A carefree musician learns to care for two small children -- and maintain his masculinity in the process.
It's not for the faint of heart, and like most epic adventures, sometimes it takes all you've got just to hang on. Such is the life of a modern man delving into the wilderness of stay-at-home fatherhood.
A few years ago when my wife, Melissa, and I discussed the possibility of my staying home with the child we were expecting, I accepted the challenge with a resounding "yes." Melissa works in marketing for a software company and I am a musician and artist; needless to say, her steady paychecks and benefits provided the security our growing family needed.
Behind all of the dangling diaper bags, children's songs, and dried-up drool is a very capable man.
Early on, I realized this was going to be a "solo hike." There were very few men I could turn to for advice. No one in my family and only one dear friend had been in my shoes. Subsequently, there weren't many road maps or blueprints for me to follow -- even very few books. Most men seemed to think I was crazy. Some assumed that I was taking the easy way out of being a traditional male breadwinner. Most guys were simply confused, expressing concerns that I would find it emasculating to stay home taking care of the children.
I did struggle with feelings of isolation at first, especially before our daughter, Everly, could speak. There were days when I would answer a phone call in the waning hours of the afternoon and be startled by the volume of my regular speaking voice -- I'd realized it hadn't been used all day for anything but silly, nonsensical sounds that would make my daughter giggle.
Meanwhile, spontaneity, a dear old friend of mine, was led out of the door by two tiny hands. In the past, my working hours had been at night, when I took the stage at clubs and coffee houses. During the daytime, I was free to explore, paint, or play music. To fuel my creativity, I took the occasional motorcycle ride through Golden Gate Park or down the Pacific Coast Highway. In the evening, I'd ride in a cab through the lights of the city, and the only thing on my mind would be whether or not to open with the new song I'd written that afternoon. Suddenly, these unstructured days gave way to carefully planned schedules, built around nap-times, feedings, doctor's visits, and fragile toddler moods that could easily dip into tantrums.
I took pride in learning my daughter's routines, the tricks that would get her to eat and sleep, her individual quirks and needs. Yet there were times in the beginning when I felt invisible. Whenever people had questions about her care and well being, they almost always were directed towards my wife. This was hard to take. Not only was I not "winning the bread," so to speak, I wasn't even being acknowledged for all of the hard work I was putting into raising my child. People were justifiably amazed that my wife could excel at her job while being a truly amazing mother. But I felt displaced, or lost in the mix, as questions about my daughter's day-to-day life were directed over my head.
My new role also provoked some peculiar reactions from strangers. At one doctor's appointment, a nurse was astonished when I told her I was a stay-at-home dad "Really? I've never met one before!" she said, staring at me as if I were an exotic animal. In some cases, I couldn't tell whether the inquisitive looks I received from check-out clerks were attributable to my tattoos and occasional thick beard or to the forgotten pink and blue plastic animal and bow-shaped clips Everly had placed in my hair earlier in the day.
Since the birth of our son, Arlo, I've been drawing even more stares -- but I've come to realize that not all of them are dubious. Some onlookers seem delighted by the sight of a man fully engaged in caring for his children. Oftentimes, an older woman will ask if I need help doing something as simple and everyday as getting the stroller out of the back of the van and loading the kids into it. One lady even asked if I needed her help holding Arlo while I was at the self check-out line in the grocery store. I couldn't help but think that if I had been a mother with a child, the invitation may not have been extended.