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:
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.