Published on June 14th, 2016 | by Richard Black1
Why I’m a Stay at Home Dad
Every once in a while, when I find myself at a park or playground with my daughter, I’m asked what I “do”. The first response that typically comes to mind is “My wife” because I’m an asshole who thinks he is entirely too funny for his own good.
After receiving a quick chuckle or an odd look I quickly follow up with “I’m a stay at home dad.”
For the most part my reply is met with gushing sentiment which I appreciate because I have a fragile ego and an external locus of identity. The gist is usually how fortunate and enlightened I am and I really couldn’t agree more. I’m a pretty great guy but, to be honest, it’s not because I’ve been afforded with opportunity to care for my daughter. Being a stay at home dad doesn’t make me a great person. Being an all around great person makes me a great person.
There have been other times when I state my profession as a stay at home dad that I’m met with…a distinctly judgmental response. “Must be nice,” is a phrase I’ve heard before implying that what I do isn’t “real” work”. “When do you plan on going back to work?” is another which could be a polite inquiry or an implication that I can’t hold onto a job.
My favorite response is dead silence which is really for the best. Anyone who can’t muster a semi decent reply to what I do is probably someone I won’t have much in common with in the first place.
There’s some legitimacy to each response. Not everyone is cut out to be a stay at home parent and some find themselves in the position through chance or a quirk of fate. Others opt to do so voluntarily. The fact is that stay at home parents come from many different walks of life. Even more importantly we have many different reasons as to why and how we’ve come to care for our children. It doesn’t make us better people.
I knew for some time that I’d, most likely, be the primary caregiver of our child. Before our daughter was born my wife Laura and I discussed the issue at length and agreed that one of us should stay at home. As Laura typically brought in the larger income I knew that person would probably be me.
Choosing to be a stay at home parent involves many factors but the primary one, the one that most people don’t mention, is that it is first and foremost a financial decision. I’m afforded the privilege of caring for my daughter because my wife makes a salary upon which we can live. Without it I wouldn’t be a stay at home father.
Money however isn’t the only consideration.
I’ve seen studies that equate financial value to what I, and other stay at home parents, do on a daily basis and these studies serve a purpose. It’s convenient to define our worth in terms of money and, perhaps, it’s even necessary at times but I find it to be a narrow view of what my job entails.
Despite being a largely financial decision the duties and tasks I perform as a stay at home parent and can’t adequately be summed up in terms of dollars. The reasons and results for doing so are far more complex. The rewards I gain from the position, as well as those I hope my daughter reaps, are so much more nuanced than a number.
As a stay at home father I’ve witnessed Darcy’s first word. I’ve seen her begin to crawl, then cruise and watched her first awkward steps as she stomped across the floor. I was there the first time she performed a clumsy somersault in gymnastics class and beheld the infinite joy that radiated from her face when she turned to me with her arms raised high.
I’ve tended to the cuts and scrapes that come from learning to ride a bike or walk on two unsteady legs. I’ve cared for my daughter during numerous bouts of the illness and rushed her to the ER when her breathing was shallow or her fever spiked. I’ve provided some measure of wisdom when she’s felt ostracized from other children or when boys have told her that girls are stupid.
I cherish the time I’m able to be with my daughter, to revel in her triumphs and console her during times of hardship. If I’m honest with myself I don’t know if I’d be able to do so to the best of my abilities with a full time job. Others manage to endow their children with confidence, to provide them with guidance and develop bonds that last a lifetime while holding one or two or even three paying jobs. I’m really not sure that I could.
I tend to focus on the task at hand rather than the one that’s truly important. I find it difficult to be “present” even when I’m with my daughter around the clock. As a full time employee with a salary to earn and all that it would entail I believe I’d find it difficult to focus completely upon Darcy’s needs.
There will, of course, come a time when I’m no longer needed at home. I hope that by then I’ll have forged a bond with my daughter that will last for the rest of our lives. I hope that she will know to her very core that I am, and fully intend to be, an ever present and integral part of her life.
Until then I intend to make the most of the time I have with Darcy and to focus upon the task at hand be it learning how to read or count by fives or tens, teaching her how to swim or ride a bike, or the simple pleasures of blowing off our plans to grab an ice cream and watch four hours of cartoons. I will try to remember that right now I am, first and foremost, my daughter’s father and nothing more and certainly nothing less.