When I answered society’s call for present, hands-on dads, I figured it had a place picked out for me—it kind of didn’t.
As a work-at-home dad and the primary caretaker for an awesome little boy, I joined the ranks of a growing demographic many still haven’t quite accepted. As a husband to a successful wife who is also a badass mother, I’m one of the luckiest caretaker dads anywhere, but I’ve seen this struggle first hand. For some, it is devastating. But I’ve also found a huge network of likeminded fathers helping newcomers find their way.
The New Dads in Town
Accurate statistics on caretaker dads are hard to pin down (we don’t really report to anyone), but our numbers are definitely in the hundreds of thousands and may very well exceed 1 million. We come in all shapes and sizes, but the majority of us chose this role, independent of any issues that would keep us from working or doing something else. In my case, I was part of a happy, dual-income household that simply wanted a parent home with our young son. I loved my career in software development, which made the decision difficult, but I had never been more excited.
After making the transition, I learned the ugly truth: the world still doesn’t really know what to do with us. Well-meaning grandmas still round up their kids when we get to the playground and moms worry we’re out looking for phone numbers (thanks, sitcoms). When we get home and flip on the TV, it’s never hard to find a diaper or snack food commercial ready to remind us that, “LOL. Dads are incompetent when it comes to kids.” We get it. We can appreciate the novelty of the situation and laugh it off–or at least maintain a “haters gonna hate” sense of humor about it–but the pressure of the job can make it a bit more serious.
Many academic resources tend to use the same word when describing the challenges of at-home fatherhood: isolation. Despite nearly universal outcry for men to remain present and active in the home, the stigmas associated with male child-rearing are so strong that many men describe at least one significant bout with depression after stepping up to the task.
A Brotherhood for Fatherhood
Several months ago, my wife mentioned joining a large Facebook group for physician moms. She was excited to have likeminded women to interact with, whether to discuss new studies or to describe everything their babies had peed on that day. She told me there was a similar group for their husbands.
“Wow,” I told her. “That sounds terrible.”
I was mostly kidding, but it took several weeks of thought before I got serious about it. I didn’t know how a bunch of other men were going to help me with what was traditionally a mother’s role. I think I was scared of meeting guys I didn’t respect, and feeling like I was doomed to end up like them.
Eventually, I came to my senses. If you can think of things a good dad does for his kid, my dad categorically did not do those things. So, sure, I took to parenting with all due emphasis on making sure my son had the care I missed out on, but I suspect you can only learn so much about fatherhood by observing what a man didn’t do. If there was anything I stood to gain from these guys, it wasn’t how to fill traditional mommy shoes, it was the grilling tips and the little league coaching. Could it really hurt to connect with a huge group of committed fathers? I made a conscious decision to get over myself and give them a shot.
The floodgates burst open and thousands of years of combined fatherhood experience hit me in the face. It wasn’t at all the depressing meetup of subdued men I was leery about. The group included successful professionals, prolific creators, an MMA coach (I train in combat sports several times a week myself) and at least one Hollywood stuntman, all among the nicest, most approachable guys I’ve ever met. The group was active and problems of all kinds were being explored and solved throughout the day. Interaction with the other dads quickly became a way of life.
It’s not all fun and games. Some fathers come to the group in dire circumstances, asking for marriage-saving advice; others ask about coping with divorce after accepting it’s too late. Viewpoints clash frequently. Politics, religion, and social class all routinely divide members. Sometimes it gets personal and intervention is required. But each of these men is having a need met: to laugh, to learn, and even to butt heads with others who know exactly what the caretaker dad role demands of them.
Joining the Parenting Dialog
Since I joined up, I’ve enjoyed working closely with Curtis, the founder of the Dads Married to Doctors group, to help make positive changes for new caretaker dads. I’ve tagged along for a couple of spirited contributions for our friends at the Stay-At-Home Dad Podcast (SAHDPod), jumping at the chance to share my experiences and put out any uplifting message I could for the benefit of the next round of newbies. I’ve branched out from my previous journalistic efforts in the entertainment industry in hopes of helping to add a new perspective to coverage of family and parenting issues.
As this new site moves forward, I hope you’ll enjoy the unique perspectives of my DMD colleagues as much as I have over the previous year. Theirs is a unique perspective comprised of countless voices as different as anything you can imagine, but each speaker has stepped up to answer the call for willing dads, and that makes them crucial to the ongoing parenting conversation. If you happen to be a dad married to a doctor, reach out! We have a thriving community of dads you might really enjoy networking with. If you’re a caretaker dad, please interact with us! We look forward to hearing from all our other visitors as well–there’s no better way for us to understand one another than to connect over our mutual goals.
Photo credit: Fossil Photography