Will Henderson doesn’t agree that dads are the new moms; he’s pretty sure they’re the new dads.
Nightline, on Monday, June 18, featured the rising trend of stay-at-home dads, the number of which, based on the most-recent Census, tripled since 2000 up to 154,000. A nice, round number, 154,000. Easy to report and remember and link to the faces of families around the country where the primary caregiver (or, PCG, in my family) is the dad, as I am in my family.
Since quitting my job in February 2011, I’ve been the PCG for my children, Avery (four-and-a-half going on 14) and Aurora (18 months and still not walking on her own), while also taking on as much freelance work as I can get. Working, while raising children, who are not yet old enough to just put in front of the television (or iPad, in the case of my four-year-old, who is able to navigate around it better than I can), is an exercise in futility most days. I like to call my life Herculean, or maybe even Sisyphean, because getting the boulder up the hill one day (showers taken and teeth brushed and bedtimes met and no more than three outbursts combined between my children) makes doing it again the next day that much harder.
Something about kids behaving one day for every two days spent pushing every button—and then some—that I have.
“Daddy has to work?” Avery will ask, when he sees me sit in front of my computer (iMac, 27 inches, which is command central in my home), and I tell Avery that I have to work, but only until Aurora wakes up, because working while the baby sleeps is how I best manage to get done in a day what needs to be finished in a day. Or several days. Calendars on my refrigerator and e-mail reminders. Doctor’s appointments and eye exams and appointments at the dentist (two, mine and the one who sees the children) and when members of the kids’ family are coming to visit.
I took a nearly $20,000 pay cut to stay at home with my children, which worried me initially but which became my new normal. And on this side of my decision, more than one year later, I’ve realized that the amount of money I no longer make is just a number. I don’t think I’ve gone without something that I really wanted; I’ve just readjusted my priorities. (Remember, I’m a writer, so I wasn’t exactly rolling in it before deciding to stay at home).
My ex-wife can’t work from home. She’s a therapist of sorts, and is required to work from an office. Her concession has been to work Saturday and Sunday, which gives her two non-consecutive days off during the week, which gives me two days when I am not the PCG. Which means I can go places, like the grocery store, which is something of a gauntlet when my children are with me (Avery wants the cart that is attached to a car of sorts; Aurora has learned how to stand up, even when belted in—which means I’m waiting for the day when she takes a header into a shelf of cereal).
So while she’s worked, and not taken a pay cut, I’ve handled shots and potty training and birthday parties. I know that my daughter has thin veins, and that her doctor is only successful drawing blood out of her left arm (so no more finger sticks or attempts on the right arm, thank you very much). I’ve supervised swim lessons and pseudo sleepovers and sitting near the window in the living room waiting for mommy. From serving as the editor for a 20-plus member non-profit marketing team to watching Costco mailers for diaper and wipes coupons.
The dads interviewed for the Dateline special defended their decision to stay at home. These dads talked about in-laws who don’t understand (my in-laws which are my ex-in-laws never really liked me, so I’ve had more than 14 years to learn how not to internalize the things they say and think) and how they feel lucky and privileged to stay at home.
I’d like to say to these lucky and privileged dads that we shouldn’t have to defend, explain, or rationalize our separate decisions to stay at home and raise children. What no one tells you when you’re expecting is that raising a child—let alone children—is the hardest thing you can decide (accidentally or otherwise) to do.
But rewarding, which I’ve struggled to define some other way, because rewarding doesn’t begin to cover how happy I am that my daughter, when she was seven months old, could recognize my voice during a Facetime chat, or that my son calls me his best friend. Which is a much better answer to give, when I’m asked what I do. Best friend to my son and dragonslayer for my princess daughter.