Stay at home dad and the question of masculinity

“What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski? Is it being prepared to do the right thing, whatever the cost? Isn’t that what makes a man?”

“Sure, that and a pair of testicles.”

One of the primary questions and criticisms that come up for dads at home with the kids is how a man maintains his masculinity in a role that has been defined for generations by feminine responsibility. These questions take shape in a few different ways: how do you feel your masculinity has been affected by being an at-home dad; do you feel emasculated or depressed that your wife makes more money then you; and how does the response of friends and family who have made different choices affect you? These are great questions and worth exploring for anyone that is thinking about embarking on this adventure of being a stay at home dad. I can’t answer these questions for you but I can tell you how I have come to my answers and what this new role means for me and my family.

First off the question of masculinity being tied to a job outside the house is a big one that I get from men all the time. For so long masculinity has been linked to vocation. My sense of who I am as a man is not tied up in the job that I have or the work I do. Being home raising my boys gives me more fulfillment and sense of accomplishment than I ever had in the software industry or working offshore building oil platforms. If you find your identity tied up in vocation then you are going to have a hard time being at home whether you’re a man or a woman. It takes a certain type of person and a level of sacrifice to be a stay at home parent but those characteristics are not uniquely feminine. The truth is I am as much of a man as I ever was before being at home; vocation and masculinity are not linked in my mind.

Another criticism of dads at home is their inability to provide for their family. I take issue with what it means to provide for your family. This is one area where stay at home moms have been marginalized for so long. Just because you don’t earn a paycheck does not imply that a valuable job is not being done and a contribution isn’t being made to the family. When my wife went back to work and I was no longer the one bringing home the paycheck I thought I would feel somewhat less appreciated but that wasn’t the case. I no longer see these individual roles of what I must do and what my wife must do but instead see the roles that need to be addressed in the context of family. There are decisions that we make based on understanding our natural strengths. I am much more suited to being at home with our boys, raising them, being patient, and not losing who I am in the process. My wife is much more suited to being in the workplace where she can find adult interaction and the challenge of the marketplace. She is also the one to decorate the house while I build fires and man the grill, again based on our natural strengths. Understanding what works for our family was an important step in the process of deciding what our roles within that family context would be. I in no way feel emasculated for being a stay at home dad and I know that my wife sees me as a strong man not just because I can open the pickle jar but because I can soothe a crying baby.

My friends and family have had mixed reactions to me being the stay at home parent but the more they see of our family dynamic the more they understand. People have an idea of what a stay at home dad looks like in their mind and then that image gets readjusted when they have an actual test case to view. My family has been supportive and encouraging. Some friends have had a less than positive take. They have objections based on some of the same masculinity issues as well as religious beliefs that see a man at home as lazy and ungodly. I have tried to confront those objections head on but ultimately I only have control over how I perceive my role as a stay at home dad and not how others do. I can offer our own experience as an example of a stay at home dad who feels fulfilled and still fully masculine but in the end I won’t always bring everyone around to my point of view. How others view our choices as a family hold little weight compared to how we view them.

Making the decision to be a stay at home dad was an easy one for my wife and I to make because we understood that I was better suited to be the one home with the kids. Once we made the decision that it is important to us to have one of us home, the choice in who that would be was a no-brainer. I think there are a number of stay at home dads that have not chosen their role, but had it dumped upon them and in that case it is going to be hard. Just like the stay at home moms that have had no choice but to be home with the kids, the role is going to become limiting and lead to feelings of being trapped. When you get to make the choice there is freedom and a sense of purpose in the role that I have come to love. I am a stay at home dad by choice and I wouldn’t trade this job for anything.

  16 comments for “Stay at home dad and the question of masculinity

  1. 03/31/2010 at 8:19 am

    Really enjoyed reading this.

    I work full-time as does my wife, but we’ve talked about one of us staying home. And if it came to that, it would be me. She makes more than double what I do and she’s just not suited for the position at home. I know I would struggle with parts of it, but I also know I could do it and I’d come to love it. Right now it’s just not feasible because we need the money, but I like reading posts like this one because it helps me make heads or tails of things should I ever be faced with this choice.

    I really admire that you accept the fact that you simply can’t change the minds of some stubborn people who view being a SAHD as an unworthy occupation. I can’t do that. I’d rail against them night and day and drive myself crazy.
    .-= Daddy Files´s last blog ..“Slow Parenting” is for Lazy Parents =-.

  2. 03/31/2010 at 9:35 am

    So many archaic views on men and work and women and the home. So sad. You are spot on with your attitude and prove without a doubt that you are very much in tune with your “masculinity”. Those who need to hide behind outdated traditions and religious beliefs are very often the ones who do not “own” their masculinity and need to find it within scripture or long defunct value sets. This is 2010 and much has changed. It’s called progress – with all the good and bad that it brings. When all is said and done, though, you are the one walking tall and living a fulfilled life while the others live in fear of losing something that they no longer control because they have decided to entrust their own “masculinity” to the opinion of others.
    .-= New York Dad´s last blog ..The Demolition Man… =-.

  3. 03/31/2010 at 9:43 am

    Well written. It’s so silly that people look at us dad’s sideways when we are out with our kids, or when they find out we are the ones at home. Our job as parents is to take care of our children, and do everything we can for them. Those people who say a Dad at home is lazy, obviously have never spent much time alone with their kids. It’s just silly. A toast to you fellow Dad warrior!

  4. Wes
    03/31/2010 at 10:36 am

    Good points. I admit I get on my spouse (a SAHM) too much for not doing enough b/c the house is a disaster, dinner isn’t cooked, and I’m grouchy from running around town @work. Her work and your work are jobs and are very valuable. It would be great to convince Beecher and my employers for us to swap jobs for the day. May find out I’m a terrible SAHD! Keep up the good work and when all those mamas at target @9am think ur hot walking down the asiles with your kids then we can ask if your job is manly enough.
    .-= Wes´s last blog ..Because Personal Hygiene is something only elite college educated folks do. Yes my nieces are coming =-.

  5. 03/31/2010 at 12:50 pm

    Great post. Thank you. Very inspirational for this guy who’s been SAH since being laid off last year today and will add the D in about two months. The only reaction to the arrangement that gave me pause was my father’s, who said, “Okay, just be sure to get back to doing what you’re supposed to do.” Which was code for “Being the breadwinner and taking care of your wife and child.” Well, I’m lucky. My wife is more than happy with our arrangement. In fact, it was her idea. Thanks again.
    .-= Chris from Wrath66´s last blog ..Easy As 1, 2, 3 =-.

  6. John
    03/31/2010 at 5:49 pm

    Anyone who thinks a SAHD is lazy has never stayed home with their kids for more than a few hours in a row. I am a working dad, and on occasion my daughter’s daycare is closed, and due to the flexibility of my occupation I can “work from home” for the day. It is absolutely exhausting (IMHO) and I have so much respect for any parent that stays home with their kids full time. It’s a thousand jobs rolled into one.

    Regarding the masculinity of being an SAHD, gimme a break. People who still believe in “traditional roles” for men and women need to wake up. If your masculinity is being questioned, then so be it, let it go. My guess is the person questioning you has some “masculine” issues himself (I bet he drives a big monster truck to make up for his inadequacies).

    Cheers, great post.

  7. 03/31/2010 at 8:14 pm

    I think the SAHD vs SAHM thing is just based on long-standing “tradition” – men hunt and earn a paycheck, women nurture the children and cook whatever the man has hunted.

    I think once my 2yo son is older I might try to convince my wife to at least try to find something part-time which might enable me to work part-time, too. Right now she is the only one who can deal with the boy at naptime, etc. – I would fail miserably right now, but she excels at this role.

    Plus, when he’s older, we can do lots of science experiments and build rockets and solar-powered cars, etc. – that sounds like WAY more fun than working a job!
    .-= CodeNamePapa´s last blog ..codenamepapa: we’re dealing with a tenant bailing out on us, and @codenamemama is thankfully a cleaning machine + nice enough to do the work. love you! =-.

  8. 03/31/2010 at 8:51 pm

    Great post James. And I would make the choice as well if it were in the cards for us.
    .-= Seattledad (Luke, I am Your Father)´s last blog ..A Chase Scene to Cherish =-.

  9. 03/31/2010 at 11:43 pm

    I love this James. Life is all about knowing who YOU are and being true to it. I love that you do what you love and you do it very well because your being your true self. The bull crap box people try to put everything and everyone in is called judgement. I for one applaud you and your wife both. You love and appriciate eachother for who you are and most of all it sounds to me like you ENJOY your life your family!! That is what it is ALL about…I love you for this. It blesses me to see you so very blessed…

  10. 04/01/2010 at 1:16 am

    Nothing wrong with being a SAHD. It is honorable, noble and harder than most realize.
    .-= Jack´s last blog ..Passover 2010- Grandma is Gone =-.

  11. 04/03/2010 at 9:25 am

    I don’t know any other sahd locally so it’s really nice to be able to network and read about other sahd’s experiences. I have been a sahd since Oct ’08 and I truly think as a family we would be totally different if we were both pulling a full time work schedule. I have run in to more negative than positive in our area. But, I don’t worry about them because it’s about our family. Thanks for sharing. You always put great post together and I look forward to reading them. Best wishes, Edgar(edathomedad)
    .-= Edathomedad´s last blog ..So your kinda of like a Mom? =-.

  12. 04/03/2010 at 9:27 am

    I agree with everything you’ve said. The SAHD issue is where society (esp the women’s movement, and troglodyte dudes) have to back up their talk with behavior and appreciation, frankly. Either the work one does in the home and family is worthwhile, or it is not. The nature of the work to be done doesn’t change based on whether you’re a mom or a dad–it needs to be done, period. I happen to mostly like the kinds of jobs there are around the house versus the kinds of work readily available to me in the marketplace. And I’m lucky to be able to monetize some skills while staying at home. However, the extent to which a working person’s productivity is subsidized by a partner at home is completely overlooked, although it ought not to be by now.

  13. 04/04/2010 at 7:10 pm

    I know that my wife sees me as a strong man not just because I can open the pickle jar but because I can soothe a crying baby.

    if more people like you, vapid whores like paris hilton wouldn’t be on TV.

    bravo, brother. loved this.
    .-= john cave osborne´s last blog ..The Easter Bunny Exposé =-.

  14. rae
    05/29/2012 at 9:54 pm

    My husband works part-time and is able to work from home while he takes care of our 21-month -old daughter. While it is true I make more money than him, what he provides for our family is priceless. First of all we could never afford daycare, so that saves us a ton. But more importantly, he is giving our daughter a wonderful security- a healthy relationship with her father. I had father issues from having a physically and emotionally absent father who was a workaholic. It lead me to have some unhealthy relationships along the way. My husband is amazing with our daughter, she is happy and secure. Also she is very daring and independent. If I stayed at home with her I’d herd her into a corner and be very over protective.
    This change of roles works for us. My husband enjoys the domestic things like cooking, and managing our home while I enjoy working outside of the home. We are a team.

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