The History of a Househusband

Roman Krznaric, author of "The Wonderbox"

Over the course of scouring the web for fatherhood-related topics, I came across a fascinating essay by author, Roman Krznaric, published in the Guardian. I say fascinating, because of the sociological and historical dimensions Krznaric used to share his own journey from a mindset of paternal ambivalence to life as a proud stay-at-home dad.

“The great tragedy of modern parenting,” Krznaric writes, “is that we’ve forgotten its history and mothers are paying the price.”

From here, Krznaric uses cultural and historical examples to dispel the current misperception that today’s “superdad” is capable of rearing children and maintaining the home, is not a new phenomenon. In fact, as Krznaric lays out his evidence in the “Man of the house” essay, it wasn’t more than a few hundred years ago when “most men were stay-at-home fathers, skilled at comforting wailing babes and bathing squirming toddlers.”

Admitting to his own assumptions on parenting roles prior to becoming a dad, Krznaric shares:

“In my pre-dad days, I never really considered the gender imbalances and simply assumed it was the natural way of things for mothers to take command in the home, as they were the ones with all the maternal equipment and instinct. It was an unthinking view, even though my own father had taken full charge of parenting duties after my mother’s death from breast cancer when I was 10. He was the one who cooked supper for me and my sister every evening and vacuumed the house on Saturday mornings.”

But with a child on the way, Krznaric, author of The Wonderbox: Curious Histories of How to Live (now on my Pintrest board), found himself digging into the progression of men’s roles as father leading up to dads as society defines them today.  His first example centers on Central Africa’s Aka Pygmies whose fathers, as the primary caregiver, spend nearly half their day with their children. But Krznaric moves beyond this well-known paternal study, with mentions of other cultures such as 18th Century Tahiti where the women were tribal chiefs and the men tended to the children and …hut-cleaning (my term).

Krznaric then transitions to fatherhood’s historical context beginning with the Middle Ages, when, in an rural agrarian society, gender-centric domestic duties were nonexistent because both parents were tied so closely to the home. To illustrate this point, Kznaric breaks the etymology of the word husbandhus being the old spelling of house and band referring to a man’s bond to the home.

From here, Krznaric, as do many historians, points to the Industrial Revolution from 1750 to 1900 as the catalyst for the eventual redefinition of the roles and duties of mothers and fathers as they are today. As technological advances and industrialization necessitated factory laborers, it also diminished the need for skilled craftsmen such as those who once mended clothes and cobbled shoes from their homes. At the same time, coal replaced wood as a the primary means of heating fuel,  and because families needed cash to purchase it, men had to seek other work beyond the house. Together, this by default left women to tend to their homes, a dynamic that continued to calcify through the decades that followed.

To me, this correlation of gender roles and economic circumstances stemming from the Industrial Revolution seems more than a little ironic considering the similarities related to factors that contributed to this century’s “man-cession” and the subsequent rise of the stay-at-home dad.  Essentially, this is the point Krznaric trying make.

By taking us through this historical progression, he illustrates that that any delineation of domestic responsibilities with respect to gender is predicated on the cultural and economic circumstances the day and shouldn’t be dictated by a “traditional” mindset (to include religious pretense). To finish his essay, Krznaric describes his life as a “househusband” splitting the work of raising twins with his wife, and in doing so, he makes it sound so normal, because after all, there was a day for families when it was.

* * *

Ron Mattocks is a father of five (3 sons, 2 stepdaughters) and author of the book, Sugar Milk: What One Dad Drinks When He Can’t Afford Vodka. He blogs at Clark Kent’s Lunchbox, and lives in Houston with his wife, Ashley, who eternally mocks his fervor for Coldplay.

Photo Credit: Kate Rayworth (author’s press page)


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