Chris Bernholdt didn’t expect to laughed at for being a stay at home dad, but found solace in the words of one of the first songs ever written
I feel like Rodney Dangerfield. Sometimes, I just don’t get any respect. Such is the life of a stay at home dad. We have to learn how to shine.
I have met plenty of moms who think that me staying at home is such a great thing. Because, let’s face it, it shouldn’t matter what my gender is, the job is the same. Maybe the way I approach handling the kids is just different and that is what intimidates other parents.
I am not here to judge you or teach you how to do parenting the right way. Maybe I am just being sensitive but I felt the need to write this after an encounter with the mom of one of my daughter’s friends.
My daughter has been talking about this friend of hers in kindergarten for some time, so I contacted her mom through the class email list. After much back and forth about where, when, what time, etc., we made the playdate, this particular girl’s first ever, and I dropped her off at their house.
Knowing full well after five years of staying at home, that there is a playdate etiquette for guys that should be followed, I talked to the mom before making my exit. We talked about what she did, about her maternity leave, and what her husband did, and how long they have lived in the area. I got to know her a little before I left my child with her and soon she redirected the questions back at me.
“Soooo, what do you do?” she asked. “I am a stay at home dad.” And that’s when she started laughing.
Yes. Laughing. I felt a little ashamed, though I never have before. People act surprised or shocked, but I have never been laughed at. Laughing at someone when they are telling you something serious or important to them—it is not the ideal response.
I tried to let it roll off my back and kept talking, adding that I was a blogger…more laughter. Then quickly added that “I am a part of the National At Home Dad Network and that we have a convention every year.” This also did not go well.
“Are you serious?” she asked. “Yes, it has been pretty awesome for me. So much so that I started my own Philly Dads Group. Maybe your husband would be interested?” and I handed over my card.
She stood there, a little stunned I believe, and managed to say, “That’s what my husband wishes he could do. He is stuck with his family business and would rather stay at home. In fact, I wish he would too.”
I am not sure if she was trying to save face, but she added, “Looks like there is a whole other world that I just don’t know about.” Sure. That’s it. Although, you would have to be living under a rock to not hear about how roles of caregivers has changed in the last ten years. Changing people’s minds doesn’t happen overnight and, at the very least, hopefully I opened up her eyes to how seriously some dads embrace this role for their families.
I headed to the activity I had planned with my dad’s group. Not feeling all that great about what I had just experienced, but looking forward to being with my fellow stay at home dads. I was determined not to focus on one sour note.
I met up with two other stay at home dads and told the owner of the venue that we were with the Philly Dads Group. “Like the Main Line Mommies?” he said. “What do you guys talk about, parenting and stuff?” I said “Yeah, and we throw in fringe conversations about beer and football, if there is time.” I find most often that I am just planting the mustard seed, hoping something will grow from it.
It is a little sad to think that if I would have said “the football club” or “the beer club,” there probably wouldn’t have been a question about why this group was in existence. I have to remind myself that I am doing good and that I am not doing it for anyone else. Some people just get it. This is not a joke to me, this is my life.
When I returned from the activity, I received an email from my dad telling me about something he learned from a music class, about a song called the Epitaph of Seikilos taken from the first century. This song represents our earliest record of a full composition and was inscribed on a tombstone between 200 BC and 100 AD. Roughly translated it means:
“While you live, shine. Let nothing trouble you. Life is only too short, and time takes its toll.”
Amazing the way the universe works, that I would be feeling challenged by those who might bring me down only to be lifted back up by my own parent. We cannot be mired by the doubters who seek to bring us down. Instead, it is us that must change skewed perceptions back to reality and make others see the light. I know what I am doing with the time I have, and I aim to make a difference in this world. Maybe with help, they will see me shine.
I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t want people to think highly of me. As a stay at home parent, there are no accolades; no one is taking you out to a fancy dinner to thank you for your work on a project. There is no pin for years of service.
Our acceptance comes from our own families mostly. The disbelief in our staying at home is similar to when people learned I was an art teacher. “You don’t LOOK like an art teacher,” they would say. I was a phenomenal art teacher and someday may be again. Conducting my kids is my job now.
Stay at home dads are looking to blow the doors off the perception that men have to be pigeonholed into traditional roles. I assume that in professions where males are not “typically” seen as the majority, like in nursing, these professionals have faced similar struggles. Do we call every male nurse we meet Gaylord Focker? No, but people still constantly refer to stay at home dads as Mr. Mom.
My time with my kids has been my composition in progress. I have, with my wife’s help, shaped my kids into the people they will become one note at a time. In every job I have held, I have sought to make a difference in the lives of children. Staying at home is my opus and I hope more people will just give it a listen. While I live, I will shine.
Credit: Photo–Umbrella Shot/Flickr
Credit: Photo—Wikimedia Commons (Epitaph)
Original version of this article appeared on DadnCharge.com