At-Home Dads: Fathers Who Are Primary Caregivers

To start things out, let’s get two things clear. First, when you’re talking about At-Home Dads, semantics are important. They are not “Mr. Mom.” According to the National At-Home Dad Network, an At-Home Dad (AHD) is any father who is the regular primary caregiver of his children. Second, the majority of these dads, 70 percent according to a recent Boston College’s Center for Work and Family study, are there because they want to be – not because of a job loss or their inability to find employment.

Chico-based AHD Matt Dunckel says he’s been home with his two children since day one. “I feel lucky to be able to spend so much time with my kids. I do feel sad for my wife who would LOVE to be a stay-at-home mom, but for us – it’s just not an option,” admits Dunckel. A growing number of families see the value of one parent staying home and they must make their decision based on money. Dunckel says, “For us it was really a matter of finances. My wife had a full-time job with benefits and made more money than me. It really came down to that.”

Finances also played a role for Jon Gailis, an AHD in Jacksonville, OR, but he says money wasn’t the only factor, “My wife Ruby, while certainly wanting to be an involved mother, didn’t want to stop working to be a stay-at-home mom. I was actually eager and interested to be the full-time caregiver. I wanted the experience.”

Matt Dunckel has been at home with his two children Isaiah (5) and Ashlyn (8) since day one and says, “I feel lucky to be able to spend so much time with my kids.”

Trying to evaluate exactly how many dads in the United States are primary caregivers can get complicated. But one thing is clear; the number is on the rise. The Pew Research Foundation reports that in 2012, 7 percent – or roughly 2 million – dads with children in their household were not working outside the home. This number is way up from 1970 when only six men self-identified as being primary caregivers. Note: that was six people, not 6 percent!

Some At-Home Dads have found a way to combine working and being a primary care provider, but it takes creativity and intentionality. “The balance is still hard. Nothing about the combination of ‘young daughter’ and ‘concentrate on work’ go together,” reports Dade Barlow, owner of an electrical engineering company in Southern Oregon. “I find myself doing a lot of work piecemeal-style, or late at night. I’m careful to prioritize the work tasks that have to be done during normal waking hours. My 4-1/2 year old daughter knows that sometimes I have to take a call or send an email. She’s pretty good about it.”

Xuba Evaristo, single parent, AHD, and business owner in Ashland, OR, agrees. When asked how he balances working and parenting, he says, “Very carefully! Mostly, I schedule clients only during school hours so I can comfortably handle both.” These norm-busting dads are contributing to a huge shift in social constructs and gender roles. Evaristo says, “I am often aware that my existence as a full-time, solo dad is like a wrench in many people’s stories about men being dads. I can literally see the difficulty when they try to compute how my reality fits, or doesn’t, with their stories. It confuses a lot of people, in a good way – I like to think.”

Scott Simmons, a SanFrancisco-based AHD who stayed home with his son, says, “I think it’s great if you can reverse traditional roles. It allows your children to see something different, and when they are adults perhaps help evolve world perspectives on the roles men and woman play in the family unit. I think in 2017, it’s ridiculous to hold on to dated beliefs about how the family dynamic should dictate which parent will go to work and which parent should stay home.”

Gailis concurs, “We have these unwritten, social norms and ideals for gender roles that real men should be career-oriented wage earners, that fathers shouldn’t be doing tasks that have been traditionally prescribed to women. Sometimes I feel like I occupy a newer role for men – one that some people aren’t comfortable with, or accustomed to yet.”

Violet Carter, 17-year old daughter of an AHD in Mount Shasta, CA, says, “Ever since I was born, my dad has been a self-employed entrepreneur, starting a home-based internet company that same year. Because of that, he has never missed any of my games, award ceremonies, or speeches that I have written and performed. Without his flexible work time and loving attitude, I would not be the person I am today. Most of my classmates and friends have parents that work outside of the home, so it’s always harder for them to fit something in, or help out with a school event because of their work schedule. With a self-employed father, I have always had that liberty. I am grateful for the extra time with my dad.” 

Michael Brown, an AHD in Ashland, OR, sums it up well, “I made a conscious decision to bring children into this world. That decision brought forth the acceptance of one of the most powerful responsibilities and honors – to be a conscious father – and an engaged, present parent.”

Tiffany Grimes
About Tiffany Grimes

Tiffany Grimes is a proud At-Home Mom. As a writer, speaker, consultant and life coach, her focus is to influence human behavior through creating an understanding of modern neuroscience and ancient practices with Evolutionary Consulting.

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