I dreamed for years of owning a Harley Davidson motorcycle. I’d spend hours and hours flipping through a catalogue trying to figure which “Hog” I’d buy and which leather saddlebags I’d drape over it. My desire would peak whenever I happened by two Harleys passing one another in opposite directions on the road because their riders would inevitably nod or wave to each other as they zipped by. There’s a special connection, an unspoken Harley brotherhood, and – brother – I wanted to join.
My life did not take a path where I could throttle that Harley throne. Instead, I walk the New York City sidewalks pushing a stroller container one beautiful toddler while being flanked by two other great kids, one of whom usually holds my hand. This is how I found a brotherhood even more special than that of the Harley Davidson – the brotherhood of at-home dads.
Pew Research report on at-home dads
According to a new Pew Research report on at-home dads, our population in the United States has almost doubled in the past 20-odd years to two million strong. I joined them about a decade ago after my wife and I discussed, over her growing belly, what our career paths would be. We could have both continued being part of the workforce, but we were about to be first-time parents and wanted one of us to be there to take in every second of our baby’s life and nurture him through those early years. Luckily for me, my wife was about to graduate law school, so the lots fell in my favor to be one who cared full-time for our child at home.
When our second child was born a few years later, neither of us hesitated to continue on our paths – hers as primary breadwinner, mine as primary caregiver, together as caring and loving parents.
I would continue on, multiple kids in tow, with my usual rounds to the parks, libraries, museums and even to various “Mommy and Me” classes, often being lone man in a sea of estrogen.
Then, something happened.
At-home dads on the rise
There started to be more of us. No longer was I the only guy at the park pushing his child on the swing. The park was full of men laughing and happily chasing their kids. Bumping into another stay-at-home dad while strolling through Central Park became more routine than rarity. Sometimes we’d stop and talk as our kids played or we would simply pass and give one another the old Harley nod or wave.
In some cases, the sagging economy brought these men into the at-home parenting world. However, many others I met chose the route voluntarily for one reason or another. Regardless of how they got there, even if circumstances changed and they returned to a more “traditional” male head-of-the-household role than 24/7 child care, I found most of these men continued to be highly active participants in the raising of their kids and family life because, simply, they enjoyed it.
The at-home growth trend may be reversing. The Pew Research report shows that the number appears to drops as the economy gets better. But that’s OK. The greatest lasting effect of the Great “Mancession” of recent years may be how it has changed the way society and fathers view fatherhood.
For years we dads have been told to step it up in the child-rearing and household duties, and to not focus so heavily on making money or gaining power or other materialistic things. Now, we are. I see dads of both the at-home and at-an-office-job variety showing up to school events now as frequently and with as little resistance as they show up to sporting events. In the media, I see fewer and fewer commercials showcasing dads as incompetent parents who can’t figure out how to fasten a diaper or do laundry. Instead, I see dads driving their kids to school, making breakfast, and being involved in the day-to-day of running a household.
In real life, the fathers I know have a desire to be present in their kids’ lives, and that’s what’s most important. The number of stay-at-home dads may fluctuate with the market, but that desire to be a father that children can look up to, that they like being around, and they can count on continues to grow. Fathers are no longer held up as someone to be feared, as in “just wait until your father gets home.” He’s been home all day – either physically or in his children’s mind and hearts.
So maybe I ended up with a stroller instead of a Hog, but Harley Davidsons do not love back. That tyke in the stroller, he does.