It isn’t all cooing and cuddles and cookies – not by a long shot – but these stay-at-home dads wouldn’t trade their jobs for anything.
The life of a stay-at-home parent is rich with wonder and reward – an opportunity to witness special moments and milestones. And though you may occasionally long for an excuse to put on that Savile Row suit you’ve only worn once (or even just something without spit-up on it), having the option to spend the day in pajamas sure is nice.
The wee ones can be demanding. Sleep becomes a luxury. Housework lapses. Laundry piles up. Adult conversation is often missed and feelings of isolation are not uncommon, particularly for dads who feel adrift in what is still a mostly-moms realm.
How do you maintain your sanity? Say these dads: an allowance for imperfection, a little couple time and the 24-hour adult conversation of Facebook are a few great places to start.
“I kind of like to stay at home and clean and be Martha Stewart,” jokes Luis, 38, the father of twin boys Vasilios and Kostas. The pair recently relocated to Auburn Hills, Mich.
He has been with them since virtually moment one. He and partner Demetrius had lived in Texas just three months before impending fatherhood was happily sprung upon them – an acquaintance had become pregnant and, knowing they had been looking into adoption, approached them.
Luis, who had left a salon job in San Francisco in order to move for Demetrius’ job in San Antonio, opted to stay home.
“I was lucky enough that D’s job afforded us the option of my not having to work,” he explains. “And once we knew the boys were coming it was a no-brainer.”
The learning curve of the first two months was far less steep with Luis’ mom in town helping out as he got into a routine.
“The first night we were like, ‘Mom, it’s fine, don’t worry, we’ll take care of the boys….’ The next morning it was like a week had passed! It had only been one night and I didn’t know what time it was!”
Vasilios had reflux; both had colic. And though Luis assumed all duties one week before abuela went home to gauge his ability to handle it, he still cried when she left.
“I have always looked up to her,” he says. “She raised five crazy kids, she was a stay-at-home mom but now I think back to the fact that she never had a warm meal because now I never have one!”
With mom gone, he was parenting without a net. Suddenly living in a new city, Luis had no time to build a network – as Demetrius was doing at work – before becoming a dad.
“He’d come home and say, ‘Oh, so-and-so and I went for coffee,’ and I’m like, ‘How nice for you. I cooked. I cleaned. I washed your underwear… ’”
His lifeline, he says, was Facebook. Logging in to touch base while the boys napped “before passing out like a dead person” was a ritual.
Dan, 47, didn’t have the hazing experience of newborn twins, but four kids keep him busy while husband Jack brings home the bacon. He, too, relies on social media to stay connected from his Orlando-area home.
“Facebook is the best for a stay-at-home!” he says. He’s has been there full time since their oldest, Ethan – now a fourth-grader – was 11 months old.
“You definitely feel abandoned by friends in a way,” he says of the transition to staying home. “You go from childless life to, ‘Oh, don’t call Dan! He’s got a baby!’” he laughs. “Having a kid almost became like having the plague!”
At the same time, he notes, you find out who the real friends are. “And you change, too! You start hanging out with people who have kids because you do. Your social life revolves around who they hang out with.”
He acknowledges it’s still more of a mom’s domain, “but we fulfill the same roles as parents.” He never felt, in going to classes or play groups, that he was invading a space he wasn’t meant for. “And personally I’ve found that women like having a gay dude around.”
In the time since, they’ve had three more: Michael is 7, Ann Marie, whose adoption was recently finalized, is 16 months. And there’s a new baby: Lana, just 2 months old. “She’s Ann Marie’s biological half-sister,” says Dan. “We’re fostering with the hope of being able to adopt her, as well.”
These days, Dan works part time for the catering company he built and then sold in order to stay home with Ethan.
“Jack tells me what a good job I’m doing all the time and I have to point out: when he leaves in the morning, I know he’ll be home for dinner and two of my kids are in school until 3. When I go for a Saturday job, I leave him with four kids at 8 am and might not be home until midnight!”
Appreciation that goes both ways, he says, makes a family happier, stronger. “I tell him all the time how much what he does matters. We both work hard. That’s how families do it.”
Couple time matters, too.
“It’s important. You need that intimacy,” he says, but adds that it need not be planned or romantic all the time. “Lock that door and wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am! Then roll over and go to [sleep] because that alarm’s going off at 6 a.m. and you better be ready!”
That doesn’t mean special nights are never in order.
“We didn’t have a date night for the first two years, I don’t think,” recalls Luis. “But when we did it was at a really great restaurant, I got to have duck – my favorite thing in the world – and I was like, ‘Look! It’s a room full of adults! There’s a glass of wine in my hand! Remember this?!”
Jason, 40, spent eight years in the military. Now a stay-at-home father to 3-year-old Luke, he often likens being a stay-at-home dad to being on the front line.
“Nine times out of 10 you’re never going to get hit, but you’re always [in] a state of alert! Watch your kid so he doesn’t suffocate, so he doesn’t drown, so he’s not bumping his head. That one second when you’re not watching is when it could happen.”
Hyperawareness notwithstanding, there was no place he’d rather have been than with Luke when he and spouse Eric, a corporate attorney in Washington, D.C., packed it all up for the simple life (and a tighter budget) in upstate New York.
The income adjustment was significant but not nearly as impactful, according to Jason, as that initial transition from regular-personhood to parenthood.
“The first four months or so, I was getting up a trillion times in the middle of the night and there was no one around, no one to talk to and I felt isolated. But that was where social media really helped; I was so appreciative of that. I’d get on Facebook and people are always up at all hours of the night.”
Gay-father specific websites – he frequents a couple – helped, too.
“’Oh, you’re nursing? So am I! You’re changing a diaper? I just got spit up on!’” he says with humor. “It really helps you feel connected to someone who can relate – and actually talk!”
The sites will be helping again soon; Jason’s family is now preparing for the arrival of Luke’s little sister and the cycle will begin anew.
Unlike meeting new people at school or an office, playgroups can be challenging places to find more common ground than a child the same age. Parenting philosophies vary. There are usually at least one or two strong opinions. Any new parent hoping to make friends could feel some pressure. Don’t let the fear of small minds make you defensive, suggest the sources.
Not every query coming at you is an accusation, maintains Jason, who employs a “kill ‘em with kindness” policy most of the time. “Questions about your life, about what your child calls you or your spouse are often just out of curiosity.”
Dan applied a similar technique at his kids’ Catholic school – a place so family focused that his family enjoyed two months of delivered, home-cooked meals after bringing Lana home – when a lone woman raised concerns to the administration about his “lifestyle.” He ventures she’d simply never met a gay family before.
Staying at home allows him to volunteer for playground duty at his sons’ school – one of his favorite things to do – and allowed this woman to get to know him. Her attitude has changed completely and he feels something of an ambassador for fathers like him and Jack.
“Her friendliness and kindness tell us that she gets it now, that we’re just like any other family.”