Stay-at-home dads want more than laughs
Movies and books still portray full-time fathers as bumbling buffoons, but that's not the whole story
(Page 2 of 2)
David Eddie, author of the just-published "Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad" (Riverhead, $14), playfully calls himself "Cinderfella" and a "faceless drudge." He takes his toddler son to his favorite watering hole with him, and leaves him at a lingerie shop called Nearly Naked, in the care of the owner, a friend, while he runs errands.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Similarly, in the forthcoming "I Sleep at Red Lights: A True Story of Life After Triplets" (St. Martin's, $24.95), Bruce Stockler describes himself as "an anomaly, like a mermaid or an anarchist." The stay-at-home dad, he writes ruefully, is "a socially awkward reality in the suburbs." Yet, ever the humorist, he goes for laughs as he describes taking his three young sons and daughter to the ladies' room at a shopping mall, because it was cleaner than the men's room.
Mr. Baylies speculates that humor in these movies and books helps to counter deep ambivalence about role reversals. "The real changes in families might not be what the public wants to hear," he says. "Maybe we're afraid to lose the notion that moms aren't always going to stay home. There's always that masculinity thing that Dad wants to hold on to, that macho image. It's hard to give up. It's so ingrained in us. I don't think the public wants to let it go. But it's happening gradually."
Baylies, of North Andover, Mass., sees heartening signs of progress, from changing tables in McDonald's men's rooms to play groups for at-home fathers and their children. He has cared for the couple's two sons, now 11 and 8, since he was laid off as a software engineer in 1992. His wife teaches school.
One self-described househusband in southern California, a former lawyer who wants to be identified only as Mark, has been home with the couple's three sons for nearly 10 years. He calls entertainment-media images of men like himself "clichéd" and "superficial," adding, "There is depth to what we're doing."
In American society, he says, "there's not much left in terms of what it's OK to poke fun at. Jokes about women, ethnic groups, and gays are frowned on. But men at home remain fair game."
Still, he remains hopeful that as more men assume new roles, "we will eventually reach a crossover point where it won't be that funny anymore."
As fictional househusbands and real-life at-home fathers grapple with doubts, fears, and guilt about their unconventional roles, they also find themselves redeemed by family life. The eternal verities of parenthood bring satisfaction: It's hard work, but it's rewarding, too.
No wonder these "sidesplitting" movies and "hilarious" books specialize in heartwarming endings. "I look upon taking care of him as a crucial step in my spiritual path, in my development as a human being," Mr. Eddie writes.
Echoing that theme, Mr. Stockler says, "I love my children fiercely."
Mark, too, finds unexpected rewards. "You're an easy target for ridicule, but you're also an easy target for people to praise you and tell you you're great," he says. "What I do is no different from what mothers have always done. But I get a lot more credit."