Not Mommy. Not Grandma. Certainly not a nanny. In contrast to the typical
Brazilian family, the number of American fathers who change their children’s
diapers every single day is on the rise.
Tania Menai, New York
Photographs by Stephanie Land
rushed to make their 12-o’clock appointment. Sporting khaki shorts, rubber sandals,
designer shirts and sunglasses, the men were not there to play football or sip an
ice-cold drink. Pushing their ultra-modern strollers, they were taking their children
to Rock ‘n Roll Babies, a music class on Manhattan’s wealthy Upper East Side.
Home Dads – quite simply, Dads who stay at home. For 45 minutes, they sat on
colorful mattresses with their children – all under two years old. Together they sang,
played xylophones and blew soap bubbles. One baby sported overalls from the
legendary CGBG rock club. Another was wearing a baby version of an AC/DC T-shirt,
with the letters reading ABCD.
increasingly ubiquitous – in the streets, in and around schools, and just about
everywhere else. Fathers who stay home with their children are assumed to be
unemployed. Losers. In America, where nannies do not wear uniforms and simply
watch the children when the parents aren’t home, the situation is different: since
1995, the amount of time American men spend with their children has doubled.
2007 census data indicates that 159,000 men were home raising their kids – a
figure which fails to include those men who also had another job.
comparison to number of stay-at-home mothers; even when both parents work,
women devote four times as much time to caring for their children as men.
However, it is no longer unusual to find men raising their children while their wives
work outside the home. In the United States, where the cost of childcare (be it
nannies or day care) can be astronomical, many couples find themselves forced to
choose which spouse will have to give up his or her career. And it does not always
end up being the woman – particularly if she was earning more to begin with.
The figures speak for themselves. Nannies charge up to $15 an hour, almost as
much as many professionals make. Moreover, in a recession, a father who lost his
job may have no choice. “There is no money that would pay for the quality time I spend with my daughter. A nanny would never do the same,” says Patrick Spillman, of New York, whose
daughter, Grace, is 18 months old. He used to work in the coffee industry, but today,
he is taking care of his daughter and cooking for his wife. “People see me with the
stroller and ask: ‘Is this your day with her?’ I tell them, ‘no, I do this every day.’ I bet it
won’t take long before they have a magazine for our demographic.”
class came from Lance Somerfeld, who has been home with his son, Jake, since
he was born a little less than a year ago. “Seeing my son take his first steps was the
greatest reward. A nanny sending photos from her iPhone just doesn’t compare,”
he says. To cope with the isolation, he created the online community, NYC Dads Group;
by January of this year, the group had more than 150 members. Members get
together once a week for a variety of activities – a walk in the park, a trip to the zoo –
followed by a half-hour discussion, where they share their experiences. After class,
while feeding their children, they got down to the questions of the week, with Lance
as mediator. One father was frustrated by his 8-month-old daughter’s refusal to eat
solid foods; another said his son refused sleep in the afternoon; a third asked the
group how to teach his baby to climb down from the sofa on his own. Members
rushed to offer their advice; no one called his wife. This includes Lance, whose
wife, Jessica, serves as the vice president of an insurance company. She sees only
advantages: “I don’t mind being the breadwinner. We saw that my career paid
better, and how Lance having time off has given him a great opportunity to be with
our son full-time. Having a parent at home in the first years of a child’s life is a
fantastic benefit,” she said.
emerge. “They exist in all communities, backgrounds and religions, including the
most conservative of them,” says California-based writer Jeremy Adam Smith, who
spent three years researching hundreds of fathers and mothers in the United
States, an effort which culminated in The Daddy Shift, which was published last
year. The 2009 Census showed that one in four pre-schoolers whose mothers
worked outside the home was cared for by his or her father. In contrast, Smith
writes, in 1970 the average number of hours per week fathers spent with their
children was under three.
Two years ago, a survey conducted by Monsters.com revealed that 68% of fathers
would like to be at home with their children. According to Smith, American men
generally enjoy participating in family life. At the same time, women fought for
maternity leave and more flexible hours at the office; something that is lacking in the male world. “Even as fathers are out supporting their families, they ask themselves
to what extent they should be sharing the burden with their wives,” writes Smith.
the 1930s, men left their families: at the time, they saw themselves only as the sole
breadwinners. The divorce rate skyrocketed. By 2009, the situation had changed:
80% of American women worked outside the home; a third earned more than their
husbands. “Today, many women are capable of supporting a family on their own.
Moreover, for decades, a small, pioneering group of fathers stayed home
voluntarily. Thanks to them, we can now tell fathers who out of work that they still
have a role to play in the family, even if that role is not financial,” he writes. In his
study, Smith also found that dialog between both parents was key in enabling the
mother to take a positive view of the new relationship between the father and his
children. “It doesn’t mean he’ll remain the homemaker forever, or that he’ll never
find a job, but in this situation, everything will be happier,” he adds,. Smith himself,
used to work during the morning hours from home, while taking care of his own child.
fathers could now relate to mothers who come home tired from work – which is what
spending the day with a child is. When he heard about the lives of middle class
families in Brazil – where nannies are so prevalent that they often stand in for
parents at children’s events, travel and participate in families’ social lives – he
laughed. To him, that sounded like “something out of science fiction”; he did not
think American families would do the same even if nannies were as inexpensive in
the U.S. as they are in Brazil. “Where I live, there are nannies, but they don’t live
with the families. There is a culture in the U.S., and also in European countries, in
which parents get involved in raising their children even if they are at nursery
school or with a nanny during the day. The families win out,” he concludes.
Lance Somerfeld, creator of NYC Dads Group, with his son, Jake
Walking, feeding, fun and reading routine – Lance and Jake in New York. “Seeing
my son take his first steps was the greatest reward,” he says.
The Woman in White
As family relationships go, the distance between New York and São Paulo is far
greater than we may imagine.
friend, a mother of three girls, were just sitting down for a beer and talk. The kids?
At home, asleep. So were their Dads.
the head of the table was a boy, around 4 years old, playing with Power Rangers. A
woman in her twenties, dressed in white, approached, tissue in hand. ‘Wipe his
nose.’ ‘Go over there.’ The child put down the action figures. I could hear them in the
were tired. The couples continued to talk. Another half hour went by. The lady in
white and child were sitting together. She tried to read him a story at the dimly-lit
bar, as he struggled to hear her over the growing roar of voices and laughter.
their loud conversation; another hour went by. By the time they finally got up to
leave, it was after 11. The child was nearly asleep – in his nanny’s lap.
cosmopolitan city like New York. Yes, feminism has left its mark. Men and women
do share some of the responsibility for taking care of their children, though often
only following laborious negotiation. Brazil is still far behind in this department.
which keeps as a kind of natural solution. Sometimes, only one, and truth, since no
one has of the equipment that helps parents caring for children or with a more
flexible labor market that allows mothers and parents reconcile work and home life.
afford an entire fleet of nannies for the day-to-day work, and then call a babysitter
for the weekend. After all, they can do everything that fathers can’t – and often won’t
Bia Abramo, 46, is a journalist, professor of journalism at the Faculties of
Campinas, and mother of a 6-year-old