I'm going to tackle this will full honesty and very little filter, in hopes of capturing the highest peaks and deepest valleys, and everything in between, of being a stay-at-home dad.
Here is some context before I dive into it.
In 2005, I was working as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then in development for Sony Pictures as a script reader/story analyst. My first son was born on August 4th of that year.
My wife and I moved to California from Wisconsin in 1999 so that I could pursue my dreams of becoming a screenwriter. As she went to graduate school when we first moved out there, I did what I could to get into the film industry. I started working as a movie extra to get on set. The pay was horrible and the hours were often long and boring, however, I was working on movie sets next to great directors and actors. I eventually took a full time job in retail management to pay the bills as my wife finished graduate school. I hated almost every minute of it. Screenwriting was my release as I learned more and more about the craft.
When my wife graduated as a microbiologist, she took on a great job at an excellent company in Malibu. We moved to a new apartment in Culver City after I left my retail management job. That was a beautiful day.
We happened to move right across the street from Sony Studios, which was the old MGM lot. Hollywood lore above all.
To get behind the studio walls, I nabbed a job as a security guard and eventually worked my way into an office position and became a studio liaison working with incoming film and television production, executives, talent, etc. I later nabbed my development position. I continued with my screenwriting on the side as I honed my craft.
When my son Jack was born, it was amazing. He was born at UCLA. My wife had just three months of maternity leave, during which we searched for affordable day care. Well, there was none. It was so expensive. The studio had its own daycare, but even those prices for an employee were astronomical.
"Why don't you stay at home with Jack and focus on your writing?"
This question that my wife asked me changed my life, our lives, and the lives of our children.
Never had I thought that I would be a stay-at-home dad. Yet here I was, with this unique opportunity to be able to focus solely on my passion of screenwriting while I stayed at home with my son.
So, with all of that said, what does it feel like to be a stay at home dad?
It's An Honor
The chance to be able to raise my now two boys (Jack and Tyler) while staying at home and being there for them full time (for the most part) is a true honor. I am able to make an impact on their lives that most fathers weren't able to (or choose not to) in generations prior. I'm raising two men. It's my responsibility to raise them with good morals, ethics, spirit, etc. I would surely do so as a 9-5 working father, but I have the honor of doing so full time.
It's A Burden
I don't have that motherly instinct that so many women have. Sure, most fathers don't, but I just don't have that soccer mom attitude where I can easily handle running the boys (now 8 and 5) this way and that to soccer, baseball, swimming, etc. During the summer months, it's particularly difficult because they are home full time, which takes away from my writing and now from my consulting availability. I don't get my long days in front of the computer or at Barnes and Noble to write. I often feel that cabin fever of being home so much. I love my boys and wouldn't change a thing, but that doesn't mean I have to lie about the downs and just focus on the ups. It can be overwhelming.
It's Like Being Born Again
My boys are amazing. They truly are little mini-mes. Each day, despite any burdens, is amazing in its own right. It truly is like I've been born again, seeing the days through their eyes. Experiencing new things with them. Introducing my favorite movies with them. Watching them embrace those movies that I grew up watching. Seeing them play outside or in with their friends. Listening to their conversations. Disciplining them when they make those missteps that I made those many years ago and was disciplined for by my parents. Teaching them those life lessons. It really is a magical thing. It really feels like I'm a kid again.
It's a Sacrifice
When Jack was just a few months old, we were back home in Wisconsin for the holidays. We didn't have any family in California and had been there for seven years. I was laying in bed at my in-laws after an amazing Christmas when I literally heard a voice say, "It's time to come home." Now, know that this happened a couple months before I finally saw some success as a screenwriter. I eventually nabbed representation when a script I wrote while staying at home with Jack tracked well at a studio. I had a manager, the script eventually went out wide, I had meetings with multiple studios, etc. It happened quick, but I knew we had to go home to Wisconsin to raise our son close to family.
So we moved. I turned away from a job at a major studio. I turned away from being present in Los Angeles while momentum was going strong for my screenwriting. I sacrificed that all to be a stay-at-home dad. Since then, I was lucky enough to sustain a screenwriting career from Wisconsin, but I know that had I stayed my career would have heated up even more.
And now, eight years in, I've sacrificed job opportunities and I've sacrificed my full focus on screenwriting.
But again, I wouldn't change a thing.
Life is good. I have a beautiful and amazing wife. I have two amazing sons that I've been able to be a huge part of their life. We live close to both sets of grandparents. We all go on vacation together. It's truly enlightening. I'm blessed to be here doing this. I feel so good as a father, whether it be a good day or bad. Whether I've disciplined too little or too much or all too often, somewhere in between.
It's Full of Self Consciousness
I'm a stay-at-home dad.
Now, when you read that, you are likely to picture any number of stereotypical images.
Beyond those images, people, especially men, immediately lose respect for you as a man.
They picture you in the equally stereotypical image of women making dinner with an apron on, cleaning the house, talking baby talk to children, going on play dates, watching talk shows, gossiping, etc.
And if you think I'm merely assuming that they do, you're wrong. You can tell in the mannerisms and things they say after hearing that you are a stay-at-home dad.
"Man, it must be nice to not have to go into work everyday!"
I work harder than you do because I'm home raising two boys during the day, then spending family time when their mom comes home, and then when everyone goes to sleep, I'm up until 2am working.
"Man, it must be nice just chilling out every day, doing nothing!"
Nothing? I get the boys up for school at 6:45 am. Make them breakfast. When they come home at different times, I'm there to welcome them. I make lunch. I play with them. I put them down for a nap. I work when they sleep. When they wake up, I'm at their beck and call. During summer, there is no school so they are home the whole day. And yeah, when everyone finally goes to sleep, I'm up for hours into the night writing or consulting.
"Hee hee. You got any good recipes?"
I can't cook. I can make a mean corn dog in the microwave or a PBJ. Give me a grill and I can make some burgers and dogs, just like you. But say that again. Seriously. Say that again;)
Many honestly do treat you like a lesser man.
Women can often do the same. Try being a dad with kids at the playground during the day. You will often feel ostracized. Like you don't belong. Like you are invading some sorority meeting.
Now, this isn't always the case. And yes, we live in a different time where this is happening so much more often. Virtual offices are increasing each year.
But it's still taboo to most, whether or not people will admit to that.
The general stereotype is basically the Mr. Mom image. A man that has a wife that is more successful than he. A man who is not really a great catch because he's not a doctor, lawyer, business owner, manager, foreman, driver, engineer, etc. A man who can't bring home the bread for his own family. Speaking of that...
It's Full of Guilt
I would switch places with my wife in a heartbeat, but not because I am miserable and hate being a stay-at-home dad, but because I all too often feel so much guilt for not being able to give her the chance to stay at home with the boys.
My wife is an amazing mother. All too often, because she works full time during the day, people believe that she's missing out on her motherly duties. That's not the case at all. She is just as ever-present. She still does most of the cooking. She gets the lunches and clothes ready the night before. She has plenty of time with us and the boys especially.
But the guilt sometimes weighs on me. She's brilliant. She's works at a major Fortune 500 biotech company. She's the consistent bread winner. My screenwriting paid gigs are few and far between. That's the life of a blue collar screenwriter. I consult now and am pulling in more funds, but she's the clear bread winner. I wish I was more successful. I wish I was a businessman, engineer, or something else that allowed HER to be able to stay at home with the boys. But then again, I know our life is good. I know that this is what was meant to happen and that our boys are so lucky to have at least one of us home at all times.
But the guilt still creeps in. You can't escape that, even though in this day and age my situation is all too common.
It's Full of Joy
All of that above said, I have an amazing wife, two amazing boys, an amazing family, and amazing friends.
It doesn't matter if being a stay-at-home dad is sometimes a burden, sometimes a sacrifice, or sometimes filled with guilt or self consciousness. It's still an honor, like being born again, enlightening, and full of joy.
That's what it's like being a stay-at-home dad. At least for me, that is.
More questions on Quora:
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- Fatherhood: Is a father figure important for a child's development?
- Stay-at-Home Dads: How can a new stay at home dad maintain a decent house?