For many couples, determining if one parent will stay home is an economic decision. This was the case for Irish Channel New Orleans resident Nate Walker and his wife Katy. Nate is a sommelier and was a general manager of a restaurant before their son’s birth. Katy is an attorney. The couple sat down to look at their finances and created a budget to factor in costs for daycare, parking, food and other expenses. They realized that it was far more financially beneficial for Nate to stay home with their son during the week and wait tables on Friday and Saturday nights, rather than work full time.
“If I had gone back to work, I wouldn’t have been able to see my son often, and my wife and I would have been ships passing in the night,” Nate explained. “Instead, I am relishing in the fact that this is happening and I get to spend time with him.”
The term “stay-at-home” doesn’t sit well with all full-time dads, and Mark Meenan is one of them. Mark said that he has never been a fan of being at home, even before his job as full-time dad. “Annika is 10 months old, and we spend our time hiking, snow shoeing, swimming and running,” he said. Mark said his family has been extremely supportive of his decision to be a full-time dad and Seattle society seems to “get it.” He added, “I think if we were still in Boston, where I am from, I might be fighting more issues of not seeming like a ‘tough guy.’” What Mark does confront is more mild-mannered ignorance from individuals who are from a different time period, such as 60-plus year old women who Mark says are amazed to see a handful of dads with their babies. From this group he gets comments like, ‘oh, is this daddy day?’ This suggests that they see it as atypical for a number of fathers to be spending time together with their children.
“Sorry lady, every day is daddy day around here,” Mark joked. “I rarely get comments like this from women in my generation.”
Some stay-at-home dads get less support from friends and family and also face negativity from society. Matt Amerling experienced disapproval from all three groups. When he and his wife Erin moved from Washington D.C. to Milton, Delaware, they decided that whoever first obtained a full-time job in their new town would go to work and the other parent would stay home with their two daughters. Erin was the first to get a job and so Matt became a full-time dad. The negative reaction from friends, family and society wasn’t always overt, Matt explained, but it was often conveyed through stern disappointed expressions or a roll of the eyes. This negative feedback and the ingrained societal ideology that fathers are supposed to financially provide for their family forced Matt to reframe his concept of self-worth.
“I’m a pretty open-minded man, but I even had this way of thinking too,” Matt admitted. “I would feel guilty over my wife working while I was home with the kids. I felt like I was providing a bad example for my daughters because I was showing them that a woman does the work while the man stays at home.
“Saying it out loud now sounds ridiculous because of course a man can stay at home with the kids,” Matt mentioned. “His taking care of them is no different than a mother staying home and taking care of her kids. But because society has drilled this mentality into our ways of thinking, I even looked at it as a bad thing.”
Matt had to unlearn the concept of traditional gender roles. Once he altered how he measured his self-worth, his confidence grew and he became more social because he had to take the kids out and interact with other parents and educators. This has had a long-term positive effect. “When I returned to work, I found that I did have more confidence. Not just as a father but as a person as well.”
Just like full-time moms, many full-time dads worry about re-entering the workforce. Mark said that he struggles with the concept of financial dependence and worries what will happen when it is time to enter the workforce or if he and his wife split up. “It will be a really difficult uphill battle to get back into the workforce,” Mark mused. “In the meantime I’m working to develop a side gig or two so that I don’t totally fall off the work wagon. I think this is a great time in America for people to open small businesses.”
For former full-time dad John Denney, the role of a stay-at-home dad was not new to him. His father was an artist who worked out of his home studio, while his mom was an actress and worked outside of the home. “It wasn’t until later in life that I realized how unique our situation was,” John said. “My status as a stay-at-home dad is not something that I advertised. I've always been discreet.” John is a musician and when his son turned 10 years old, the time was right, explained John, to accept offers for his band The Weirdos to regroup and tour. He is thankful that the band is still in demand and that he has been able to pick up his acting and voiceover career without trouble.
On rare occasions his son would ask, ‘what’s your job?’ John would respond by telling his son that, among other tasks, he did the dishes, laundry, prepared his lunch and swept. Matt’s eldest daughter also asked why Matt was staying home and mom was ‘going to a job.’ He told both of his daughters that he and Erin had applied for jobs but that Erin obtained one first, and that they wanted dad or mom to stay home with the girls.
“That seemed to be enough for my daughter,” Matt said. “She never asked again.”
Harahan resident Duncan Foote said that being a full-time dad has been a great experience and has allowed him to watch his daughters grow and become the little people they are today. The job also gives him numerous roles that he would likely have missed out on had he not been a full-time dad.
“For the past two years I have been a parent, a referee, a driver, a bank, a coach, a teacher, a cook, a maid, a doctor, a psychologist, a trainer, a comedian and pretty much every occupation that deals with kids.”