Are Stay-at-Home Dads Macho?

In the fourth of a five-part series on love and relationships, Tom Matlack and author Laura Munson debate the question: Are stay-at-home dads macho?

MATLACK: Not only are stay-at-home dads macho, but all dads who show up for their kids are macho. You can’t be a dad and wall yourself off from your child. Perhaps that was the way in prior generations, but one of the greatest changes for men today is the opportunity we have to engage and learn about ourselves through our relationship with our kids.

I spent 18 months at home with my young children just after getting divorced. I only had the kids part-time and I found it amazingly hard when they weren’t around—and amazingly rewarding when they were.

The feeling of holding a child, especially my own, in the crook of my neck is as close to God as I have ever been. When my life was completely falling apart around me—at least in part because I’d been working so hard that I had completely forgotten that I was a father—spending time with my kids reminded me what was important and gave me a purpose.


Machismo is about confidence, swagger, and knowing what is important. Dirty Harry is macho, not only for what he does, but how and why he does it. He’s a badass on a mission to right the wrongs of the world. Dads, particularly stay-at-home dads, are the same way. They take care of their kids with a purpose. Mothers have something essential to give their children, but what dads have to offer is no less important.

For those of us who have finally, fully internalized that fact, there is nothing in our lives more important than our children—and no one is going to tell us otherwise. We will dive through brick walls—and endure being called “sissies”—to care for our kids in a way that makes up for time lost in prior generations.

Fifty years ago, women were trying to figure out how to get out of the home and into the workplace while still being good moms and wives. For men in 2011, the primary challenge is to figure out how to be at home with our kids while still holding down a job. To those guys who stay home to raise their kids: You are lucky, macho men. The dad at the playground or the “Mommy and Me” playgroup doesn’t have to cower over in the corner. He can stand tall and do his thing, playing with his kid in a manly way, because it is cool to be a dad.


MUNSON: I totally agree. I live in a town where most of the fathers I know are able to show up at their kids’ sporting events and play performances and music recitals, and even school parties because of the close proximity to their workplace—if they have a work place. Here, many of the men are out of work, and their wives are the breadwinners. I also live in a town that is full of Montana “macho” men who strut their stuff all over the ski hill, and in the mountains, hunting, fishing, climbing—“getting after it,” as they say. I asked my son to define this “it.” He said, “It is doing what you love.” In this sense, being with your kids as much as possible is just that.


Last year, my husband was suddenly unemployed, and after many years, I finally got a book published. I was working insane hours and touring the country on book promotion and he was making breakfast and bag lunches, driving kids from school to music lessons, to sporting events. He gave me the greatest gift anyone could have given me at that time in my life: he kept our family life normalized. Sure, the kids now got chips in their lunches, and he opted out of organic milk. But I saw what really mattered, and it wasn’t a potato chip or a pesticide here or there. It was security. It was the kind of love that men seem best at giving—at least my man.

It didn’t mean there was a lot of “I love you when you sit in a dark room and type all day” or “You look sexy in those flannel pajamas that you’ve worn for two weeks.” It was a quiet knowing that he had a role to fill, and that he did it powerfully. It was a perfect swap, but we both believed it was temporary. That was the unspoken operative word. Because if someone had told us when we were courting that one day I’d be the breadwinner, and my husband would be a stay-at-home dad, we would have balked.

At 20-something I wanted to pursue my career and have him pursue his. I wanted to reconvene at the end of the day and share food and conversation and maybe snuggle on the couch while we watched a movie. In my 30s I wanted to have children and we did. Then I wanted to stay at home and be a mother and write books while my babies slept, and I wanted him to work, and be fulfilled—and then I wanted that end-of-the-day meal and that conversation and that snuggle. Life went like that and we felt lucky. But in our 40s, things changed for a while and we are better for it. I’m not sure I know what “macho” means. But if it has to do with power, then being given the space and time to fulfill my career dreams is one of the most powerful gifts I’ve been given.


Tom Matlack and Laura Munson debate other questions about modern love:

Why do young women and older men get along so well?

How important is physical appearance to longterm fidelity?

What’s more important to a good marriage—great sex or fighting fair?


Laura A. Munson, author of This Is Not the Story You Think It Is, wrote one of the most widely read and talked about New York Times Modern Love columns ever: “Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear.” She lives with her family in Montana. You can visit her website, and find her on Facebook and  Twitter.


—Photo by lmnop88a/Flickr

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Tom Matlack, together with James Houghton and Larry Bean, published an anthology of stories about defining moments in men’s lives — The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood. It was how the The Good Men Project first began. Want to buy the book? Click here. Want to learn more? Here you go.



About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.


  1. “Mothers have something essential to give their children, but what dads have to offer is no less important.”

    -Why not just say that fathers are essential? Why not promote the importance of fathers in the lives of children instead of trying to change the conventional definition of machismo.
    endure being called “sissies”

    Only 18 months? Why not 18 years? Trying going out on a date and telling women that you want to be a stay-at-home dad. There won’t be many takers.

  2. Great blog. I believe the most macho of men are those who will step up and care for their children whether they stay home or work.

    My only question is why does a parent need to give a kid organic milk and carrot sticks to be a good parent? Or, why do moms think this is what a good parent does?

    I don’t parent the same way my wife does. None of my kids have keeled over.

    Maybe that’s more of the lesson that moms can learn from at-home dads: we dads can do all the things necessary to care for our kids; we just do it differently.

  3. And just so that there is no “mis-interpretation”, I have dozens of friends who are effective, honorable, courageous, dependable, loving AND “macho” men who would twist just about anyone into a pretzel if they made a negative comment about them taking time away from their “day-job” to care for their children…

  4. The roles in our family constantly shift to deal with the pressures of modern living. I’m not usually a stay at home dad, but I have played that role often enough to know how to do it in the blink of a lost paycheck.

    While I enjoy some of Tom and Laura’s points, the truth is that macho is an over-rated and rapidly antiquating word that has NOTHING to do with whether one is a stay at home dad or not. It simply isn’t as important a word or quality as it once was. You want to know a more important quality in today’s day and age? How about “effective.”

    Would you rather have a macho boss or co-worker? Or an effective one?

    Bringing the subject up like this simply stirs the pot (and controversy) on rapidly-dying stereotypes of “marital roles.”

    Nowadays, every relationship has to accurately assess the needs of the relationship and examine the resources in determining who in that relationship is best suited for supplying these needs and adjust as needed to ensure the family unit survives as best as possible. A family that can do that will usually thrive even under extremely adverse conditions.

    If you look at the flip-side of it, belittling the role of a stay at home dad is also a subtly negative comment on stay at home mothers. That somehow it isn’t “real work.”

    Women who trivialize stay at home dads either have never raised children or for some bizarre reason would place having a “macho” partner above having one who was:

    1. Honorable
    2. Courageous
    3. Dependable
    4. Loving

    I think the greatest worry or controversy can come about when other men, ignorant men, trivialize men who are the primary caregivers as opposed to primary breadwinners. And the solution is simple. Stick them in a house with a newborn child (or two) of their own for two weeks with a mother who is off at a “job” all day and see how that man views it after two weeks. In 99% of all cases, humility will have lead to wisdom in recognizing that it is simply about doing what needs to be done and it is WORK.

    Exhausting, often thankless, work that not only do more men do on an increasingly greater basis, but that so many mothers do day in and day out that almost all of society takes for granted.

    The bottom line: The days of having the strongest hunter for a family to survive are over. We are in the new age where the most EFFECTIVE families survive.

    It is an age that I, for one prefer.

  5. I don’t know if I’d say “macho” – for me that word has always had a sense of being false or braggadocious? Nit-picking about vocabulary aside, I totally agree with what you’re saying here, Tom and Laura. I spend 6 months as a SATD last year, and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire life. I learned a lot about who I was as an individual, as well as as a husband and father. I definitely think every dad who’s in a position to do so should go through the experience of staying at home (at least for a while).

  6. I think it depends on how you define a “stay-at-home dad”. In my grandmother’s generation (born around the beginning of the 20th century), men who were out of work did nothing at home.

    My grandmother took in sewing, baby-sitting, part time work to keep the family together. Yet she was still required to take care of the traditional home chores. My grandfather, once they left the farm, sat around smoking cigars and playing cards with his sons when there was no work to be had.

    My grandfather was happy to play with children, but did no housework whatsoever even when he did stay home. Neither did any of his sons.

    My ex-husband was very much the same way. When he was out of work, he played video games 18 hours per day. He only changed his habits after our daughter was born. He only learned to take care of himself and his daughter after I left him.

    The stay-at-home dads that I know are mostly very macho, and very responsible. One is an artisan who works from home. He cooks, he cleans, he changes diapers and runs laundry.

    Another friend is a working dad whose wife left him with their two children to raise, alone. He is a dedicated single parent and I dare anyone to consider him less than macho.

  7. FINALLY! We can say macho. Macho is not drinking beer and beating women. That word got stolen out of its original context. Machismo is when a man stands for his family, his children, his wife, his neighborhood, his gente. Dads have always been macho. Men who hide behind work, or their lack of it, are not real men. I have never been a stay at home dad but I do stay home with my kids. I do take them with me to work at school events and conferences. I have had to tell more than my share of women that NO, I am not babysitting, NO, it is not my weekend, I am their father, and NO, I did not steal these children (Look at them lady! WHO would steal these two boys? Seriously)

    I take issue with the phrase “makes up for time lost in prior generations”. Even though we have had a drought on fatherhood (the reason Strong Fathers-Strong Families exists) not all dads checked out and some of those absent dads got kicked out and are just now getting the cultural support to work through the crap to get back to their role as a father. My father was a coach and a farmer. He is as manly as it gets. He is as tough as nails. He cooked, he cleaned, he changed diapers and had a strong disdain for feminism even as he encouraged his wife to work outside our home to her potential. Let us remember that many of us are fathering well not only because of a bad example (compensatory parenting) but many of us are parenting because of good examples. Go back to before the second world war and look at how much care fathers put into their children and families. Go back 100+ years and see that most men took on their children at around seven years of age and taught them in the field and on the farm. Fathers have been very involved for generations even though we have a gap through the late sixties and seventies (thanks feminism, sexual revolution, dads who came back from the war) But hopefully we have seen our evil ways and we can let men be MEN and fathers and not expect them to be like mom as they father with care and nurturing (which is very manly) in a way vastly different from moms.

    • Female Feedback says:

      I like how you take ownership of your role as a dad, but it sounds like you’re just like your gramps. I want you to work but I hate feminism. I want to be a father but I have to do it in a way “vastly different” from moms. The breakup of marriages in the 60s and 70s was due to feminism, when every marriage I know that broke up in that era was because the man was having an affair or wanted to be free to date.

      This sounds painful to me for the kids, especially the daughters. Men who are constantly trying to prove they are “different” from women and have disdain for “feminism” tend to send that insecure, something-to-prove message to daughters. Ouch.

      • Female Feedback says:

        Sorry, I misunderstood. I guess it was your father, not your gramps with the “I’m the head of the household, now you go to work and I hate feminism” schtick.

        Ugh – the more I think about your post the more I fear for your daughters and even your sons. If masculinity is constantly proving you are different from a woman, even the boys don’t get to be who they really are (and especially if they have some things in common with their mother or their sister, or their female friends at school).

    • “Machismo is when a man stands for his family, his children, his wife, his neighborhood, his gente.”

      What is it called when a woman stands for her family, her children, her husband, her gente? And why do we need gendered words for these things?

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