It’s funny, often when meeting some one new one of the first questions I will be asked is what I do for a living. It is an easy way to strike up a conversation, and get to know some one. What you do for a living will give others insights into what you like, what drives you, and what is important to you. The problem with this is I leave many people speechless when I tell them I am a Stay at Home Dad.
Too often this ends the conversation. I see this all the time in golf league I am part of. Once I drop that bomb on the older members I may as well not be there. They turn and speck to my golfing partner, mortgage lender, and carry on the conversations with him as if I wasn’t even there. Occasionally I will get a few follow-up questions asking me about how I came to do this or ask about my kids. Some people will tell me how lucky I am. I agree I am lucky, I love what I do. Just for the record, I do know they mean lucky as in escaping the “working” world, but I prefer to take it as being lucky to spend so much time with my girls. (Although, last week when both girls were yelling and fighting, there was a potty training accident on the floor, and it was still a few hours till my wife got home, I wouldn’t describe it as lucky.)
These questions never bugged me. The person, while not sure what to say, was at least, trying to understand me. They weren’t asking deep or original questions, but at least, they are asking me about being a dad. They were putting in the effort to get to know me and I appreciate that. It’s the other side of this that bothers me. some questions, while still meaning well, are just rude. “So when are you going to go back to work”, or “Well what did you used to do?” or the worse, ” I think company X is hiring”. These bug me because they all say the same thing. It isn’t ok to just be a dad.
I am instantly in the role of trying to justify my decision. What events transpired that caused my wife and I to make this decision. Years ago , with my wife, we decided that I was going to be a Dad. we were lucky enough that our situation provided us the opportunity for me to stay home. We took it. We knew money would be a little tight, but it was what was best for our family. My primary job would be taking care of our girls, and we have never looked back. (Well except when the new iPhone comes out, remember that part about money being tight? Yeah, not getting any new gadgets for a while.)
It is worse when I get these responses from other stay at home dads. Recently, I met some other stay at home dads at a local playground. A great group of guys, the kids had fun, no complaints. Well except one. The conversation was dominated by what everyone used to be or was going to be. They introduced themselves as ex-pilots, ex-teachers, or ex-lawyers. Some introduced as future business owners or future students. No one introduced themselves as Dads.We did talk a little about child care and our struggles, but that was after it was established that we weren’t just dads.
I wanted to know why. What is wrong with being a just a Dad. Why is that not an acceptable answer? Why do people, dads included, think that being a dad is not enough? I shouldn’t need to justify my decision to take care of my kids. Yet many people see that need. They want to know what I used to be or might be again. It is as if that former career is what would define me. Being a dad isn’t interesting enough, there has to be more. That perception needs to change.
Happily things are changing. I see and hear less of this every year. Dads are gaining more acceptance. I see more dads at playgrounds and in my girls gyms classes. More commercials and TV shows are dropping the negative stereotypes of the bumbling, incompetent dad who can’t take care of his kids. As this perception changes, I hope that we as dads can gain the confidence to say proudly that we are dads and stop using what we used to be or what will be to define us. People on a more traditional path may still find the choice to be a stay at home father different or odd. But if we are to change that perception it has to start with us.
I have decided that being a dad is what would define me. I am proud of what I do. As any at home parent, mom or dad, will tell you this isn’t an easy job. When I meet someone new I purposely leave out what I used to do or want to one day do. I write a lot, I really enjoy it and maybe one day I will be able to write a novel that will be worth reading. But when I am introduced to someone new I don’t tell them that. If it comes up later fine. When asked what I do, when they want to know what I like, what drives me, and what is important to me, it’s not that I used to be a salesman. It’s not that I am an aspiring writer. It’s very simple. I am a Dad.