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The Year My Father Stayed Home With Me (VIDEO)

Posted: 10/04/2013 5:47 pm

Charlie Capen
YouTube / HowToBeADad

This video was lost for about 15 years. I knew it existed, but no matter how hard I searched, it seemed like I was imagining things.

My father and I appeared on a local news program in San Francisco (KPIX) when I was a very young boy. Dad decided to leave behind his role as a radio DJ on KSFX and KSAN to become a stay-at-home father so he could take care of me for a while. A news crew thought this idea was either insane or ridiculous enough to devote an entire segment to interviewing my dad, my mother, a few "experts" and follow us around for a day.

I want to share that video with you now.

Sensitive viewers beware: you might see my baby penis.

I have watched this video about a hundred times. Like that frozen mosquito in Jurassic Park, my father and I are stuck in a kind of video amber, locked into a series of moments together where he's telling me about his life as a father, his struggles and his growth. He's only four years older here than I am now. My mind wanders over the idea that we could've met, in some alternate universe, at a playground and watched our sons throw sand at each other.

It's worth noting how much has changed since the early 1980s. Aside from the obvious fashion and hairstyle obscenities, did you catch the sign that said, "This (area) reserved for mothers and children only"? Or when the psychologist basically said that women who left their role as mother to work a job and felt OK with it had "serious emotional difficulties"? We still deal with echoes of these ideas in our lives today. Men are looked at askance when sitting by themselves at a park. Women are expected to lean in, opt out or otherwise balance their roles as caretakers and providers.

reserved for mothers

But I am something of a second generation at-home father. I spent eight gloriously tiring and remunerative months with my son Finn. Now that I have a full-time job, I have a better appreciation of what my wife contends with. I know there are quantum leaps he's making that I am not around for. These are the transactions of a life as a parent. We debit from one side of the column of time or money to credit the other. My dad nailed it when he said that a man may question his decision about committing himself to becoming a caretaker, but it's worth it. Seeing him with me felt like a strange echo of my life with Finn. I'm grateful that I have this video, and that I'm able to share it.

There are so many more dads doing what my father decided to do back then. Men are writing about it. Television shows are centered around the idea, though most of them are tanking (Modern Dads might be an exception, I haven't seen it yet). We've entered an era of "parenting," not just motherhood and fatherhood as these distinct, opaque examples of how to be masculine and feminine. We're self-defining what a family looks like and how it behaves. But I know this transition was probably very hard on my mom. Look how fiercely she stares at the interviewer when she talks about her role as a mother. Her environment was not set up to support her decision whatsoever.

One of the main motivations behind co-creating my whole damn website, for me, was being able to chronicle moments like those in the video above and giving myself a place to answer rhetorical questions for my son in case I die before he has children. Blogging can seem so narcissistic, and I'm sure my father was bucking against the idea of a camera crew following us around all day. But I get it now.

And I hope my son gets it too.

In loving memory
Stephen Capen
2.28.46 - 9.12.05

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