Chris Bernholdt is a proud stay-at-home dad, but he can’t believe how some people still question the masculinity of men who choose to be their children’s primary caregiver.
Oh, you stay at home? You must be gay.
You’re a stay-at-home dad? When are you going to get your balls back?
Man up. Stop being such a pussy.
Looks like this dad likes shopping more than his wife. How gay is he?
These are words supposedly spoken by people with some skewed version of what it means to be a “real man.” Believe it or not, the person who asked if a stay-at-home dad was gay was a woman. The second comment came from a man that another stay-at-home dad was interacting with on the playground. Why does the choice to stay home instantly lead to a discussion about manhood? It seems to me that doing what is best for your family is truly about being a real man.
Yet, there are those that believe that if you stay home, you are less of a man. Unfortunately, these are the men that still cat call to women walking in the street or who belittle women on dating sites because they don’t just let men walk all over them. I don’t want that for my sons or daughters, so why do some teach these toxic examples to our children?
Let’s look at the damage that statements like this make in the way that they are inherently both misogynistic and homophobic. Being gay doesn’t define someone automatically as being nurturing just as much as being tall automatically means I play basketball. Being gay or not doesn’t define one as a nurturing parent. What defines one as a parent is how we raise our children as the primary caregivers.
Men today have to constantly define just how masculine they are. Stay-at-home dads especially, with men and even women questioning why they stay at home. Do you actually clean and cook? You MUST be gay then. To them, only gay people apparently clean their homes and prepare meals. If that is so, then yes, I am gay. I am as gay as any man who cooks for people they care about. Have you ever watched Iron Chef? Top Chef? Those people are amazing, they can cook, and, guess what? Some of them are men.
As a primary caregiver, I am constantly redefining what a “real man” means because it is important to me to be there for my children. “Real men” can mean straight guys, gay guys, working men, stay-at-home dads… all men who take an active role in their children’s lives and do so with pride. I can be the football coach and still know how to put my daughter’s hair into pigtails. I can coordinate an outfit for my son and show him how to properly shoot a basketball. I can demonstrate to my daughter what a pirouette is while teaching my son to tie a necktie. Masculinity is not tied to any of those activities as we all can do them whether we are gay, straight, male, or female.
Find me at a party and I might be talking with the moms in the kitchen more than the dads from the office. We share the experience of parenting, which is not defined by our gender but by the commonalities between our jobs. We are all just parents.
People who would make comments like I listed above are the kinds of people who would still judge you on what you drive. If you traded your Mustang in for a minivan, you are suddenly ball-less. Why does driving a car that fits with your family make you less masculine? If I told you that I used that same Swagger Wagon to haul enough lumber and drywall to build a closet from my own two hands, would that make you feel better?
It’s sad that, in this society, we still look at the definition of masculinity as being able to provide financially for your family. If your wife stays home and is the primary caregiver, you’re considered a real man. How outdated is this notion? Things have changed.
Let me use an analogy that only “real men” would understand. Football. Since its inception, players played without pads or even helmets. Can you imagine playing today without a helmet? You would probably think that is crazy given the way football is played now and how it has evolved.
As the game changed, so did the equipment. Leather helmets, which provided little protection, have evolved into skull-cradling airbags to protect player’s brains. Rules changed with the game to protect the players as hits became more vicious and more head injuries became common. As the game became faster and hits became more intense, the league altered its rules so it could evolve. Does this mean that football players today are worse athletes than those of the past? Are they less tough? Would you call them pussies?
The definition of fatherhood is evolving while some clearly some men have stayed rooted in the primordial ooze. Commenting on another man’s choice to stay home should never be a put-down. Tying that in with your inability to believe that women would ever be attracted to a man who takes care of children is pathetic. Most women I have been around in my six years as a stay-at-home dad think that a man caring for his children is sexy; even more so, when I mention to my wife that I cleaned the bathrooms and straightened up the house.
Men who stay home are showing their clear dedication to their families and giving their spouses opportunities to live up to their full potential. Because of these men, they can pursue a career that they aspire to reach if only they weren’t tied to the home. Many men have given up traditional roles to be present with their children. Many, like me, made that choice willingly. I was a teacher and was always good at educating children, so it seemed like an easy choice to make. When it came to deciding whether I should let a stranger raise my children or whether it should be me, it was an easy decision.
I used to get this a lot when I was becoming a teacher. People were surprised to find out I was an artist and also a teacher. “I just thought with the way that you look, you would be a gym teacher or something.” While I can look imposing, they found it unbelievable that I was more interested in fine art than football. As an educator, I found it imperative that boys had someone to look up to. Believe me, I’ve come across enough confused young men in need of positive male role models who certainly benefited from me being there for to help guide them.
If anything, for my son, I have really taught him tools to be the best man he can be. His future spouse is going to thank me for teaching him manners, how to do his own laundry, and how to cook. You can see it in the ways he treats girls his age and his own sisters. It has shown him that staying home is an option if it fits for his family. Being a stay-at-home dad has taught my son that being a man doesn’t have to mean you are tied to an office or job. It teaches him that he doesn’t have to feel pressured to work in a job he hates if, in his heart, he wants to stay at home with his children.
Being at home for my daughters, I have taught them how they should be treated with respect and dignity. I have shown them that a man can be just as loving and caring as woman when it comes to raising the children. I have shown them that limitations should never be put on us because of our gender and that we can accomplish anything, despite society’s labels. I am teaching them that they can be a stay at home mom or a CEO of a company and anything in-between. Hopefully they have learned that whatever they choose, I will love them the same without judgment.
Even though these “real men” can’t see that this choice is based purely out of love, I feel sorry for the Voldemorts of masculinity. They haven’t experienced the love I’ve felt with my kids. Sure, I’ve lost out on some money, but I have gained so much more through the struggles and triumphs, tears and laughter, the disappointments and smiling hugs. Those times when they cry out for Daddy in the middle of the night? I look forward to those, most of the time, because they know I am there for them every step of the way and that is how any real man should be.
The original version of this article appeared on DadNCharge.com