Let me be clear: I love being a stay-at-home father, aside, of course, from the times I don’t. In a day and age when most parents must have paying gigs to make ends meet, it’s a privilege to be a stay-at-home parent. I get that. I’d be lying though if I wrote that this was how I thought my life would turn out.
Granted I’m not sure exactly how I thought my life would turn out. There’s a part of me that was fairly certain I wouldn’t make it past 30, but then I did. Now some 10 years later, I’m really not sure what I envisioned, but it wasn’t exactly this. Frankly, I thought there would be more sycophants involved or at least an assistant or two and maybe a corner office or at least a jail cell.
I thought that things would be…different, that I’d achieve some sort of undefined measure of success or notoriety. Instead I’m here tending to my wife and daughter, and it’s all lovely as far as things go, but I’m beginning to understand that it comes with a cost.
Don’t get me wrong — I made a chose to become a stay-at-home dad. Once my wife finally became pregnant after five years of IVF, we agreed, we knew, that one of us would be the stay-at-home parent. As my wife made the larger income, it only made sense that the person who would do so would be me.
As a stay-at-home parent, I’ve been able to take part in moments my wife has not. I gave our daughter her first bath and witnessed the loss of her first tooth. I recall hours upon hours as she slept upon my chest or as I rocked her to sleep again and again in the wee hours of the night so that my wife could rest. I fed Darcy her first bits of solid food. I rushed her to the ER when her breathing became shallow and her fever spiked over 104 more than once or twice.
A few years ago, I pulled my daughter and wife both from a car that had flipped over. Terrified that neither one of them would be alive, I felt relieved beyond imagination when I saw them both struggling to be set free from their seat belts. I managed to present an aura of calm before they, both in C-collars, were whisked off by the ambulance and even while they were examined and prodded in the hospital. It was only until Laura and Darcy were safely asleep that I fell apart and trembled at what could have been.
The bulk of my time isn’t that exciting. I cook. I clean. I ferry my daughter to camp and school and swimming and tend to our cars for regular maintenance. I mow the lawn, weed the beds, and manage to even plant a few things that haven’t withered in the harsh Midwestern summers. I’ve packed lunches for Darcy and for Laura and watched them both walk out the front door and go on about their lives while I try to make the best of mine here…at home.
I’ve learned a lot from my tenure as a stay-at-home dad and one of the things is that my stories are not unique. I’ve ridden the roller coaster that every parent and spouse rides, and throughout it all, I’ve come to understand that I’m good at caring for the people I care about. The moment my daughter was born, I made a vow, a promise to myself, that I would do my very best by her as well as my wife. It’s one of the few promises I’ve been able to keep.
Now here I am a few years later. Laura’s business is doing well. My daughter, all of 7 years old, is happy and healthy and I…I’m beginning to wonder what I’m going to do with my life once my constant presence at home is not needed.
The thought has made me edgy, and the fact is that if I had shown some aptitude for the working world then I would be the primary breadwinner for my family instead of my wife. As much as I’ve enjoyed my tenure as a stay-at-home dad, as much as I’ve learned, I understand that the time I’ve served as one may not be looked kindly upon by future employers.
And yet, I want something for myself. If I’m being honest, I envy my wife and her success and the way in which she has something other than family upon which to focus. As much as I love Laura and Darcy, they are not my sole reason for being.
I want something more and I worry that somehow, over the past seven years, I’ve lost my window of opportunity to become whatever it is that I want to become. I’m not a young man, and I’m coming to grips with some hard truths.
I’ve chosen to be a stay-at-home parent, and I will own that choice as best as I can. But it is a choice that may come with a hard and bitter price. When and if that time comes, I hope that I can own that as well.