By Hamid Newberry
Is it wrong to say that being a stay-at-home parent is for the mother. There, I said it. I would also like to state that it is incredibly difficult being a stay-at-home dad, even in the more open-minded times that we live in.
I don’t live in a hipster city any longer; I moved from Seattle about 10 years ago when I realized that the internet didn’t feel like employing me. I also value space, fresh air, and not caring about what I wear. This also means that I don’t necessarily “fit in” where I live—a small town about an hour and a half north of Seattle. A dad who takes his boys on midday jogs with the stroller being pushed ahead, and a struggling 5 year-old on his bike trailing behind just looks odd here.
Oh, and I drive a Miata. And I have another car that’s even smaller.
I lost my terrific job in 2012, due to an ever-tightening belt from our corporate headquarters overseas. Our location was shut down after being in operation for over 50 years. I’ve had many jobs over the years in varying industries (bike messenger, cook, ship captain…) so I was sort of used to trying new things, but this time this job was different. My wife got pregnant, and we found out that our first little boy was going to be a part of our lives, I buckled down and left the hour-demanding, seasonal, feast-or-famine maritime industry (yes, I was serious about the captain thing). This job was supposed to be my end-all, salary job, with a future and security.
And because everything always happens at once, when that job was pulled out from under me, baby #2 decided to join us.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t have a plan, but I had an opportunity to jump back into school with my education expenses being covered since I was considered a “displaced employee.” This is one of those situations where I realized that all those years I spent avoiding finishing up college, college eventually found me. Since jobs were thin on the ground, my then wife and I decided that it would be great if I took care of the boys by day, and did my schooling at night. How many fathers get this opportunity?
I had massive anxiety with school constantly. I’m one of those people that averaged C’s in high school, and continued to have those “school nightmares” periodically, which I have heard has something to do with the fear of failure…or everyone seeing my genitals. Wait, does genitals sound feminine here? Actually, that would be an interesting term to use in this context. My identity was in a constant state of flux during the several years I spent at home. For the first few months, I worked hard in my classes, but I had one foot out the door looking for a job, as it just felt “anti-societal” being a man at home with my boys, while my wife worked hard and helped pay a lot of the bills (I did get paid a small portion while in school, and my scholarships were a big help to us).
I LOVED my time with the little ones, but I still felt slightly emasculated. I was used to making important decisions, and managing multiple impressive you-wouldn’t-understand kind of projects at work. Instead, I was marveling at the amount of food trash that was accumulating under my toddlers high-chair, and getting pissed that my—let’s call him a dog—Pomeranian named Simba was too damned picky to lick this trash up!
I had the kitchen thing down when it came to meal time and clean-up. I turned into a Kitchen Dick. Yes, this is my phrase. (To be honest, it’s also a backwoods road within the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State that I snickered at years ago, on my way to a hippy-fest campout by myself.) You can take the term as you see fit, but I feel that it symbolizes a man that feels a little lost in an “opposite-to-societal-norm-gender-specific” kind of environment. I somehow found a knack for it—at least, this is what the really deep voice in my head says. My specialty was making sub-par meals with upper-class garnishes; doesn’t that fix it? I felt good with my efforts, despite the boys not wanting to eat a lot of it. (By the way, frozen hash-browns need to be well-cooked before adding an egg or two for an egg hash; it just turns out nazdee. How it turns gray, I can’t tell you.) I wasn’t surprised to hear my oldest son ask “dad, what the heck is this food?” Without getting too defensive, I said quickly “I DON’T KNOW dude, just eat it.”
I noticed really quickly that I was on my own as a stay-at-home-dad. I live in a terrific neighborhood, with friendly neighbors everywhere, but by day I was the only man around. I couldn’t deal with the coffee dates that other moms were having, and I sure as heck didn’t want to join them. This is where I struggled. I felt more and more sensitive to my situation, and it was only further amplified by the numerous “mom blogs” that I would read almost daily. Don’t get me wrong, I could definitely relate. But the dads weren’t talking, and I knew there were others out there!
I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out, and I wasn’t ready for social media (I’m still not; these blogs are my first exposure to that world.) I decided to just stay on my own, and revel in the development of my two boys. Instead of getting fat off of those daily venti-milkshakes, I would exercise with my little guys, eventually jogging about 10 miles a week, and have fun with new recipes for our meals. I got really good at cleaning the house, as it was too much to expect of my wife with her long work days. I bathed with my then four-year-old son every night, and my wife and I enjoyed reading stories to the boys before they turned in. Then, when everyone was in bed, the homework began.
I would bury my head in my books until 4AM some mornings. Then my alarm clock—my kids—would wake me at around 7AM to get the next day going again. I did this for years! Imagine the lack of adult stimulation in situations like these. As most of you stay-at-home parents know, talking to adults is a rare event!
I’m not a super-dad. With such a lack of sleep for so long, I could be a real jerk; especially in the mornings. I often wondered what in the hell I was doing with my life, and it was an endless cycle of measuring up (to myself) as a “straight A student,” and being the best father I could be. I had to reevaluate myself often, and step back and think about the good and bad things I was doing as a parent.
So now I have a great profession again. It has been six months since I was at home with the best little friends a dad could have. My oldest started kindergarten on the same day that I started my new job, and I sobbed. My littlest went to his new daycare provider, who I must say is amazing, and I felt guilty no longer being there as his all-day dad. I still do. It’s hard to gain clarity with so many changes in so little time: a recent separation from my wife, turning 40 last week, adjusting to the still-new job, and now seeing the kids even less as my spouse and I do the 50/50 thing (the absolute best for everyone!) Lots of adjustments here.
Maybe my couple of years with my boys has prepared me to be a better solo father for the times that they are with me. I don’t stress over shopping with them on my own, or having to change my 2 year-old’s diaper while at a busy restaurant and realizing that the men’s room doesn’t have a changing table. I thoroughly enjoy all of my experiences with them, and I’ve learned to not sweat the little things; they’re so temporary anyway. Sometimes you just have to roll with it, pure Kitchen Dick style.