My son was born during the worst of what we’ve been calling “the Great Recession”. A few months after he was born I got notice of my very temporary layoff from my job as a locomotive conductor. It was a numbers game and I was promised I’d be back in a month, but I took the opportunity to take the second half of my wife’s parental leave and spend some time with my new son and my 3 year old daughter.
It was a weird shift for me, going from a roughneck workplace of bunkhouses, dirty jokes and cigarettes to diapers, bottle feeding and finger-painting, but having the chance to spend all my time with the kids in a way that would have been unheard of for men a generation ago was great. After working 5 year’s worth of random shift work at all hours of the night and day, I fell back in love with sleeping eight hours a night. I also got back into writing, a skillset that had almost gone to seed after I earned my bachelor degree. I started to earn a little money on the side writing for magazines and websites, and so when my six months of leave were up, my wife and I decided that I’d leave my job on the railway and become a part time writer full time caregiver and joint the growing ranks of the newest club, the stay-at-home dad.
The decision drew a lot of ire from my dad and my father-in-law, neither of whom were keen on the idea of a man not working fulltime. I thought it was a pretty “out there” move myself, but I had no idea how big the Stay-at-home-dad club was getting.
In Canada, where I live, Stats Canada records that one in eight Stay-at-Home parents are men. That number jumped up massively since 2008, where 80% of the jobs that evaporated were held by men. But whether it was by choice or by circumstance, lots of guys like me were taking the plunge.
Still, there’s a glaring societal stigma about what we did. Famously, preacher Mark Driscoll called Stay-at-home dads “Deadbeats”, and I can tell you anecdotally that’s the default position of a lot of people. That said, those same people tone down their rhetoric when they watch a dad talk their toddler down from a tantrum in the grocery store.
The irony is that having a stay-at-home dad might just be the most beneficial situation for children. A comprehensive study put out by McGill University said that having a stay-at-home father was the ideal situation for giving a child a balanced relationship with both parents, and made for more empathetic, compassionate and confident adults. A separate study at Oakton College in Illinois went further to say that a stay-at-home arrangement was the most beneficial situation for a child’s development.
It was a huge shift for the entire family. My wife went from earning half of our income to being the de facto sole breadwinner, and as much as we prided ourselves on being a progressive couple, I found out the power dynamic in our relationship rests on the axis of a paycheck.
Whether it’s culturally programmed into us, or it’s instinct, the fact is I felt guilty about not “bringing home the bacon” and she felt guilty about not being the traditional “Mom” we all have an image of in our heads. I remember when my daughter fell off the porch and with tears in her eyes she ran past my wife for a hug from me, and it wretched both our hearts a little.
But, like everything else in life, we adjusted and flourished.
The strangest, and most affirming moment of my decision to devote three years to the full time nurturing of my kids, came when I was jawing with my old college roommate, a semi-reformed party animal and new dad himself. He works at a very high stress job and is compensated for it, but after some verbal sparring he told me “In all seriousness, I wish to god I could do what you do.” It’s certainly not easy, but I’ll never regret having done it, and I’m very lucky our financial situation allowed for it. In September the little guy will be getting on the school bus… it was a good four years.
JP is a writer-at-large in Toronto, he writes for Tokii.com, Askmen.com, winefox.ca and Pucklife Magazine. He’s the author of the 2011 novel Johnny Kicker and lives with his two kids and a tremendously understanding wife.