“It is the best job I’ve ever had … but the pay sucks.”
That’s what I tell people when they ask how I like being a stay-at-home dad to two kids.
And it’s true.
I love so many things about 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 nurture bruised knees and bruised feelings. The lessons I teach and the words I say are 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.
What I don’t do is make a damn nickel.
Does that mean the job is not enough for me? Does it mean I don’t contribute to society? Or that I cannot be satisfied with my life?
Traditionally, it has been a man’s responsibility to bring home the bacon. His little wifey is then supposed to fry it up as a side to whatever slab of meat she spent all day tenderly preparing, while taking care of the kids, and making sure she looked good doing it. Even though that scenario is a clearly outdated ideal that probably only existed on Leave it to Beaver, it is still kind unusual for men to be a full-time at-home parent. That’s why we tend to seek each other out whenever we can through groups like this one, the NYC Dads Group.
A few of the guys I’m closest to now are work-at-home dads. They 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, playing bass for the band Ash. Another writes Spanish-language screenplays 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. Not only do they get to be the at-home parent, they also contribute monetary to 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. 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. I don’t think I’d feel the same pang of jealousy toward someone 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.)
So, am I envious these guys are making money while staying at home? Yeah, dude! I like money and would love to make some. But these guys didn’t start singing, acting or writing to make money; they did so because that’s what they were passionate about it before becoming dads. I am much more envious that they had this awesome “professional” outlet that still allowed them to “dad it up” (I just made that expression up) full-time, or darn close to it.
Spending all day at the beck and call of needy (though incredibly adorable) kids can be taxing for anyone, mom or dad. Parents need time to be “not-parents,” whether that means time with a hobby or volunteering or learning a new skill. It’s about feeling creative and productive, and using a different part of your brain. Believe it or not, you do have some gray matter that doesn’t concern itself with how many poopy diapers you’ve changed today or how to help your daughter with her pre-school drama.
I discovered that my creative outlet away from the kids is my blog Amateur Idiot / Professional Dad. Sure, I see the irony that my not-parent thing is writing about being a parent (as well as writing about my doing dumb stuff, like subjecting myself to the tortures of an obstacle race or to jump over fire). But, hey — if I could sing or play guitar or paint, one of those would have 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 other than being a stay-at-home dad, being a blogger has been the greatest job of my life. But the pay still sucks.