The True Story of a Stay-At-Home Dad
Coincidentally, their wives both have high-octane jobs. Coincidentally, he and his brother cook, clean, schlepp kids to school, and question the foundation of their lives. Sean Elder reports on the ups, downs, grievances, little joys, and nagging ambivalence of house-husbandry.My wife offered to buy me a stove for my birthday. We were having dinner at a neighborhood restaurant when she made the suggestion—just a suggestion, she assured me, a joke, if I wanted to look at it that way. But the joke was on her. I just blinked and said, "The 30-inch Wolf range?"
I've always been the cook in our house, and not just a weekend warrior, either. My mother was such a bad cook that when I was a boy I would pretend I was a prisoner of war being forced to eat her creative offerings—macaroni and cheese studded with sliced hot dogs, say. My younger brother, Ethan, and I learned to fend for ourselves in the kitchen, and after our parents divorced we took turns cleaning, along with my younger sister, while our mother was out earning a paycheck. What used to be called women's work has always been second nature to us.
But I never thought of it as my calling. Whatever satisfaction I derived from cooking or schlepping laundry or changing diapers came in part from the knowledge that I would soon be doing something else. My job—writing and editing—often allowed me to work at home. I mocked weekend dads as gentlemen fathers, as cut off from the real toil of parenthood as gentlemen farmers were from plowing the fields, but the truth was that I no more wanted to be Mr. Mom, a full-time househusband, than I wanted to get behind the mule.
Well, hee-haw. Two years ago, I was laid off from my last full-time job, and it turned out I was ahead of the curve. People who had been calling me with job offers were suddenly calling me for leads, and the only reason I haven't seen them selling pencils on the sidewalks of New York is that we all use computers now. My wife, Peggy, meantime, is making a salary more than three times what I pulled down last year.
My brother was laid off late in 2001 from the high-tech parts company he sold for in Silicon Valley; almost immediately afterward, his wife, Leah, took a lucrative position with a nationally known cookware retailer. Suddenly, we were both home taking care of the kids—he has two (a son, Finnegan, who's three, and a daughter, Ali, eight) as do I (Franny, nine, and Adam, 18)—plus the house and all that implies.
I know we're not alone. In the markets and at the matinees I see them: Millennium Men dragging their children on errands or being dragged themselves to Nickelodeon movies, all the time wondering where their work went.
In the past year, Ethan and I have compared notes, via e-mail and cell phone, on grocery shopping and the fortunes of the Giants. Sometimes I send him recipes; sometimes he sends me porn.
Despite the time difference between San Francisco and Brooklyn, Ethan and I are on pretty much the same schedule. The toddler gets up at about 6:15, so Ethan tries to beat him by 15 minutes for what might laughably be called "me time," which for him consists of reading yesterday's front page before today's paper arrives.
Next: With small children, every day is an adventure