A carefree musician learns to care for two small children — and maintain his masculinity in the process.
The author with his two-year-old daughter, Everly, and one-year-old son, Arlo (Melissa Jordan)
It’s not forthe faint of heart, and like most epic adventures, sometimesit takes all you’ve got just to hang on. such is the life of a modern mandelving into the wilderness of stay-at-home fatherhood.
A few yearsago when my wife, Melissa, and I discussed the possibility of my staying homewith the child we were expecting, I accepted the challenge with a resounding”yes.” Melissa works in marketing for a software company and I am amusician and artist; needless to say, her steady paychecks and benefitsprovided the security our growing family needed.
Behind all of the dangling diaper bags, children’s songs, and dried-up drool is a very capable man.
Early on, Irealized this was going to be a “solo hike.” there were very few men I couldturn to for advice. No one in my family and only one dear friend had been in myshoes. Subsequently, there weren’t many road maps or blueprints for me tofollow — even very few books. Most men seemed to think I was crazy. Someassumed that I was taking the easy wayout of being a traditional male breadwinner. Most guys were simply confused, expressing concerns that I would find it emasculatingto stay home taking care of the children.
I didstruggle with feelings of isolation at first, especially before our daughter, Everly,could speak. there were days when I would answer a phone call in the waninghours of the afternoon and be startled by the volume of my regular speakingvoice — I’d realized it hadn’t been used all day for anything but silly,nonsensical sounds that would make my daughter giggle.
Meanwhile,spontaneity, a dear old friend of mine, was led out of the door by two tiny hands.In the past, my working hours had been at night, when I took the stage atclubs and coffee houses. during the daytime, I was free to explore, paint, or playmusic. to fuel my creativity, I took the occasional motorcycle ride throughGolden Gate Park or down the Pacific Coast Highway. In the evening, I’d ride ina cab through the lights of the city, and the only thing on my mind would bewhether or not to open with the new song I’d written that afternoon. Suddenly, theseunstructured days gave way to carefully planned schedules, built around nap-times,feedings, doctor’s visits, and fragile toddler moods that could easily dip intotantrums.
I took pridein learning my daughter’s routines, the tricks that would get her to eat andsleep, her individual quirks and needs. Yet there were times in the beginningwhen I felt invisible. Whenever people had questions about her care and wellbeing, they almost always were directed towards my wife. This was hard to take.Not only was I not “winning the bread,” so to speak, I wasn’t even beingacknowledged for all of the hard work I was putting into raising my child.People were justifiably amazed that my wife could excel at her job while beinga truly amazing mother. But I felt displaced, or lost in the mix, as questionsabout my daughter’s day-to-day life were directed over my head.
My new role also provoked some peculiar reactions from strangers. At one doctor’sappointment, a nurse was astonished when I told her I was a stay-at-home dad”Really? I’ve never met one before!” she said, staring at me as if I were anexotic animal. In some cases, I couldn’t tell whether the inquisitive looks I receivedfrom check-out clerks were attributable to my tattoos and occasional thickbeard or to the forgotten pink and blue plastic animal and bow-shaped clipsEverly had placed in my hair earlier in the day.
Since thebirth of our son, Arlo, I’ve been drawing even more stares — but I’ve come torealize that not all of them are dubious. some onlookers seem delighted by thesight of a man fully engaged in caring for his children. Oftentimes, anolder woman will ask if I need help doing something as simple and everyday asgetting the stroller out of the back of the van and loading the kids into it.One lady even asked if I needed her help holding Arlo while I was at the selfcheck-out line in the grocery store. I couldn’t help but think that if I hadbeen a mother with a child, the invitation may not have been extended.
It might notlook it to the casual outside observer, but stay-at-home dads are a toughbreed. Behind all of the dangling diaper-bags, strollers, children’s songs, anddried-up drool is a very capable man. A man who can transfer two snoozingchildren, one on each arm, from the mini-van through the heat of theday — unlocking the door to the house and slipping them into their respectivebeds without waking them up. A man who, on little to no sleep, must plan forany and every situation, magnificent or mundane. A man who must learn not topanic through bouts of uncontrollable backseat tears and screams while drivingin bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. A man who truly knows the value oftaking a long, deep breath.
Stay-at-homemothers feel these same stresses. But the ways men deal with them are anothermatter entirely. As proud and contented as I feel with my children, and ascomfortable as I am with the choices my wife and I have made, there aredefinitely times when I find myself desperately needing to do somethingspecific to assert my manhood. I daydream about spending weekends with a fewbuddies in the mountains, throwing a hatchet into a tree, or finding the timeto grab a paddle and spend hours of solitude on a river in a canoe.
The non-stopnature of the job is daunting and can feel overwhelming at times. Everly andArlo remind me time and again that toddlers do not wake up slow. As soon as theireyes open, I am on duty and I had better be ready. there is no drive to andfrom work during which I can prepare or clear my mind. there are no peerreviews, no thumbs up from the boss, no lunch breaks, and sometimes hardly anybathroom breaks. and there is little time to dedicate to my passions and hobbies — I’ve learned to set myself to the side for a while.
Still, I findpockets of time. When I was out playing gigs late into the night, I certainlynever considered the possibility that I would one day be hiding away in thefarthest corner of our house, playing my guitar through headphones and singingjust above a whisper so as not to wake my children at 9 p.m. on a Wednesdaynight. I once wrote and recorded albums in a matter of months; now I’m a yearand a half into recording my current album.
But I nolonger have to seek out inspiration, as the kids bless me with it constantly.We spend time almost every day together in the music room, singing intomicrophones and beating on banjos and tambourines. Music is one of my most useful parenting tools: It can overpower my children’s tears and make them wiggleand shake with wild abandon. It’s also brought forth the most intimate musicalmoments I’ve ever experienced, like witnessing Everly’s sleepy-faced joy as Iburst through her door first thing in the morning with a guitar — or softlyhumming “Amazing Grace” into Arlo’s ear as he lay on the recovery table after his heartsurgery.
Being astay-at-home dad uses every skill I’ve ever acquired in some form or another.It has made me more capable, more centered, and more balanced. It has toughenedme up and, at the same time, sweetened my spirit. It has made me less selfishand more patient. It has made me a better man.
Sometimes, itsimply wears me out. The grey hairs are appearing in greater number andfrequency these days, reminding me of an old proverb I stumbled across duringour first pregnancy and recently worked into a song. becoming a father, itsays, “will put silver in your hair, and gold in your heart.” being a stay-at-homedad has revealed this to be an absolute truth.
The Manly Job of the Stay-at-Home Dad