by Todd Gottlieb
I’m shooting for that fourth-grade “What I did for summer vacation” paper.
I’ve written many stories on my personal experiences as a stay-at-home dad (SAHD) but I’ve never actually explained why I decided to become a full-time SAHD. I guess just like Star Wars, I started with Chapter 4 so consider this Chapter 1, the prequel.
SAHDs are becoming a force with which to be reckoned. No, we’re not as ubiquitous as our stay-at-home mom (SAHM) counterparts but nonetheless we are growing and expanding (and not just with regard to our waist line). We have blogs and support groups, and yes, we even have our own conventions. The lobby that represents us is in the making and it won’t be long before we have our own talk-show. Watch out, Oprah!
Dudes become SAHDs for a variety of reasons. Some become SAHDs as a result of circumstances (perhaps they lost their job) or because they realize that going to work just to pay for daycare doesn’t make financial sense. Others, and I put myself in this category, make a conscious decision to become SAHDs for no other reason than they wish to have a closer relationship with their children. For me, I wanted to be an integral part of raising my kids.
Being a SAHD doesn’t make me a better dad than the guy who works 60 hours a week in order to provide for his children nor does it make me any less of a dad; it only indicates that our priorities are different. Although my early ideal of what it meant to be a good dad was more consistent with the “traditional” role of financial provider, that philosophy experienced a seismic shift. In order to understand my desire to be a SAHD one must understand my background.
When I was younger, I always envisioned myself as the next Trump. I’m sure most of my classmates and early friends would be surprised to find out that I’m not the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and downright shocked to find out I’m a SAHD. To be sure, I was on that professional path but after 9/11, I traded in the suit and tie for frayed jeans and a smock. With my then-girlfriend-now-wife, we opened a ceramics studio and taught kids how to make cool stuff out of clay. That was the beginning of my transformation.
My childhood is a convoluted story that perhaps I’ll share someday but for now understand that my parents separated when I was eight and divorced when I was 12 years old. After remarrying, my mother moved to the East Coast and I lived with a father who was neglectful and essentially absent. He cared about his girlfriend and her kids more than he did his own son. I grew up with very little parental guidance and this painful experience perhaps jaded me as I never envisioned myself a daddy. “Why would I want to put a kid through something like this,” I always asked myself. It was a question whose answer was not conducive to fatherhood.
More than anything, I had an unabated fear that, should I become a dad, I would turn out to be the same type of dad as my father. You know the old saying, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. These powerful demons often haunted me and challenged my paternal instincts. I resolved that I’d rather not be a dad at all than be that kind of dad. I just wasn’t confident that I had what it took to be a good dad, to be selfless, supportive, understanding, unconditionally loving, strong and sensitive. Unfortunately, fatherhood is not a toe-dipping experience: you have to jump in with both feet and I wasn’t sure I was ready to take that leap of faith.
Through therapy and the support of a loving wife and wonderful in-laws, I was able to take control of my fears by acknowledging and accepting my childhood, adolescent and young adult experiences. I began to realize that my unchartered path of fatherhood stood ready for ME to blaze, that the biological influence was only as great as I allowed it to be.
So when my son was born, I wanted to be the absolute best daddy that I could be. It had been a mantra of mine that, should I become a dad, I would want to provide for my kids everything I didn’t have. Early on this meant a big house, fancy cars, new clothes, ski trips, motorcycles, all the things that my friends had growing up. I think most dads feel similarly. However, those “things” I wanted to provide took on a different hue. No longer was I committed to providing material possessions for my kids. It seemed to me I had little control over how much stuff I could provide my kids (a capricious boss could simply decide to fire me one day or the economy could tank, for example) but I did have control over how much support, love, affection, time and stability I provided my kids. I felt that I brought him (and subsequently my daughter) into the world and therefore I had an obligation to guide them through it to the best of my ability. For me, that meant being a SAHD.
So, there you have it, my story of becoming a SAHD. You probably assume I think I’m the best dad in the world, that I’m something special because I’m a SAHD. Far from it. But if my kids think so then that’s all that truly matters.