Few occupations have as much mystery surrounding them as Stay at Home Dad (SHD). If you’re at a party and a new acquaintance tells you he is a doctor or a teacher or a carpenter or any number professions, you would scarcely bat an eye. The story of how they ended up in that job might be fascinating, but the initial reaction is probably pretty low key.
Let a man answer the occupation question with “I take care of our home,” or “I take care of the family,” and the reaction is actually visible. Let me interject here that I don’t refer to myself as a Stay at Home Dad. Mostly because that would be like referring to a firefighter as a water squirter. It is accurate relative to a small part of the job, but is hardly a name that adequately sums up the position.
The few times I have actually had to answer the question my answer is like a gentle but firm poke in the liver to the asker. First is the tilt of the head, then the narrowing of the eyes and then the asker says something like, “Huh.” Sometimes I get a “That’s great,” or my personal favorite, “Good for you!” like I was the lucky third caller on a radio station contest.
Then come the questions. I was talking to one man at a place where my youngest regularly plays. It was the middle of the day. He asked me if I was on my day off. He worked on the North Slope in the oil fields and was home for a few weeks with his family. I told him no, that I took care of my boys and the home.
“That sucks,” he said, “I heard there were some layoffs . . . did you lose your job?”
“No, I take care of my family.”
Tilt of the head, narrowing eyes, “Huh.”
One man at a local park was more curious. “You mean you take care of the kids, and cook and clean?” He looked at me like he was attempting to solve for X when Y = infinite. “You actually, like, do laundry?”
Laundry was actually the toughest part of the SHD thing. I hate laundry. Washing isn’t so bad, but folding it sucks. In my youth I actually avoided laundry. When I was a young airmen at my first few assignments I sent most of my clothes to the dry cleaner and simply bought more underwear. Every week I would buy a new four-pack at the exchange. Don’t do the underwear to days-of-wear math, it isn’t pretty. When I moved out of the barracks I had almost 100 pair of underwear in my locker. I am better now.
I understood my new friends horror at the thought of doing laundry but answered that I do the laundry and most of the other household chores. My wife pitches in because she actually enjoys some housework chores. Weird.
One acquaintance, a woman, actually asked a follow-up question after getting my answer to the occupation question. “How did you end up with that job?” It was gratifying for somebody to ask instead of making assumptions.
The story goes like this. I retired from the Air Force after 25 years in 2007 with a pension and medical benefits. I immediately went to work for the State of Alaska’s Division of Public Assistance determining eligibility for programs like Medicaid and food stamps. I excelled at the job and loved the people I worked with. However after almost five years, the math still didn’t work. Day-care costs, after school care costs and associated expenses together almost equaled my pay check. I was working in order to pay the bills that working created. It was time to stop the madness.
It is funny that people can understand a dad staying home if it is a financial decision. That makes it ok. Just as long as he isn’t staying at home because he likes it . . . .
Of course I stepped out of the that madness and into a completely different type of madness. Things went great when it was just one child home during the day and the other at school. The first day of having both boys of home-made it clear that there would be some adjustments.
I was in the bathroom on the first day that Eli and Charlie were home together. I could hear them interacting (playing isn’t an appropriate word to describe how my boys inhabit the same area). I heard some scuffling and raised voices.
Charlie yells from what a presume to be the kitchen, “Dad, Eli tried to shank me!”
There was a thump and a clatter and crying,
“Never mind, I disarmed him.”
Like I said the entire transition took some adjustments on my part. First I could no longer go to the bathroom and no more prison movies for Charlie. But overall the transition has been smooth.
So the questions don’t really bother me anymore. I just appreciate the chance to talk to an adult. Well most questions don’t bother me . . . “Do you actually clean toilets?” I have a hard time with that one. Yes, but I don’t want to talk about that. Some transitions are harder than others.
Thanks for reading. I’ll see you soon on This Side of the Diaper.