Gina Kaysen Fernandes: We may think that SAHMs face a social stigma, but it is much more difficult for men. After all, "Daddy and Me" classes aren't exactly ubiquitous.
On any given weekday, Michael Bailey pulls into an office complex for a meeting on a prospective project. As he enters the conference room, nothing seems out of the ordinary -- except for the infant car seat he's lugging that contains his 7-month-old son. "He's a very well-behaved baby," says Michael, who admits that toting his tot may appear a little unprofessional, but "it hasn't been an issue." Michael is part of a growing minority of stay-at-home dads who, for various reasons, are choosing to raise the kids while Mom earns a paycheck.
Michael is in between jobs and looking for work, but describes getting laid off from his full-time writing gig as "perfect timing." "Our youngest was too little to go to daycare, so it worked out nicely," he says. Michael is on his second stint as a SAHD; he previously lost his job in the notoriously unstable entertainment industry around the same time his first child was born three years ago. But this time around, he's taking care of two kids -- which makes the job doubly challenging. "You're literally divided in half trying to give equal amounts of time to each one," he says. When he finds himself knee-deep in laundry and tantrums, Michael has no one to commiserate with. "It would be great if there was a dad's club we could all go to," he says.
While SAHDs are becoming more common, especially in this time of high unemployment, these Mr. Moms remain an anomaly with few support networks. "I tried to start a dad's group, and got very little response," says Jay Brown, who has stayed at home with his two kids for the past six years. "That was a little disheartening. It's not like the 'Mommy and Me' groups on every corner."
Jay decided to quit working as an actor and farmer's market pickle salesman after the birth of his daughter. His wife had stayed home with their first child, but ultimately had more earning potential and decided to return to work after the birth of their second baby. Jay jumped at the chance to spend unlimited time with his kids. "At times it's maddening; at times it's alienating," he says. "But it's so worth it."
The dads who decide to trade in the desk job for diaper duty find that the road less traveled is a lonely one. "Emotionally, it's tough," says Jay, who felt rebuffed by the stay-at-home moms he met in kids' groups like Gymboree. "Maybe it was me, but you do get that vibe of, 'Who's this creepy guy with a kid?'" Aside from feeling excluded from playdates and moms' coffee-talks, SAHDs also face harsher judgment about their child-centered lifestyle than SAHMs do.
"There's a gender bias," says Bruce Sallan, a professional columnist, radio host and momlogic blogger who writes about parenting in his blog, "A Dad's Point-of-View." "Moms who stay at home are accepted; dads are not." Bruce finds that SAHDs are underappreciated and misunderstood. "There's a lot of lip service, but not a lot of validation," he says.
After 25 years in the television and entertainment business, Bruce ditched his executive job for full-time fatherhood. Raising his two sons became even tougher after Bruce went through a divorce. The boys' mother eventually walked away from her kids and left Bruce a single parent. During what Bruce calls "the dark days" of the divorce, he focused more on keeping his boys happy than on the housekeeping. "We'd do laundry when we wanted to and eat with our fingers when we wanted to," he says.
While the "mommy wars" may have reached a temporary ceasefire, it appears that many SAHMs are taking aim at their male counterparts. Bruce experienced open hostility from the mothers he encountered when he volunteered at his sons' school and joined the PTA. "They didn't want a guy in their group," he says. 'My attitude was, 'F*ck them.'" Another source of irritation for Bruce were the incessant questions about his plans to go back to work. "I am working," he snaps. "Just because I'm not earning a paycheck doesn't discount what I do."
As a token dad blogger with an international audience, Bruce frequently gets inquiries from other SAHDs looking for advice. The most common concerns are feelings of loneliness, isolation and the fear of losing custody. Bruce finds a sense of purpose in writing about his own experiences. "I wanted to make a positive impact," he says. He urges other SAHDs to practice patience when they're angry, and to never hesitate to say "I'm sorry." "Kids need to know that you're fallible and that you take responsibility when you've messed up," says Bruce.
Each father who shared his story said he felt lucky to have the chance to play such an influential role in raising his children. "I cherish this time, but I do miss working," says Michael, who confesses that he won't hesitate to jump back into the workforce when the opportunity arises. Jay, on the other hand, says that he's concerned about budget cuts impacting school programs and teachers, so he plans to stay at home as long as he can. "This is what I'm used to," he says. "This is what I do."