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In praise of stay-at-home dads

Parenting
Through the years, stay-at-home dads have got a bad rap. Movies like Daddy Daycare and Mrs Doubtfire are comedies of error showing fathers struggling to keep the home fires burning without setting the house on fire.

But it’s no joke; just like stay-at-home mothers, fathers who make the choice to take on the role of primary caregiver still face prejudices. So why take on the arduous task?

Toko Shirakawa, author of the book Sengyo Shufu’ ni Naritai Otokotachi (Men Who Want To Become Full-Time Househusbands), said during an interview with Japan News: “A decade ago, full-time male homemakers appeared to be fighting against conventional public perceptions, but now they seem to be naturally choosing (the option of becoming a full-time homemaker) to assist their families due to working wives giving birth, sickness, losing their job, care giving or other reasons.”

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The roles are slowly reversing and men, it seems, are happy to comply.

The roles are slowly reversing and men, it seems, are happy to comply. We chatted to two dads about the ups and downs.

Chris Slabber

Dad to Spencer, 23, and Ewan, 20, Chris, 66, is a senior electronics technician by trade.

When their second son was born in 1996, Chris and his wife, Glynis, decided to make the decision to have one parent stay home with the children.

“My wife, Glynis Horning, is a journalist and ran the Durban bureau for Associated Magazines. She worked from home, but put in long hours and was often away. We wanted one of us to be with the kids. When retrenchment packages came up at the electronics company where I worked, we talked it through and I took one.”

Chris with sons Spencer and Ewan.

Hands-on parenting is a 24/7 job, but Chris rose to the challenge.

“My most challenging moments were probably in the early years. Ewan was an asthmatic baby frequently hospitalised with bronchiolitis, and he went through 10 pairs of grommets and had two convulsions. Glyn was on an assignment in Tanzania when he had the first convulsion – I was terrified, but grateful to be home and able to get him to a specialist fast.”

But nothing can compare to the elated feeling of being there and sharing in special moments and milestones that as a working parent you could miss out on. Chris recalled some of those special memories.

“Hearing Ewan’s progress from his first tentative notes on a toy keyboard to performing Liszt and Rachmaninoff on a concert grand with the KZN Philharmonic, and now composing and digitally recording his own pieces.

“Watching Spencer develop quietly to a top student at high school, who now teaches maths and science part-time while doing an engineering degree at varsity, where Ewan has joined him, and seeing the wonderful young men they’ve become.”

Taking on role reversals can come with its stigmas and sometimes negative comments from other males, but Chris just brushed it off, saying: “Sure, there’s occasional joshing from a guy over a beer, who’ll ask what I do all day, but the wives usually nail them with a look and say ‘You try it!’ ”

More than 20 years on, and Chris said the experience had given him lasting friendships and a peek inside a world many men don’t have the privilege of seeing.

“When Glyn went back to work after maternity leave when Spencer was born, she was unable to keep up with her antenatal class gatherings, so I went instead. I was immediately accepted as one of the ‘moms’. It gave me new insights into women, relationships and motherhood, and new friendships – we meet up still.”

Carl Daniels

Previously a network specialist at Vodacom for nine years, Carl, 37, is dad to Madison, nine, and Joshua, five.

“Our family emigrated to New Zealand in September 2016 with the understanding that one of us would initially stay at home to help the kids settle in. The assumption was always that it would be Candice staying at home, but when she managed to secure a job in NZ first, the roles were reversed.”

It’s only been a few months since Carl has taken on the role and he admitted it’s harder than he thought it would be.

“Initially I felt overwhelmed because I tried to do everything every day. Now I have a schedule which I worked out and it’s a lot better. It’s also given me a much greater appreciation for all the working moms out there who have to juggle their careers and households.”

Being in a foreign country, coupled with the lack of adult conversation, sometimes made him feel lonely and isolated, but Carl said it has also led to him strengthening his relationship with his children.

“The way they now see me and relate to me is awesome, and it’s something that’s made the financial sacrifice worth it. My relationship with my wife has also improved because she can finally relax when she comes home – although she still jokes sometimes that she doesn’t know what to do with herself at times.”

And had he encountered any negativity associated with being a stay-at-home dad?

“I suppose there are some who still take a patriarchal view of who should be the breadwinner in a relationship, but fortunately that has never been the case in ours. In fact, I like having a sugar mommy.”

Carl said he gets the occasional jab from friends and family, asking if he’s found work yet. “It doesn’t really bother me, though, and when the time is right, I’ll re-enter the working world.”

Obviously for Carl, moving to another country and being the primary emotional support for his children has given him a different perspective on life. But it has also taught him to appreciate his family more.

“It made me realise that we can get away with a lot less than I had previously thought possible, and that in itself is quite liberating.

“Lastly, it’s made me realise just how amazing my wife is, having juggled both her professional and domestic lives so well for so long back home. I now have a much deeper appreciation for the amount of work required to run a household and I will most certainly do more once I go back to work.”

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