‘That’s Not Real Work’: The Trials And Tribulations Of A Stay-at-Home Dad

In a modern society, which places a premium on choice versus destiny, is it that far fetched to believe a man can choose to stay home and nurture his children?

I love kids, so much so that when my wife and I decided to start a family, a combination of her making more money than me and me hating my job, led me to becoming a full-time dad. Looking back, I think people would have had a higher opinion of me if I decided to eat the baby instead.

I want to make it clear that I am not some kind of men’s rights activist, as a self-proclaimed feminist, I am far from it. I know as a straight white male I probably have an easier time than any other demographic in this country. But as a stay-at-home dad, I’m often looked down upon.

No one wants to admit that they’re sexist, but the truth is that a lot of men and women still expect the man to work full-time outside of the home.

I Don’t Get Much Support Beyond My Spouse

Upon announcing on Facebook that I would be staying home to raise my son and try to get my freelance writing career off the ground, I was met with a slew of negative comments like, “What the f*** are you doing? You’re not seriously considering not getting a legit job right?” And that was from a friend. In fact my best friend of 25 years had this to say: “If I don’t consider it work when my wife stays home and does nothing then I’m not going to consider it work when you do it.”

At least those two put their feelings right on Front Street, my own brother chose to be a stealth troll by periodically posting “Help wanted” ads on my Facebook wall. When I finally confronted him about already having a job, he feigned ignorance and pretended that he didn’t know I was staying home and chasing his nephew around all day.

I understand that hundreds of years of tradition is hard to shake, but what is it that makes having a penis automatically translate to “Must work outside the home, must drink beer and like to grill?”

It’s All About Being A ‘Real’ Man

What is a real man? I’ve heard my whole life that I need to be one, but I’m still not sure how one goes about it. Am I a man? Well I guess biologically I am though I’m a firm supporter of gender fluidity among those who choose not to define themselves by their genitals. Am I real? In a corporeal sense, I suppose. Dig any deeper than that though and I start to fail the Man Test.

I don’t watch sports, I’m not into cars, and I don’t drink beer. But surely those stereotypes no longer define what it is to be a man, right? A couple minutes on any social media platform can answer that question. Beyond those shallow traits though, what makes a man a man? Supposedly we have this biological imperative to hunt for food and gather firewood far from home while our wives stay behind and raise our children.

The problem is that, as a species, we’ve reached a point where we can ignore our genetic coding and do whatever we want. People become vegetarians, despite their inherent craving for meat, and decide to have sex for pleasure with no intention of procreating. We don’t even obey the laws of aging anymore, what with our hair dyes and plastic surgery. In a modern society, which places a premium on choice versus destiny, is it that far fetched to believe a man can choose to stay home and nurture his children?

Truth be told, I’ve always been different than other males, and I suffered by being reminded constantly that I didn’t fit in.

Being told repeatedly that you don’t measure up to a preconceived standard based on your gender really takes a toll on a child. I was always a sensitive kid, and since I was also a boy, this was seen as a detriment to my character. There were only two possible causes of course: I was either secretly a girl or I was gay. It was inconceivable that I could like Ninja Turtles, and also love Rainbow Bright. I couldn’t like girls and musical theater. With a childhood like that, is it any wonder that I constantly doubt my masculinity?

I ask my wife sometimes if she would rather have a more butch husband—an alpha male breadwinner who doesn’t cry at the end of Toy Story 3.

She always laughs. Her first husband was a “real man,” an EMT and volunteer firefighter who drove a pick-up truck, smoked Camels, and cheated on her constantly.

Ultimately, I’m comfortable not being thought of as a real man. I know I’m a good husband and father not despite my love of The Sound Of Music, but because of it.

It’s Not Like I’m Doing Manual Labor

Why is sitting at a desk work, but teaching a child how to count to 10 isn’t?

I’m well aware that what I do isn’t as hard or labor intensive as construction work, but you know what? A lot of jobs aren’t. I’d put staying home and raising a child at least on par with working in an office or delivering pizza and I never hear anyone say those aren’t real jobs. I guarantee that convincing a 1-year-old to give up his bottle in exchange for a sippy cup is just as hard as getting someone to switch their cellphone provider. People who run daycares get paid to watch kids. People get paid to wash other people’s clothes and other people’s dishes. I do all three and get paid in tantrums and body fluids.

That’s another thing: How many jobs do you know of where dealing with feces is a daily requirement? Is the threat of being covered in urine and vomit a legitimate concern at your place of employment?

The truth is, everything is relative. There are many jobs harder than mine but there are also many jobs where people make a decent living doing much less.

So It’s Worth It?

Despite all the emasculation, dealing with sexist jerks, and living in abject poverty, I wouldn’t trade being a stay-at-home parent for anything. For me, no amount of money could ever buy the feeling I get knowing I’m shaping a mind. Everytime I kiss a boo-boo, everytime I stroke a tiny little head that’s resting in my lap, I know that being a dad is the best thing I’ll ever be and that’s easily worth more to me than a new laptop or getting to eat-out somewhere that doesn’t have a drive-thru.

Zack Zagranis is a full-time stay-at-home father and husband that occasionally finds time to string together a few words on his keyboard.

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