Stay-at-home fatherhood is one of those things you can’t imagine happening to you … until it does.
Up to that point, life’s a bowl of cherries — a bowl of cherries before grubby little hands put a bunch of half-chewed fruit mush back into it. You’re enjoying your freedom, your disposable income, your as-of-yet childless marriage with only the two of you in your bed at night (and certainly no hard plastic baby dolls to roll over onto). You go about your business blissfully unaware of the ticking time bomb you’ve activated.
Then suddenly, one morning: the pee-stick. In this case, brand names don’t lie — it’s very clear, really blue and frighteningly easy.
Now, I’m about as in touch with my feminine side as a heterosexual man can be — I love helping accessorize outfits, for example. I’ve been to an Ani DiFranco concert. I chug Crystal Light like I’ve just taken a Pilates class. I moisturize. So take it on authority: no man ever really envisions himself in the role of mommy.
But of course, maternity leave only lasts so long. Now, unless you’ve got family and/orfriends nearby, or are willing to forego luxuries like food and shelter to afford infant daycare, someone’s going back to work. Objectively speaking, there’s a 50 percent chance that someone will not be you.
Now, I can’t speak for how other couples figure out childcare coverage. But for us, it came down to who had the better gig. My wife works for the state of Alaska — retirement plan, health benefits, a parking permit, a day off for Seward’s Day, the whole schmear. Three years ago, at the time of our daughter’s birth, I was “freelancing” (note the quote marks).
This brings me to the first thing stay-at-home fatherhood did for me. Suddenly, no one cared that I was unemployed, especially not my in-laws. Essentially, I went from bum to hero, and all I had to do was defrost a little breast milk. I didn’t even have to give up my mid-morning nap. Or my post-lunch nap. Or my mid-afternoon nap.
That’s not the only way stay-at-home fatherhood turned out to suit a slacker like me. Forget about dressing up; as a stay-at-homer, I barely needed to change clothes at all. I mean, what was the point of staining a whole wardrobe with kiddie spoor when I could designate one hoodie sweatshirt to wipe noses, mouths, and — in a pinch — other messy orifices? Similarly, I found that cargo shorts — for me, a sartorial staple — were awesome for toting snacks, juice, extra clothes, wipes, butt cream. Thus, I could leave the diaper bag home. Yes, I was home with a baby, but that didn’t mean I wanted to carry a purse.
Here’s something else I discovered: ladies dig stay-at-home dads. Seriously, I never received so much female attention in my life. I even got a few numbers. Okay, that was mostly for babysitting, but still, I could tell some of them were checking out my Bjorn.
But wait, there’s more: stay-at-home fatherhood vastly sharpened my dexterity at opening beer bottles with one hand. It also re-familiarized me with the collected works of Dr. Seuss, made all the more colorful after several one-handed beers.
Stay-at-home fatherhood gave me an excuse to buy a new digital camera. And a Flip recorder. And an iPhone. Etc. It’s also addicted me to video-conferencing. I’ll Skype the pre-recorded test call if it means five-minutes distraction on a rainy day.
Recently, stay-at-home fatherhood’s been making me count to three, even though I hated it when my mom did that to me and swore I’d never do it to my kids. Every once in a while, stay-at-home fatherhood also forces me to wear a princess tiara. What? I can’t stand to hear a woman cry (especially if that woman is three-feet-tall and screaming “Daddy, put it on!”)
Most importantly, though, stay-at-home fatherhood reminds me that I’m 34, not 24, or 14, for that matter. That’s definitely a reminder I can use from time to time.
Seriously, though, stay-at-home fatherhood gave me a little buddy to hang out with, a sidekick, if you will, someone to go grocery shopping with, a partner for bike rides, hiking, spur-of-the-moment donut stops (don’t tell Mom). Talking to myself became “language development.” I built pillow forts on the bed free from recriminations. I frequented playgrounds without being mistaken for a child molester.
And then, last spring, my daughter started nursery school, 8 to 3:30, every weekday. In this way, stay-at-home fatherhood allowed me to experience something else most men don’t: empty-nest syndrome. Within a month of having the house to myself again, I got so lonely, I barely knew what to do. So, I convinced my wife to have another — a boy, born this past Oct. 25.
That’s’ right, I re-upped. Whew. For a second there, I thought I was going to have to get a job.
• “Slack Tide” runs every other Sunday in Neighbors. Check out more of Geoff Kirsch’s writing at www.geoffkirsch.com; email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.