Stay-
at-Home
Dads
 

Mark Phillips is a Stay-At-Home-Dad and freelance writer. Along with raising his four children, he is developing a franchise called “The Vacuum IS a Power Tool.” It is designed to help SAHDs maintain that which makes us men, instead of hairy Mom-substitutes. He earned a B.S. in Communication/Theatre Arts and teaching certificates in English, public speaking, and psychology from Eastern Michigan University. After six years as a high school English teacher and Director of Dramatic Arts at Powers Catholic High School in Flint, Michigan, he changed careers and became a Stay-At-Home-Dad. www.TheVacuumIsAPowerTool.com or E-Mail

Not as Important as You Might Think


When a couple discerns which of them should stay home with their children, there are personality traits that seem like they would be useful for the Primary Parent to have but aren’t really that important. At the very least, they can be learned, more or less. The first of these is time management. For any organization to be successful, from a big corporation to a family, it must have a certain level of efficiency. Whoever stay at home should have a grasp on scheduling or at least have a basic grasp of time, right? Not necessarily

How will Baby be fed if Dad can’t create and stick to a schedule? He’ll eat when he makes the kind of noise that tells Dad he is hungry. How will the kids get to school or soccer practice if Dad is so overwhelmed by the clock that no one gets anywhere on time? Well, they’ll be late, usually.

There is a certain amount of embarrassment involved in sneaking into church or class or practice quietly so no one notices, but for the most part, there isn’t any great damage done. A really late Dad might accidentally teach his time deficient ways to his children who will propagate this dysfunction, but by the time it becomes a real problem, they will have moved out and be on their own. 

Another trait that a good parent should have but doesn’t need right away is cleanliness. This isn’t personal hygiene; it’s the ability to keep a house clean when there are forces at work determined to create chaos and clutter. Clean is a relative term, of course. If Dad leaves the leftover Chinese food containers on the living room floor so long the mice have made homes in them, maybe he should pass the baton of Primary Parenting to Mom. If he has trouble keeping the playroom from being a minefield of toys for a week, leave him alone. At least the kids are happy! Besides, cleanliness, it turns out, is a learned skill.

My sister-in-law is a self-proclaimed neat freak. She is one of those people who can sense when the potted plant is in the wrong place on the shelf and MUST fix it immediately. I , on the other hand, have always been a bit lax in the tidiness arena. In high school, I was the founder and president of the Society for the Lovers of Being Sloppy (SLOBS). It was more to be the founder and president of something, but you get the idea.

By the time my sister-in-law’s first son was born, we had four kids and I had learned that children were messy. Happy kids are even messier. (I know that because whenever I tried to make my kids clean up, they usually ended up crying.) I was interested in how my sister-in-law would react when she came to that same conclusion. Would she fight harder and become even more neurotic about cleaning? Would she give up and relax, letting the house get untidy occasionally?

Know what I discovered? I really can’t stand having a messy house. Clutter drives me crazy! I don’t think I’m neurotic yet, but I can’t imagine it’s far off. I spend so much time tidying now that when the house is actually clean, I’m uncomfortable because I know, I just know there is something else to clean somewhere. I still don’t like cleaning, I just like it to be clean. Is that so bizarre?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a little tidiness, is there? Just get off may back!...

This is proof positive that being tidy is a learned skill and that it will force itself on anyone who takes the reins of managing a home fulltime.

More than any other job, parenting is on-the-job training. Whoever gets to be the Stay-At-Home-Parent doesn’t need to be clean or on time or even the better cook, but he or she better be willing to learn. Unless the family really likes leftover Chinese food.

Who Should Stay Home?


There are five advantages all men have over women when it comes to being the Primary Parent. (See: “Men Make Better Housewives”) However, that does not mean that all men should become Stay-At-Home-Dads. In some couples, it just makes more sense for Mommy to stay home with the kids and the house while Daddy goes out and makes money. There are lots of things to consider before either one goes into their boss and tells her where she take this job and what she can do with it. Like, which parent is best suited, personality-wise?

Important Personality Trait Number One is patience. Couples should decide which of them has the largest trove of this treasure; which one can go back to the deep well of serenity more often before it runs dry. (You can often tell how important something is by how many metaphors are used to describe it.) This magic elixir of sainthood is really, really important. If you don’t have patience, staying home with little people who don’t listen, do listen but don’t obey, can’t understand, or can understand but choose to ignore is not the job of someone with a short fuse.

A less acknowledged personality trait a good parent should have is the ability to withstand body fluids. As a new parent, I was shocked at the amount of liquidy stuff that comes with this territory. Beginning with the birth process itself and continuing right on into the school years, there is gunk galore. Just last week, I had to deal with vomited-on blankets, pooped on carpeting (yes, it was liquid), peed on pants, and a bloody finger. Thankfully, the finger was mine. You would think that my wife—a doctor—would be better suited for these tasks, but her very strong aversion to vomit would have stopped her from the get go. Besides, she was at a conference in New Mexico. Oh, and the cat hurt his foot and was limping around too.

Another plus in the Stay-At-Home-Parent column is how one deals with cacophony. Cacophony means “an instance of discordant sound”. Think of “symphony”: a delightful mix of many instruments and different sounds to create a pleasant song. Now, take away “delightful” and “pleasant”. You have “lots of sound”.

Which parent can have two children fighting over a toy, one child asking for milk, a dog barking, the radio on and the dishwasher running without going ballistic? That’s the one that should stay home. If you are not sure which one has this skill, go to a “Chuck E. Cheese” on a Saturday afternoon. The first one to start twitching is the loser.

One more trait that many people might not think about is flexibility. This word has two definitions and they are both valid: One is physical flexibility. Which parent is most likely going to be able to stand back up after a tea party? The second definition is mental flexibility. Who can best adjust his or her schedule when things don’t go as planned? Because things WON’T go as planned. A smart parent knows that deadlines are suggestions, that a List of Things To Do better be short, and that “Many hands make a big mess”. Part of the delight of having children is watching how they interact with the world. That almost always takes longer than you’ve got. If one parent likes things done right and on time, have fun at the office, Dear.People all have different strengths and weaknesses. It’s important for everyone’s happiness and health that the parent with the right strengths be the one who takes care of the kids. If not, bad things could happen when it becomes a place of stressful, runny, noisy chaos. With the right parent at home, those days can be lots of fun!

What a Primary Parent DOESN’T Need


When a couple discerns which of them should stay home with their children, there are personality traits that seem like they would be useful for the Primary Parent to have but aren’t really that important. At the very least, they can be learned, more or less. The first of these is time management. For any organization to be successful, from a big corporation to a family, it must have a certain level of efficiency. Whoever stay at home should have a grasp on scheduling or at least have a basic grasp of time, right? Not necessarily.

How will Baby be fed if Dad can’t create and stick to a schedule? He’ll eat when he makes the kind of noise that tells Dad he is hungry. How will the kids get to school or soccer practice if Dad is so overwhelmed by the clock that no one gets anywhere on time? Well, they’ll be late, usually.

There is a certain amount of embarrassment involved in sneaking into church or class or practice quietly so no one notices, but for the most part, there isn’t any great damage done. A really late Dad might accidentally teach his time deficient ways to his children who will propagate this dysfunction, but by the time it becomes a real problem, they will have moved out and be on their own.

Another trait that a good parent should have but doesn’t need right away is cleanliness. This isn’t personal hygiene; it’s the ability to keep a house clean when there are forces at work determined to create chaos and clutter. Clean is a relative term, of course. If Dad leaves the leftover Chinese food containers on the living room floor so long the mice have made homes in them, maybe he should pass the baton of Primary Parenting to Mom. If he has trouble keeping the playroom from being a minefield of toys for a week, leave him alone. At least the kids are happy! Besides, cleanliness, it turns out, is a learned skill.

My sister-in-law is a self-proclaimed neat freak. She is one of those people who can sense when the potted plant is in the wrong place on the shelf and MUST fix it immediately. I , on the other hand, have always been a bit lax in the tidiness arena. In high school, I was the founder and president of the Society for the Lovers of Being Sloppy (SLOBS). It was more to be the founder and president of something, but you get the idea.

By the time my sister-in-law’s first son was born, we had four kids and I had learned that children were messy. Happy kids are even messier. (I know that because whenever I tried to make my kids clean up, they usually ended up crying.) I was interested in how my sister-in-law would react when she came to that same conclusion. Would she fight harder and become even more neurotic about cleaning? Would she give up and relax, letting the house get untidy occasionally?

Know what I discovered? I really can’t stand having a messy house. I don’t think I’m neurotic yet, but I can’t imagine it’s far off. I spend so much time tidying now that when the house is actually clean, I’m uncomfortable because I know, I just know there is something else to clean somewhere. I still don’t like cleaning, I just like it to be clean. Is that so bizarre? This is proof positive that being tidy is a learned skill and that it will force itself on anyone who takes the reins of managing a home fulltime.

More than any other job, parenting is on-the-job training. Whoever gets to be the Stay-At-Home-Parent doesn’t need to be clean or on time or even the better cook, but he or she better be willing to learn. Unless the family really likes leftover Chinese food.

NOT For Your Consideration


With the birth of a child, so much is gained, but some is lost. Gained is the immeasurable joy that comes from watching a little person grow and learn and become something great. Lost is a certain degree of freedom, a level of sanity (that you’ll find you can live without), and the ability to go to the bathroom without someone watching.

When the child arrives, someone will have to take care of it. Many couples make the choice to have one of them be that caregiver all day. But then, which one? This decision used to be easy. The answer was Mom. Nowadays, there are more and more Dads who take up the reins of Homemaking. It turns out that some men are better at being the Primary Parent than some women. Go figure.

There are lots of variables to consider when approaching this momentous moment in a family’s life. (See “What the Primary Parent Needs” and “Men Make Better Housewives”.) There are also things that do not need to be considered. If too much time is spent dwelling on these areas, really important stuff might be put off until the kid is out and running and the decision is made on the fly. Bad idea.

The single most important thing to ignore is what anyone else thinks. If Mom and Dad decide that Dad is the best Primary Parent for little Junior, no one else’s opinion matters. “No one” is a big word. It includes each person you know, each person you don’t know, each member of your immediate family and those you only see at funerals and weddings. It comprises the ladies at the grocery store who look at you like you are a freak and the guys on the softball team who call you a hen-pecked wus. It includes your father, your big brother, and your wife’s boss. It includes your pastor and the old biddies who think it’s a sin that your poor child doesn’t have a right proper mother, like he should.

To put this into perspective, who better than you who is better suited to be YOUR child’s daily caregiver? Who more than you has to live with your decision, good or bad? Who has taken on this great responsibility to raise YOUR child? The biddies? Nope. It’s you.

Someone might ask, “What does Dad know about raising babies?”

An answer would be, “Mom’s pretty new at it, too. I guess we’ll both have to read the books.”

“But men aren’t made to be nurturing and sensitive and patient.”

“I am. Oh, by the way. The library called, You can pick up your “Neanderthal Man Today” magazine any time.”

“When your little girl has her first…you know…woman’s time, what are you going to do?”

“There are lots of options: Call her aunt, call her grandma, put her in the tub until Mom comes home. Piece of cake.”

So, spend no time worrying—or even considering—how the opinions of others will be affected by your decision. If they want to stick their noses into your family arrangement, give them a clean diaper and a box of wipes and tell them to make themselves useful.

What the Primary Parent Needs


There are five advantages all men have over women when it comes to being the Primary Parent. (See: “Men Make Better Housewives”) However, that does not mean that all men should become Stay-At-Home-Dads. In some couples, it just makes more sense for Mommy to stay home with the kids and the house while Daddy goes out and makes money. There are lots of things to consider before either one goes into their boss and tells her where she take this job and what she can do with it. Like, which parent is best suited, personality-wise?

Important Personality Trait Number One is patience. Couples should decide which of them has the largest trove of this treasure; which one can go back to the deep well of serenity more often before it runs dry. (You can often tell how important something is by how many metaphors are used to describe it.) This magic elixir of sainthood is really, really important. If you don’t have patience, staying home with little people who don’t listen, do listen but don’t obey, can’t understand, or can understand but choose to ignore is not the job of someone with a short fuse.

A less acknowledged personality trait a good parent should have is the ability to withstand body fluids. As a new parent, I was shocked at the amount of liquidy stuff that comes with this territory. Beginning with the birth process itself and continuing right on into the school years, there is gunk galore. Just last week, I had to deal with vomited-on blankets, pooped on carpeting (yes, it was liquid), peed on pants, and a bloody finger. Thankfully, the finger was mine. You would think that my wife—a doctor—would be better suited for these tasks, but her very strong aversion to vomit would have stopped her from the get go. Besides, she was at a conference in New Mexico. Oh, and the cat hurt his foot and was limping around too.

Another plus in the Stay-At-Home-Parent column is how one deals with cacophony. Cacophony means “an instance of discordant sound”. Think of “symphony”: a delightful mix of many instruments and different sounds to create a pleasant song. Now, take away “delightful” and “pleasant”. You have “lots of noise”.

Which parent can have two children fighting over a toy, one child asking for milk, a dog barking, the radio on and the dishwasher running without going ballistic? That’s the one that should stay home. If you are not sure which one has this skill, go to a “Chuck E. Cheese” on a Saturday afternoon. The first one to start twitching is the loser.

One more trait that many people might not think about is flexibility. This word has two definitions and they are both valid: One is physical flexibility. Which parent is most likely going to be able to stand back up after a tea party? The second definition is mental flexibility. Who can best adjust his or her schedule when things don’t go as planned? Because things WON’T go as planned. A smart parent knows that deadlines are suggestions, that a List of Things To Do better be short, and that “Many hands make a big mess”. Part of the delight of having children is watching how they interact with the world. That almost always takes longer than you’ve got. If one parent likes things done right and on time, have fun at the office, Dear.

People all have different strengths and weaknesses. It’s important for everyone’s happiness and health that the parent with the right strengths be the one who takes care of the kids. If not, bad things could happen when it becomes a place of stressful, runny, noisy chaos. With the right parent at home, those days can be lots of fun!

Fatherly Lessons


One day after school, my son, Noah, gleefully told me he had a surprise to show me.

“Watch what I can do!” he giggled.

He lifted up his shirt and stuck his right hand underneath his left armpit. He pumped his bent arm up and down like a rail car, but nothing happened. He was trying to make an armpit fart, of course.

“Where did you learn that?” I laughed.

“Sasha taught me, but when he does it, it makes a, well, a sound.”

“He toots with his arm!” my daughter, Clara, exploded. She then raised her shirt and mimicked her brother, without any noise either.

“Here is why it is good that you have a daddy that stays home,” I said and proceeded to teach them the proper technique for making armpit farts that actually make noise.

Even though I could teach them, I was a little surprised to realize that I could no longer do it myself. I wasn’t sure if there is a hand to pit size ratio that changed as I got older or if the hair that accompanied adolescence ruined the vacuum necessary for the “pllllt”. I bragged that when I was a kid, I could play songs on my armpit, but because I couldn’t prove it, I don’t think they believed me.

Delighted with their new skill, my two oldest spent the afternoon perfecting it and, consequently, teaching my two youngest. The twins, both two years old, didn’t have the coordination necessary to do anything but look really cute. Anna loved her new game, but Natalie tired of it quickly.

Then Mommy came home.

“Look what we can do!” the kids squealed.

Noah, Clara, and Anna, ran up to their mother with their hands in their shirts, pumping for all they were worth. The delightful sounds of gas made everyone—except their mother—fall down laughing.

“Where did you learn that?” she asked, with less of a laugh than I had.

“Daddy taught us!” they yelled.

To describe the look that followed is difficult. It said so many things: “Very nice.” “Who is the grown up here?” “And you taught them this because?” and “Why did I leave you at home again?”

My answer was short and sweet, “Noah doesn’t have an older brother to teach him these important things. It’s up to me.”

I had an older brother who taught me these important things, but I was the youngest so I have had to wait for my own son to be able to pass on the knowledge. I’ve been looking forward to it for thirty years.

“What about the girls?”

“Collateral damage.”

Our only rule was no armpit farting at the dinner table. Only Anna needed to be reminded occasionally, but she still didn’t make any noise so it wasn’t too disturbing to the meal.

And to think, if Mommy had been home when they got home from school, they might never have learned this valuable talent. Makes you wonder why any family would have it any other way.

A Man’s Holiday


Just imagine. You tidy up your desk, put the plant near the window and add a little extra water. You make sure the bag of chips in your filing cabinet that you snack from occasionally is thrown away. You bid goodbye to your coworkers, leave the office, and proceed to forget that it even exists.

You have begun your vacation.

For a week, nothing that even resembles your job enters your mind. You focus on doing what you want to do. You have no one breathing down your neck waiting on a deadline. You have no one pestering you to work harder or longer or better. You are here. Work is there.

Unless you are a Stay-At-Home-Dad.

If you are a Stay-At-Home-Dad, you pack up the family’s belongings, pack up the family, and go somewhere exotic and warm for a holiday from reality. The entire time, you still have to be alert that your kids are safe and fed and behaved and not left at the last rest area. If you are a Stay-At-Home-Dad, your job follows you on vacation.

Vacations are fun. They are wonderful times to bond with your family and enjoy a different scene and a different routine, but they are not relaxing. (Of course, this happens to Stay-At-Home-Moms too, but they don’t read my column.)

So what does a Stay-At-Home-Dad’s holiday look like? One that is revitalizing and is truly a break from his 24/7 job?

First of all, he’s the only one there. There is a time and place for a trip for two, when the wife can come along, but on a Man’s Holiday, a man must be free of all things for which he is responsible. No kids. No laundry. No wife.

The place for a Man’s Holiday must be rustic. This is not a time to be pampered by some Swedish masseur who comes to your suite and paints your toenails while you watch figure skating on a large screen TV. This place must be wild and you must use your ancestral skills to tame it. Like camping. Or a cabin. Or in a large oak tree on the side of a mountain. If you have a choice, heat your vacation home with fire, not some mamby pamby electric heater. It may have a shower, but don’t even think about using it.

The food on a Man’s Holiday is minimal. Bologna sandwiches, hard boiled eggs and beer should be enough to sustain any man indefinitely. Not only are these foods filling without being difficult to cook, they are easily transportable. If you cannot find bologna, bread, ketchup or eggs, do not forget the beer.

There are only two things that must occupy a man’s time on Holiday: nothing and sweating. The first will probably be the most difficult to experience. It involves a great deal of will power to sit and do nothing. Don’t read. Don’t watch TV. Don’t plan anything or figure out anything or design anything. Just sit still and be quiet. Once this is mastered, it is amazing how relaxing the rest of the trip will be.

Sweating is important also. This can be accomplished by exercise or manual labor. Climb a mountain. Track and hunt buffalo. Cross-country ski across a frozen lake. Dig your van out of a snow drift. The sweat that soaks your clothes will be the sweet smell of a job well done. The sweat flushes your body of tension and toxic frustrations.

As you recover from your exercise, enjoy more nothing. If that gets tiresome, go sweat some more.

You may determine that you have had enough nothing for one day. (And this is the beauty of a Man’s Holiday: YOU get to determine when you have had enough. YOU decide when to get off the couch or IF to get off). If that happens, you have a few choices. If possible, watch TV. If not, take a nap. You might read a book, but only if it induces a nap. Taking a walk would work also, especially if it is long enough to be a hike, which would induce sweating. Praying is good. Do not give into the temptation to fix something around the cabin or straighten up because you will be leaving the next day and wouldn’t it be easier if this were already taken care of.

When it is time to go home, pack up and head out with your head held high. Enjoy the break and do not regret going back into the real world. Nothing destroys a vacation more than the desire to make it last forever. Don’t forget the relaxing freedom you had for a brief time and look forward to returning to your home and your family.

This weekend is for you to get reacquainted with you. You are the same person that you were before kids, before responsibility and accountability. You have grown and matured and become a more productive member of society, but that self-centered punk who spent summer days behind the garage blowing up GI Joes is still in there somewhere. Remember the man that was the most important person in your life and had no one else to care for but you? He’s waiting for you at the cabin. Go visit.

How can you Stay a Man?


There are two ways to maintain and increase your masculinity while being the Stay-At-Home and drudging through the emasculating chores of laundry, dishes, making dinner, cleaning vomit from couch cushions, more laundry, changing diapers, etc. The first is address your job your way. The second is to make sure that you exercise your self.

This is your job. It is not your wife’s that you are taking over for a short time while she goes out to the store. You are not the Substitute Mommy. You are not the Babysitter. You are raising your children and running your home. Do it like a man. Develop a system. Develop your system.

However it works for you, do it that way. If your wife has a better idea, maybe she would like to switch positions and stay home. If not, tell her to back up and watch the Master work.

However you decide to run the house and raise the kids, it needs to be done in such a way that will encourage your Inner Caveman and Hidden Gladiator. This does not mean you can test your daughter’s date by challenging him to a joust. However, give a nod to those instincts men have that we so often have to suppress for the good of society.

We like to shoot things. We like to hit things. We like to overpower things. Don’t agree? Then why are contact sports so popular? Of course, you can’t hit, shoot or overpower your children (or their boyfriends) or most of the stuff in your house. You can shoot baskets with a dirty diaper from across the room. You can put the toys that were left in the front yard into the back yard using a tennis racquet. You can pick up and carry your third grader to the car (probably a minivan) when he doesn’t want to go to the dentist.

If you want to clean the playroom using a push broom, shoving all of the toys to one wall, do it that way. When your wife comes home and asks you what in the hell you are doing, tell her you are tidying up quickly because the hockey game is going to start soon and you need the rink cleared.

Play hockey with your kids in the basement.

Laundry sucks, but you can make it manly. Buy a basket that only you can carry when it’s full. It can take three full loads. You will sweat and grunt when you take it upstairs and that is exactly the point.

Do things that will make you sweat and grunt. If you cannot find things that satisfy during the day, look outside the realm of parenting.

Not everything during a SAHDs day will lend itself to encouraging masculinity. Because of that, you have to find things that make you feel manly; that make you feel alive; that stir the fires of barbarism deep within you. Play football even if you think you are too out of shape. Go to a movie that has lots of mindless carnage. Chop wood. Go to a bar and watch a hockey game. Walk around in an sporting goods store and try to figure out what all those camping and hunting supplies are for. Dance like you did in high school. Embarrass your wife. Play poker.

Maintaining your masculinity cannot take precedence over the rest of your life, of course. Don’t spend every night proving how strong you are by being on a seven different softball leagues. You have an important job to do and most of that job involves paying attention to other people, not yourself. However, if you ignore your self and the aspects of it that most civilized people don’t talk about, you are going to run into trouble.

Even in the most sophisticated, sensitive man, there flows the blood of an ancestor that hunted for his food, killed for his country, and never even considered crying at “Old Yeller”. Don’t let that ancestor run around free, but don’t lock him away forever, either.

Confidence in Competency


At 3:00 AM, three weeks after our son, Noah, was born, he was howling in misery (we hadn’t discovered the wonders of Mylicon, yet). Having tried everything I could to soothe him and failed, I actually said, “Well, we had a good couple weeks, anyway.” (Have you ever wanted to go back in time and give your old self a really hard smack?) I was faced with one of the greatest enemies any man can face: the feeling of incompetence.

In seven years as a Stay-At-Home-Dad, there have been times when I looked at the daily challenges of child rearing coupled with homemaking and wondered, “What was I thinking? I can’t do this!”

The ugly head of incompetence doesn’t go away easily, either. Thinking I was not equipped to do the job led to more self- doubt. This led to depression (maybe not the clinical brand, but that blue funk that just dragged everything down.) Feeling crummy fed the inadequacy and eventually, I was doing a lousy job parenting. I had become incompetent! I never actually sold the kids for scientific experiments, but I occasionally wondered how plausible a solution that would be.

It turns out that I am not a horribly warped person. I am just a man. According to Dr. John Gray, of “Mars and Venus” fame, one of the worst feelings for men is the feeling of incompetence. Men need to feel needed and capable to fulfill that need. We are problem solvers, go-getters, bull-by-the-horn takers. (Women might be these things, too, but I’m not talking about them just now). When we are struck with the sense that we cannot solve a problem, it irritates us.

Take, for example, getting lost. Men don’t ask for directions, says Dr. Gray, because that would be admitting that we are not competent enough to know where we are and how to get to where we are going. Like I always say, ‘Tis better to have been lost and found than admit being lost in the first place.

So, men do not like being inept and parenting can make anyone feel like they have stepped off a pier wearing a diaper bag filled with rocks. Before we go tattooing a big “L” on our forehead for being the absolute worst parent that ever sired, I find it useful to take a step back. Then take a step forward. Then a step back. Now we’re doing the cha-cha! Sorry.

When I honestly look at the job I am doing as a father, I conclude two things: The first one is that I really am doing a decent job of it. Perfect? Not by a long shot, but good enough to be confident that my kids will be okay. There are lots of things that I do that will help my kids be good and healthy people, the absolutely most important one being that I let them know that they are loved even if they pour Bull's Eye Barbecue Sauce on the family room carpet.

The second thing I realize about my parenting is that even with my failures, my children are resilient enough to survive and thrive. They are designed well enough to overcome if I said “no” when I should have said “yes”, and “yes” when I should have said, “are you out of your mind?!” In short., my kids will endure despite my shortcomings.

If, after analyzing yourself into a headache, you still feel like an incompetent parent, there is still one more step you can take. You could ask someone for advice. There is not a problem today that some parent hasn’t lived through and solved. Ask your parents. Ask your neighbor. Ask the couple who have adopted eight underprivileged kids. Someone is bound to have the answer for you.

And if you must ask someone for directions to navigate through your parental difficulties, I promise I won’t tell anyone.

Why Men Make Better Housewives Part 2


The second advantage most men have over their wives when managing the household is upper body strength. There are, of course, exceptions to this. Everyone knows the couple that is made up of She-ra and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. If this applies to you, I recommend skipping this section. It may be depressing.

There was a study that proved that men and women can lift exactly the same weight—if you subtract the difference in their body weight along with their fat content. It proved that, pound for pound, women’s muscles are just as strong as men’s. Since most people, when it is time to life something heavy, cannot add to their weight or subtract their fat content, it is safe to assume that most men are stronger than most women because men are bigger than women. In general. Please don’t write.

What, then, is the advantage of being able to life more in the area of family chores? Surely the weight of a baby doesn’t strain even the weakest Chief Household Officer (CHO), male or female. The first place where strength rules is the kitchen. How many children have gone without pickles with their lunch because their mommies could not open the jar? With this country’s obsession with sterility, even bags of string cheese take a man’s strength to open.

In the laundry room, efficiency is increased with extra strength. Instead of going up and down with one load at a time, you can overload his super-sized, three-bushel, seventeen-cubic foot, reinforced handled, Teflon coated, mammoth laundry basket and take an entire weeks’ worth of clothes up to the bedrooms to be put away. Granted, the clothes at the bottom of this portable wardrobe are wrinkled beyond repair, but you have saved a trip. And that is what men do.

The final place a man’s strength outperforms a woman’s is in and around the car—which, unfortunately, is probably a minivan. Could an average woman carry two 18-month old babies, a gym bag, and an umbrella across a parking lot in the middle of a terrible thunderstorm to get to the community pool for swimming lessons? Could she force the back seat forward after the latch gets stuck on a binkie and won’t unlock? Could she hoist the steam cleaner into the van to clean up that strange spot that smells like deer urine that she found under the seat after a long trip? No, she could not. But you can.

Why Men Make Better Housewives Part 3


The third advantage you will find you have over your wife when it comes to taking care of your babies is your ability to withstand the unpleasant noise of crying for longer periods of time. When your child is first born, your wife will discover that the cry of a baby—any baby—has a disturbing effect on her. She will leak. God designed women so well that they don’t have to think about making milk. (By the way, making milk is what breasts are made for, regardless of what beer commercials might claim. The fun they bring us is just an added benefit.) The sound of a wailing infant will get those milk factories working overtime. They know their job is to feed that baby and shut it up. Only after there is silence or they are drained dry by a thirsty suckler will they slow production.

If no baby is quickly attached to a breast in Milk Making Mode, it will reach capacity and overflow onto whatever is nearby. This is usually a blouse. This often happens in public. Women call this “leaking”. Stupid men call this hysterical. Smart men tell their wives that no one can even notice the enormous wet stains on the front of her silk blouse and that the dirty sweatshirt she is wearing over it matches just fine.

Men don’t have that problem (which is another advantage of just being a man.) Baby cries. Our nipples don’t react in the slightest. This freedom allows us to A) continue working on the engine or the dinner that the unhappy baby attempted to interrupt, and B) not worry that the shirt we wear out in public will show two big stains on our chest at inopportune times.

Crying is the only way for Baby to communicate what she wants, whether it’s food, a clean diaper, or a different channel. Because men are not saddled with the discomfort of leaking breasts, we have less to distract us from understanding which cry asks for each thing. And you just won’t get all wet while you figure it out, like your wife will.

Your ability to ignore a baby’s cries should not be mishandled, however. If the baby is crying, make him stop! Even if you haven’t learned her language, try everything until you reach silence. Remember in the movie, “Babe”, when Farmer Hoggett dances to make the pig get better? If that’s what it takes, do it.

I have an uncle who equates a crying baby with a healthy baby.

“What are you saying, little guy?” he asks as the infant’s wailing echoes through the house. “What do you have to say to the world?”

He is not allowed to hold our kids anymore.

Why Men Make Better Housewives Part 4


The fourth advantage men have over women as Chief Household Officers is, for lack of a better word, Man Time. Man Time is the time required to do the man’s jobs around the house.

Don’t be fooled. Just because you fly in the face of traditional family arrangements by staying home, that does not mean you have traded all conventional gender roles. In fact, all you have done is traded ONE of “the husband’s” responsibilities (having a job that makes money) for a whole slew of “the wife’s”. This means that you are still expected to do all of the things you used to do as the man of the house: change the oil in the car, take out the garbage, empty used mousetraps, crawl into the crawlspace and fix the leaky pipe, etc.

Many of these “man jobs” remain in our domain because we enjoy doing them. I enjoy working on the lawn. My wife has no interest in it. I garden, I weed, I landscape. She just better appreciate it when she gets home.

We get some unpleasant jobs by default. Because we—by the nature of being men—are more comfortable being dirty and smelly, we are expected to be better at the smelly and dirty jobs. We are assigned cleaning the gutters, removing dead mice, spraying hornets’ nests, and other jobs that I, personally, would rather not do. However, if I don’t do them, they won’t get done.

Man Time is important for any house to run smoothly. Un-mowed lawns, un-clogged drains, un-controlled rodents will eventually overrun any home if someone doesn’t deal with them. You, as a Stay-At-Home-Dad, have all day to accomplish these goals. You do not need to rush home from your job, change clothes, and mow the lawn at a sprint before the sun goes down. You don’t have to take time from your busy weekend to clean the gutters or change the oil in your car (which is probably a minivan). You have, more or less, all day to do these things.

You have an entire day’s schedule to fit in the manly chores you have to do. You could change the oil during lunchtime, while the baby is strapped into her highchair. You could clean the gutters while the kids played in the backyard. (Be sure to teach your oldest how to dial 911.)

With all of the time saved by doing your Man Time chores during the weekdays, you have evenings and weekend free to do whatever you want…which will probably be catching up on the laundry and dishes and cleaning that you didn’t get around to because you were too busy doing man things.

Why Men Make Better Housewives Part 5


The fifth advantage men have over women is probably the greatest one. We can’t get pregnant (which is yet another benefit of just being a man). Since we will never have to carry a developing child inside our bodies, we never have to do that at the same time we are taking care of that child’s older brothers and sisters. When a Stay-At-Home-Mom gets pregnant, she has to carry her new job—that of baby factory—along with her on her current job—that of mother and homemaker.

Imagine doing everything you have to do every day—feeding, bathing, and changing the baby; potty training and driving the toddler to preschool; driving the school-aged kid to school, then soccer practice, then piano lessons, then to her friend’s house; cleaning the house, doing the dishes, doing the laundry, making dinner, fixing the car, mowing the lawn, recalculating the angle on the satellite dish. Now, imagine doing all of those things while a growing organism steals all of your nutrition.

A fetus has been called a “perfect parasite”. That means that the baby gets fed first. Anything mom eats gets divided into two servings: whatever the baby wants and whatever is left over. If the mom doesn’t “eat for two”, she doesn’t eat. The baby is fat and fine. Most likely, after the meal, he is floating around in the womb with his hand in his pants, burping and settling in front of the T.V. Mom is left to fend for herself.

If mom does consume enough for herself and the child, chances are pretty good that her share won’t sit very well.

“Mom, can you drive me to soccer practice?” the ten-year old son asks.

“You’re going to be a little late, Sweetie,” Mommy groans. “Mommy’s got her head in the toilet.”

“Again?”

Dad, on the other hand, has no ill effects when the old Gestation Ball begins. Aside from a little “sympathy weight gain”, we don’t change at all. At one month or nine, we can handle all of our responsibilities with the same acumen that we had when there was one child in play and none on deck.

We do get additional duties when our wife gets pregnant. We have to take care of her, along with her children. A pregnancy is a tough thing, and it is our job to treat our wife, the mother of our children, as if she were a queen. Why? Two reasons: First, think of what she is going through. It is a terribly difficult strain and she needs all the support she can get. Second, if we carry her through pregnancy, she cannot turn around after the delivery and say, “Hey, I carried this child for nine months. Now it’s your turn.”

One in a Million


Do a search on Amazon.com and you will only find eight books on Stay-At-Home-Dads. Three of these are written by women. Four are written by men and one is written by someone named Kris—could be either. The point is that there is still only a small segment of our population that has embraced this role reversal. I assume in the early fifties there weren’t many books discussing how women could succeed in business, no matter how hard they tried.

What does this tell you, as someone who has realized the many benefits of quitting the outside workforce and being the primary parent?

(Okay, I am going to level with you right here. Most of my readers are not Stay-At-Home-Dads.

My average reader is someone who knows me, who likes the way I write, who knows someone who is a SAHD, who knows someone who knows me, who knows someone who likes the way I write, or who likes to sign up for weekly columns, no matter what the topics are just so they can be assured of getting email at least once a week. This is a very new column and I haven’t built my reader base yet. It is designed to be read by SAHDs, and you are supposed to be one, so I am going to write as if you were.)

Back to the point, how does this lack of media attention affect you? Should you be discouraged by the lack of support and expert advice? Is this an indication that maybe your decision was a bad one? If you want to be like everyone else, this might be the wakeup call you need to get back to work. Since you already know you’re in an unusual situation, I’m guessing that conformity is not one of your strongest values. Read on and see how poorly you fit in.

You probably already know how unique you are. If your wife has any sense (and I will assume she does) she tells you how lucky she is every single day when she gets home from work. You wake every morning and leap out of bed, knowing that your unique brand of parenting is just the thing to aim your children in the right direction so that, when they are adults, they can lead the rest of the country onward into a bright and promising future! The SAHD Revolution will change the world!

A bit too dramatic? Let’s look at the numbers. Five years ago, “They” estimated that there were two million Stay-At-Home-Dads in the country. I don’t know who “They” were, but they must have been pretty believable because that number popped up in a lot of places. Last year, the Census Bureau apparently wanted to be “Them” so they looked real hard and came up with a different number: 98,000. Either the number of SAHDs declined dramatically in four years or the definition of SAHD changed. Either way, “They” now say that there are less than 100,000 of us roaming about.

To put that into perspective, there are 293.7 million people in the United States. 5.5 million are Stay-At-Home Parents. 5.4 million of those are women. That means that of the parents who decided that daycare was not the answer for them, only 2% decided that Dad is best suited for the job. Of Stay At Home Parents, you are one in fifty-five.

102.8 million Americans are adult men (over twenty years old). There are 102.7 million men who either do not have kids or do not stay home with them during the day. While you may not be one in a million, you are, you are—quite literally—one in a thousand. Actually, you’re one in 1049.

Merry Christmas, Super Dad. 

Men Make Better Housewives (part 1)


With the trend of more dads staying home from work to raise the children and maintain the household, it has been determined that there are certain advantages men have over women in the area of domestic management.

The first and most obvious advantage we have in the home is our ability to tolerate odors. It is undeniable that men smell bad. Since the miraculous sprouting of those first curly hairs on our chests, the chemical mixture that made us men emitted odors both pungent and powerful. Body odor rapidly became a part of our lives and no amount of deodorant could change it. Eventually, we got used to smelling. We grew proud of the odors we could inflict on others. Then we became fathers.

Women, on the other hand, smell nice. They don’t sweat, they glow. Their hair “smells terrific.” Surrounded closely by themselves, their noses grew used to the sweet bouquet of femininity. In addition, when they became pregnant, a strange transformation took place. Their sense of smell became super-human. They could detect an M&M from across the room and get violently ill at the smell of a Denny’s three miles away.

Parenting involves more scents than any industry outside a perfumery. While some are delightful, most are dreadful. It is truly amazing how something so sweet and small as a baby can create something so noxious as a dirty diaper. This is why a man can step in where a woman fears to tread. With her “supernose” still active after the birth, a woman cannot stand a soiled diaper. If she smells one, everything must stop until it is disposed of. There is no higher priority than the destruction of that vile, offending odor.

We men, on the other hand, understand the offense for what it is: something that belongs somewhere on the list of things to be dealt with. While leaving the smelly thing on the baby for a long period of time would be neglectful and harmful, there might be other things that are more pressing. In due time, we’ll change the diaper and maybe open a window if it warrants it. We might be in the middle of spacing spark plugs or welding a pipe. We might be reading a book to our older kids or be elbow deep in meatloaf. We might be taking a well earned rest and simply need to put our feet up for five lousy minutes and can’t they just leave us alone for one second, thank you very much! We prioritize the need to change diaper, finish what we were doing, and then address the odor issue when its time comes.

Another advantage we have is the uncanny ability to smell nothing offensive at all. We can honestly claim ignorance when our wives point out that the baby’s diaper needs changing.

“No,” we say with innocent eyes, “I didn’t smell anything. I’ll get you a clean diaper and wipes, if you want.”

Why Men Make Better Housewives Part 2


The second advantage most men have over their wives when managing the household is upper body strength. There are, of course, exceptions to this. Everyone knows the couple that is made up of She-ra and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. If this applies to you, I recommend skipping this section. It may be depressing.

There was a study that proved that men and women can lift exactly the same weight—if you subtract the difference in their body weight along with their fat content. It proved that, pound for pound, women’s muscles are just as strong as men’s. Since most people, when it is time to life something heavy, cannot add to their weight or subtract their fat content, it is safe to assume that most men are stronger than most women because men are bigger than women. In general. Please don’t write.

What, then, is the advantage of being able to life more in the area of family chores? Surely the weight of a baby doesn’t strain even the weakest Chief Household Officer (CHO), male or female. The first place where strength rules is the kitchen. How many children have gone without pickles with their lunch because their mommies could not open the jar? With this country’s obsession with sterility, even bags of string cheese take a man’s strength to open.

In the laundry room, efficiency is increased with extra strength. Instead of going up and down with one load at a time, you can overload his super-sized, three-bushel, seventeen-cubic foot, reinforced handled, Teflon coated, mammoth laundry basket and take an entire weeks’ worth of clothes up to the bedrooms to be put away. Granted, the clothes at the bottom of this portable wardrobe are wrinkled beyond repair, but you have saved a trip. And that is what men do.

The final place a man’s strength outperforms a woman’s is in and around the car—which, unfortunately, is probably a minivan. Could an average woman carry two 18-month old babies, a gym bag, and an umbrella across a parking lot in the middle of a terrible thunderstorm to get to the community pool for swimming lessons? Could she force the back seat forward after the latch gets stuck on a binkie and won’t unlock? Could she hoist the steam cleaner into the van to clean up that strange spot that smells like deer urine that she found under the seat after a long trip? No, she could not. But you can.

...And Wisdom to Know the Difference


Back when women first joined the workforce and got paid for their work, some men thought they were incapable of producing as much or succeeding as well as their male counterparts. Women struggled against injustice and, using sheer will and strength of character, proved them wrong. It was a long hard struggle, but now most agree that in practically every position in every industry, women are just as competent as men.

Now, men are beginning a new revolution. We are heading back into the home to become the Primary Parent. After generations of this being the women’s role in every society except penguins and ostriches, there are some who believe that men are not as capable as women as Stay At Home Parents.

Good. That gives us a little breathing room.

There are occasions—no more than once a day—that the clothes I choose for my two-year-old daughters don’t match. I know there are rules about different prints and too many shades of red, but I have yet to fully understand them.

I have also never been good with hair. Mine was short, even in the 80s, simply because I never got the gist of “doing it”. Today, I consider it a major victory if I get my girls’ ponytails to stay on their head. Getting them centered is too much to ask.

At play dates or at the mall, when mommies see my girls in all their incompatible glory, I am given slack simply because I am a man. If my wife were to bring our girls similarly clad, she would be ostracized. How could any mother allow her children to be seen in such disarray?

Some might see this as a sinister form of sexism. The expectations for my behavior are lower than that of my female counterparts! This is discrimination! It says that one group is less capable than another!

Yep. Bring it on.

I am sure it gives some women a smug sense of superiority knowing that their daughters’ hair is bundled and bowed, while my daughters sport ponytails sticking out the side of their heads. Their sons wear slacks that are just the right shade of tan, while mine wears whatever was on top in the drawer.

I say, Ma’am, you are welcome to your smugness.

Men don’t do color. We don’t know the difference between eggshell and taupe and we couldn’t point out ecru if an ecru-colored snake bit us. If the world wants to accept that as a fact, why should we spend valuable energy proving them wrong?

We don’t do hair. We don’t do clothes. I, for one, am okay with that. There are so many things I had to learn when I became a SAHD, I am quite happy to be inadequate in those areas where I am genetically predisposed for failure.

If I tried, I could learn all those rules, but I am too busy teaching my kids how not to throw like a girl.

Being a Stay-At-Home-Dad


Being a Stay-At-Home-Dad has many challenges. In addition to those that every Stay-At-Home-Parent faces, we have to remember that we are still men and must not let our nurturing, comforting sides take over and eliminate our grunting, fighting hunting sides.

There are two ways to maintain and increase your masculinity while being the Stay-At-Home and drudging through the emasculating chores of laundry, dishes, dinner, cleaning vomit from couch cushions, more laundry, changing diapers, etc. The first is address your job your way. The second is to make sure that you exercise your self.

This is your job. It is not your wife’s that you are taking over for a short time while she goes out to get a pedicure. You are not the Substitute Mommy. You are raising your children and running your home. Do it like a man. Develop your system. However it works for you, do it that way. If your wife has a better idea, maybe she would like to switch positions and stay home.

Men like to shoot things. We like to hit things. We like to overpower things. Don’t agree? Then why are contact sports so popular? Of course, you can’t hit, shoot or overpower your children (or their boyfriends) or most of the stuff in your house. You can shoot baskets with a dirty diaper from across the room. You can put the toys that were left in the front yard into the back yard using a tennis racquet. You can pick up and carry your third grader to the car (probably a minivan) when he doesn’t want to go to the dentist.

If you want to clean the playroom using a push broom and shove all the toys to one wall, do it that way. When your wife comes home and asks you what you are doing, tell her you are tidying up quickly because the hockey game is going to start soon and you need the rink cleared. Play hockey with your kids in the basement.

Do things that will make you sweat and grunt. Carry larger than necessary loads of laundry or groceries. Try to change two diapers at one time. If you can’t find things that challenge you during the day, look outside the realm of parenting.

Not everything during a SAHD’s day will lend itself to encouraging masculinity. Because of that, you have to find things that make you feel manly; that make you feel alive; that stir the fires of barbarism deep within you. Play football even if you think you are too out of shape. Go to a movie that has lots of mindless carnage. Chop wood. Go to a bar and watch NASCAR. Walk around an sporting goods store and try to figure out what all those camping and hunting supplies are for. Dance like you did in high school. Embarrass your wife. Play poker.

Even in the most sophisticated, sensitive man, there flows the blood of an ancestor that hunted for his food, killed for his country, and never even considered crying at “Old Yeller”. Don’t unleash that ancestor to run around free and uncontrolled, but don’t lock him away forever, either. Let him peek out every once in a while

Find Your Caveman in a Split Log


There is no solo activity that is better at elevating a man’s level of testosterone than chopping wood. It is the best way for any man to make contact with his Inner Caveman. First of all, you get to use a weapon. This is not some artificially strengthening weapon like a gun—a little girl can use a gun. No, you are using an axe like the one used by James Earl Jones in “Conan the Barbarian”. Put a splitting maul next to a battle axe and you’ll see. Even the name harkens back to darker days: a maul. You can’t get more intimidating than that.

Secondly, you get to break things. I am convinced that deep within even the most civilized, sophisticated man, there lurks the need to wantonly destroy. For some, this comes out in contact sports; for others, hostile takeovers. Healthy release of this urge is very important. Severing a lifeless piece of stump into useful pieces of firewood is healthy. Beating your wife is not.

Chopping wood is basic, barbaric. The actions use gross motor coordination, as opposed to fine motor skills. Staying in the lines is fine motor. Staying on the page is gross motor. Aiming a puck into a net or hitting a pitched ball require a little of both. The muscles you use chopping wood are all large so there is no detail work involved. Your arms and back and legs work as one machine to swing the maul and bring it crashing down. You sweat. Your heart rate increases. There aren’t any “Chopping to the Oldies” exercise videos, but it is a good workout.

If you chopped right, the wood will give way and shatter into two pieces. It feels like you have used your whole body to punch something very hard. It is satisfying when the thing that you have deemed worthy of destruction suddenly surrenders to your mighty blow. You have conquered it. It is your prey. It might sound childish, finding joy in defeating an inanimate object, but it cannot be denied that it feels good. If you need more motivation, imagine the piece of wood is someone’s head. Then the feeling is exquisite.

Chopping wood can be used at any time you feel your masculinity slipping away or being overcome by menial labor and mindless household chores. If you are simply having a stressful day and need to release some steam without damaging your children’s self-esteem or your marriage, this is a quick and effective tool. Even if you aren’t planning a fire in the near future, don some leather work gloves and eye protection, pick up your splitting maul, and obliterate some logs. The exercise, grunting, and carnage will get you back into the swing of being the man you want to be.

It’s not a man-i-van


Men and cars go together. The right car can be an aphrodisiac. The right car can reach deep into a man and stir that dormant barbarian and fan the flames of masculine animalism.

A minivan is not that car.

I know. I drive one. When we learned that we were having twins, we had a decision to make. I drove a ’00 Durango and my wife drove a ’92 Mustang convertible. (She brought it into the marriage. It was her first baby and I was never allowed to adopt it.) We could have done nothing and tried to squeeze four kids and a dog into the small SUV. That would have involved a lot of climbing over seats and very little storage space. We looked at a Suburban. Same amount of climbing. Lots more storage. We looked at minivans. No climbing. Good storage.

“Obviously, the minivan is the best choice for your family,” my Inner Adult said.

“Look at how high you sit in a Suburban,” my Caveman said. “You’d be master of all you surveyed!”

“The gas mileage in a minivan is much better.”

“Your family would be safest in a Hummer.”

I liked that line of thinking. I had always heard that large SUVs were much safer—for their own passengers, at least. My family’s safety is a primary concern. We need a Suburban. Or a Bradley Assault Vehicle.

“Look, you can open the door with a remote control!”

Okay, one point for minivans.

“How can you be a man in a minivan?”

My point exactly. You can’t.

I bought one anyway. The SUV lost by low clearance.

I have a captain’s chair. One sliding door and both back windows are controlled by remote control. I can adjust the CD player from the steering wheel. It has a fair amount of bells and whistles, all custom made for me at a plant in Tennessee.

But it’s not a man’s car. I’ve tried looking at it from every possible angle: It rides higher than my old S-10 pickup. It’s got a bigger engine than, say, a Miata.

Minivans are emasculating vehicles. They are elongated bean shells with narrow tires and no pick-up. At best, they’re neutral cars. At worst, neutering ones. You can’t get much more than a tired whimper from the engine, no matter how hard you stomp the pedal. Take the seats out and you still don’t have enough room for lumber.

You can get leather seats. Leather seats in a Lamborghini are hot. In a minivan, they are elegant. Like an evening gown. I wouldn’t wear an evening gown, either.

In our quest to get in touch with our primeval masculinity, the minivan is a hindrance, not an aid. We cannot rely on the minivan to encourage our manliness. If you have to drive one on a daily basis, make sure you find time to drive something with some power, some flash, some cahones.

Even if it’s your wife’s car.

©2006, Mark Phillips

*    *    * 



Contact Us | Disclaimer | Privacy Statement
Menstuff® Directory
Menstuff® is a registered trademark of Gordon Clay
©1996-2017, Gordon Clay