Stay-at-home fathers are a growing trend. I’m one of them, and it’s a blast.
Dads are the new moms. Or at least the evidence suggests so. With women entering the workforce in larger numbers and the price of child care escalating, the number of stay-at-home-dads has shot up in recent years. I know; I am one of them. Or to be more precise, I am a work-at-home-dad. I just recently became a dad for the second time, and my wife is our family's breadwinner.
We are still the exception, but it is not unthinkable that our situation could become the norm. After all, a new Pew report shows there were about 2 million stay-at-home dads in 2012.
On one hand, there has never been a better time to be a stay-at-home dad. Back in the 1970s, dads were seen as irrelevant to their child's development. But new research cited in Paul Raeburn's new book, Do Fathers Matter?, finds that the more we are around, the happier and more successful our children become, both from a biological and psychological standpoint.
A new fraternity
Not to mention there's a whole support network now, such as NewDadTimes.com, an online community of like-minded dads to commiserate over their diaper-changing rituals. Or new books such as When I First Held You to commiserate with other dads' stories of putting up with disapproving stares from passersby when our infants refuse their mittens.
On the other hand, rarely have we been judged so much or held to such a high standard. We are now expected to be as instinctual and motherly as our spouses. We are assumed to know the difference between a Moby baby carrier and an Ergo from 50 paces away, to be conversant in midwifery lingo, to have memorized Goodnight Moon. Your hyper-ambitious friends will harrumph behind your back for exiting the workforce at your prime earnings potential. Farnoosh Torabi, author of When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women, made this point in a recent Time opinion piece entitled: "Don't Let Your Husband Be a Stay-At-Home-Dad."
Yes, we still have to fight against the stereotype that the default of all dads is to be like Don Draper or Alec Baldwin — aloof, occasionally scolding, the manly men of the house. I grew up watching the dad from The Wonder Years and marveling at how lazy he looked plopped on the couch each night. Now I find myself envying him.
Indeed, sometimes I feel woefully unprepared for fatherhood. At some point between growing up in the 1970s and today, car seats got supersized and installed backwards, Mr. Rogers became a jingle-singing tiger, and other parents began talking about their infants' sleeping habits as if they were reciting their GPA from a college honors course. On a recent application for a preschool program in New York, I had to answer questions about my 16-month-old's interests and hobbies. ("He enjoys speaking Mandarin and listening to Vivaldi when not volunteering at the soup kitchen.")
Worse, I find myself becoming that dad — the one who walks down the street with stroller-envy, who considers a fanny pack might be a nice addition to the waistline, who doesn't care that there are throw-up stains on my shirt from last week.
Then there are predictable questions: Are you getting any sleep? Are you able to get any work done? To which new dads are obliged to respond with a wink and a nod that conveys, "Oh, it's not so bad." Nobody wants to hear the war stories of your colicky baby's nighttime rituals. In today's sanitized world of social media, every baby radiates nothing but smiles and every father is confidently alert, his baggy eyes having apparently been airbrushed out.
Before I trade in my skinny pants for Dockers, I have to admit that being a dad for the second time is a blast. But it's work. Like anything, it is something we can get better at but never perfect. I cherish these moments, even as I yearn each night for one extra hour of sleep, or one extra hour to watch Veep. To all the other stay-at-home dads out there, Happy Father's Day.
Lionel Beehner, a Ph.D. candidate at Yale, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.
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