a family, buying burpy cloths, cartons of formula and mounds of diapers.

As if becoming a first-time parent of twins wasn’t a big enough life-style change for me, another major change was also on the horizon. For sixteen years I went to work through rain, sleet, hail and snow as a rural letter carrier for the US Postal Service (they really take that weather stuff seriously). I was also sleeping with the enemy as my wife had a dedicated career with UPS. But with the arrival of our preemie daughters, we had to make a difficult decision. And that was whether or not one of us would stay home and take care of the girls. After evaluating our finances, we decided we could afford it and we concluded I would be the full-time parent.

I wouldn’t be alone. The U.S. Census of 2002 listed 105,000 stay at home dads and some not by choice. Granted, you could fit all of us in a decent sized NASCAR Speedway and still have room left over to bring most of our children on Dad’s night to see the big race. But with the recent downturn in the economy, more and more men are finding themselves taking care of the little nippers while mommy goes out and brings home the Benjamins.

For those of you thinking of making the choice voluntarily, here is some advice: Consider whose career can sustain your family long-term and weigh your retirement options. This means making a budget including your normal monthly expenses (cars, mortgage, utilities, insurance, groceries, etc.) and consider unplanned expenses (such as car repairs after your Jeep four-wheeling or house-hold maintenance costs when your do it yourself plumbing project ends up looking more like Noah’s flood).

Most financial experts say to try and make sure you have at least three months worth of expenses in savings for emergencies. The vast majority of divorces are over money, or lack there of. Kids are expensive and you want to make sure a single income will suffice. Also when you make a budget stick to it–even if it means the yearly golf junkets to Myrtle Beach with the guys must be placed on hold a year of two.

And finally, make the decision together with your supposedly better half and remember to consider her feelings. When your home frustrated because junior won’t take his bottle or your darling daughter wants to spend more time under the bed than sleeping in it, remember mothers often go through separation anxiety when leaving children to return to work. My wife comes from a large family with a mother hat ruled the roost and she has had to work through those feelings that it should be her staying home and not me. So you might not be the only one having a hard time dealing with the major change in roles. Keep the lines of communication open.

There was a time when the man staying home would have brought more jeers than cheers. Even today there are those that think I’m nuts to quit my job to care for two ankle-biters. The main thing to remember (whether the choice is voluntary or not), taking care of your children is a blessing as well as a full-time job. Women have known this for years. Men are coming around to the same conclusion. Being a stay at home dad doesn’t make you any less a man. It just makes you more of a father.

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