Last month I was included in a Working Mother magazine article about the impacts of role reversals between men and women after the husbands are laid off and the wife becomes the breadwinner. The piece, written by Sara Eckel, was none too flattering in its depiction of me and the other stay-at-home dads (SAHD) included in the story. Sure, it’s natural to be upset after being cast in a negative light, but I could’ve been more understanding had Ms. Eckel been a little more objective in her writing or at least finished the article with a positive example of a dad who made the adjustment to his new role. She did not.
The article opens with a former director of an equity firm who, as an at-home dad, is so aloof he doesn’t even know how to dress his kids properly. Then there’s another out-of-work father who sounds competent enough in caring for his young daughter and cleaning the house, but his overstressed pregnant wife doesn’t like the way he does things, so she does all the heavy scrubbing while he plays Flight Simulator. Another husband is basically reduced to the level of a helper monkey in need of constant training by his wife who cites the movie Mr. Mom as her source of hope that her big dumb primate will catch on. And the lone example that comes the closest to showing a capable father actually presents him as doing his job “too well” since the daughter prefers him over the working mother.
The commentary by the experts is even more disparaging. A psychologist remarks on the fragile emotional state of men followed by a family studies professor who contends that out-of-work husbands refuse to do housework as a means of exerting control. Eckel does cite Daddy Shift author Jeremy Adam Smith, but even still I was given the subtle impression that Eckel twisted one small quote from an at-home-dad proponent to underscore her slanted portrayal of these men who won’t adapt.
Don’t get me wrong, the issues discussed in the article are right on target. But Eckel provides no resolution, no hope—nothing that says, yeah, this transition is rough for men, but they can make it through and it can be a positive experience for the family. Yes, your self-esteem can be shattered in this situation. Trust me, I know, but that’s were Eckel leaves readers hanging, and with my case in particular, she makes it sound as if I’m still in the place.
The ego blow of job loss leaves many men unable to find fulfillment in their new role. In the months after Ron Mattocks was laid off two years ago, he admits, he had a tough time transitioning from his former life as a vice president of sales for a major homebuilder to Daddy Day Care. “I was an officer in the army and then an executive in the corporate world.
Suddenly, I’m packing lunches and making sure the kids have everything in their backpacks. My entire self-image pretty much got shattered,” says Ron, 37, from Houston. “I had to really rethink myself, and that’s been a long, discouraging process.” He misses the external validation he got through his work—the backslapping for a job well done—and is struggling to find that same sense of confidence internally. It has helped, however, to see his wife, Ashley, gain confidence in her career. “Though I don’t bring value to the family the way I used to, my role is important,” he says.
Yes. That is me. Still struggling to find that same sense of confidence. In fact, I am so distraught over not having my back slapped anymore, that just the other day, I took the banana meant for my stepdaughter’s lunch, pressed it against my right temple and pulled the trigger. Unfortunately, in my utterly shattered state, my hand was shaking wildly which caused the banana bullet to ricochet wildly throughout the apartment, and in the process the bullet knocked from the walls several of the prominently displayed employee-of-the-month plaques and training certificates I’ve earned over the entire span of my 37 years of existence. And seeing that big bare spot on the wall representing that huge void of external validation from 2008 to the present brought me to my knees sobbing. Oh bullshit!
The thing I tried impress upon Ms. Eckel during the several interviews she conducted was that, yes, my self-image had been built on my job, but through my experience as a stay-at-home dad I’ve since learned that my confidence comes from a place deep within myself, and thus I didn’t need those slaps on the back.
And there was something else, now what was it? Oh that’s right, I wrote a book about it! (Why do you think I agreed to do the interview?) I even mentioned how I wrote it with the idea in mind that it would help other dads in this same position to laugh a little and recognize they weren’t alone. But then again, to have included this insignificant little detail would’ve ruined the kabuki theater performance of the sad men being directed by Eckel in this article.
I haven’t seen this many references to Mr. Mom and Daddy Daycare since reading the staff selections at Throwback Video’s All 80’s & 90’s VHS Rental Extravagansa at that strip mall down off JFK boulevard. Contrary to what Eckel and Working Mother think, all SAHD Men are not sad men. I know oodles of them.
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