A Full Time Job
“It is the best job I’ve ever had…but the pay sucks,” I tell people when they ask how I like staying at home with my kids, Penny and Simon. And it’s true. I love so many things about doing what I do. I get to laugh and play for a living. And there’s important work to be done. I mold minds, for crying out loud! I hear the lessons I teach and the words I say repeated back to me in the world’s most adorable voices. (Some of the words are not totally age-appropriate, but that makes them so much funnier! “Jesus Christ it’s friggin’ cold out here, daddy!” Yes, honey, it sure friggin’ is.) I nurture bruised knees and bruised feelings (and holy crap, do four-year-old girls have a lot of feelings!). Along with my wife, I make sure that my kids are happy, safe, educated, and know that they are loved above all else.
What I don’t do is make a goddamn nickel. Does that mean the job is not enough for me? James Fell, of AskMen, claimed that no man can be satisfied just staying at home with the kids.
In the stay at home dad and dad blogger communities (small, and arguably inconsequential, segments of society I will grant you) there was a minor uproar about an article James Fell wrote, “Work at Home Dads: Why Stay at Home Dads Can Never Really Be Content.” The only reason it was controversial was because he purported to speak for all men. Had James simply framed it as, “I tried staying at home full time with my kids and it wasn’t really for me,” his article could have offered some insight into his thinking. Furthermore, the reader could have extrapolated his situation to their own. But he didn’t do that. He discussed his own situation (the article actually feels more like a cover letter, chock full of not-so-subtle humblebrags) and did the extrapolating for the reader. He didn’t seem to pause for a moment to think that maybe his circumstances and (especially) his personality differ wildly from that of other SAHDs.
I will freely admit that James Fell must be a whole lot smarter than I am. He boasts in his article that he makes in the top 5% of all writers. (He oh-so-humbly downplays this impressive statistic by assuring the reader it’s “way less” than he made in his past profession.) I’m not sure where he got those numbers, but if he’s getting paid anything, he’s getting paid more than I am. Plus, it’s a month later, and I’m still talking about him and what he wrote…so, he must be doing something right. His Jedi mind-trick worked on me. Damn you, James Fell!
As I said, I’m writing this quite a bit after the piece was originally published. But a rebuttal was written almost immediately by a much more on-the-ball dad blogger in Dad on the Run, and republished in The Good Men Project, stating what many SAHDs were thinking: “I am a full-time at-home father and I am happy and content.” Dad on the Run thoughtfully explained that “if you think the job is menial, simple and beneath you then it shall be. The job is what you make of it. If you do understand the challenges and the task at hand and you rise to the occasion then you might come to see that raising children IS your life’s work.” Yeah, take that!
But I had to admit that, though I agreed wholeheartedly with Dad on the Run, something in James’s article struck a nerve with me (and me in particular, as I, of course, cannot speak for all stay at home dads). I loved what I was doing, but for a time something was missing.
An Impressive Group of Dads
I belong to a dad group that has both stay at home and work at home dads. A few of the guys I’m closest to manage to take care of the kids and make (at least some) money to boot. They’re creative types. One is – literally – a rock star, the bassist for the band Ash. Another writes Spanish language screenplays and writes for Mexican television. A third is an actor. (I almost jumped out of my chair when I randomly saw him on a FedEx commercial wearing a very ugly Christmas sweater.) There are others in the group with similarly impressive credentials. It’s kind of intimidating. They seem to have it all. You go, girl! (Sorry, I started veering into Ricki Lake territory there for a second.) I’m just saying that they get to be the at the home parent AND contribute to the monetary well-being of their families. If they weren’t such good dudes, they’d be really easy to hate. It’s kind of like how I feel about Justin Timberlake. Hear me out…he sings, he dances, he’s not a bad actor, he’s great on SNL, he’s good looking, and he gets lots of really hot chicks. But I can’t hate him because he’s funny and kind of goofy and self-deprecating. Good lord, I am going to get a lot of crap for that (almost completely unnecessary) analogy, but come on…you know you’ve loved him since “D*ck in a Box!”
The common thread in the dad group, as I mentioned, is that they all have creative careers. I don’t think I’d feel the same pang of jealousy of someone who managed balancing being an at-home dad with his career as a financial planner. (Though I would probably try to hit him up for some free advice. Our finances suck!) These guys didn’t start singing, acting or writing to make money, but because that’s what they were passionate about. So, was I envious that they were making money while staying at home? Yeah, dude! I like money and would love to make some. But I could have done that by remaining in the workforce. I was much more envious of the fact that they had this awesome outlet that had nothing to do with being a dad but they still got to “dad it up” (I just made that expression up) full-time, or darn close to it.
Ironically, I discovered that this blog – about being a dad – was my creative outlet away from the kids. Sure, it’s about them. But I need them to leave me the hell alone while I’m working on it! If I could sing or play guitar or paint, one of those things could just as easily have done the trick. Or if I were good with my hands and liked to fix and build things, not only would my wife love me more, but I could do something useful and artistic around the house. But I am – either kind of or completely – awful at all of those activities. So writing it is. And what else am I going to write about but the things I get excited about: my family and doing dumb stuff, like subjecting myself to the tortures of an obstacle race. Good times!
So, dammit, maybe James Fell was right! Just being a stay at home dad wasn’t enough FOR ME. But it isn’t about money. It’s about doing something for myself, feeling creative and productive, and using a different part of my brain.
His assertion, however, that dads – as opposed to “parents” – could not be content staying at home full-time was just plain sexist. He blamed the male ego and societal stigmas for his dissatisfaction, but his entire article implied that being an at-home parent is enough for a woman but not a man. Spending day and night at the beck and call of needy and demanding (though incredibly adorable) kids can be taxing for anyone, mom or dad. Parents need time to be not-parents, maybe with a hobby or volunteering or learning a new skill. Just something away from kids, even for just a little bit.
For me, that something has been blogging. And other than being a stay at home dad, being a blogger has been the greatest job of my life… but the pay still sucks.