Becoming a Stay-at-Home Dad Made Me a Better Man

Dad & Baby-1

Because our voices are stronger together, we asked our bloggers to share their stories as part of Lean In’s new #LeanInTogether campaign.

When I was very little, my favorite toy was a doll named Babydoll Baby. I’d pretend to care for Babydoll Baby like a good dad, or I’d pretend to be a doctor and heal her. Sometimes I’d sit her at the front of a class of stuffed animals and play teacher. By second or third grade, though, other boys at school influenced my ideas about how I should approach make-believe, and my games turned rough and tumble — my plush toys replaced by Transformers and Star Wars action figures.

Throughout all of that, though, I slept with at least one stuffed animal on my bed. But I wouldn’t cop to it with friends. Growing up, only my best friend knew about those stuffed animals. In the traditional, suburban environment in which I was raised, a boy wouldn’t reveal he had a nurturing side, at least not without getting teased and humiliated about being gay or weird (which I was anyway, for being bookish and not into sports, among other things). So I put on a hard, macho exterior. For years, I said I’d never have kids. I avoided sharing too much about my inner life with friends and family. I put aside my dreams of being a writer and tried to find happiness in nine-to-five jobs.

In my early 30s, my icy disposition began to melt, and I largely have my wife to thank for that. She patiently encouraged me to be the guy I secretly wanted to be and supported me going to grad school for creative writing. When she became pregnant, we talked, like all parents-to-be do, about our plans for childcare. She enjoys her work and couldn’t imagine being at home with a baby all day. Besides which, she’s ambitious and didn’t want to stop her career growth. At the time, I was near graduation, trying to figure out my future. “What about you going back to work so that we can afford childcare?” she asked.

I carefully considered it. On the one hand, I could return to teaching, and we could hire a nanny. On the other, I imagined myself at home with my son, doing the heart-work of parenting and fully embracing fatherhood, a role I had for years denied myself the pleasure of even considering because it made me feel too emotionally vulnerable. That nurturing guy was in there, though, like the Hulk inside Bruce Banner, clamoring for freedom.

Though instead of smashing, my inner beast wanted to cuddle.

So I let him out! I became a full-time stay-at-home dad so that my wife could continue working. I took full responsibility for the grocery shopping, did the majority of the cooking and cleaning, and spent at least eight hours a day with my son, Felix, while my wife became our family’s sole breadwinner for a couple of years.

Can I tell you what a relief it’s been to finally be out about my nurturing, warm side?

First, it’s made my marriage so much stronger. Especially now that I’m a work-at-home dad, there is a lot of coordination that has to happen in order to make things run smoothly. The communication that’s involved has made us stronger as a couple, not weaker. There’s also no sense that one of us has sacrificed or held him or herself back so that the other could achieve. It’s clear that we’re both working hard, in different ways, to keep the family functioning well. We’re a team, and a good one. She’s downstairs prepping for dinner with the little guy now, in fact, as I write this.

Second, I don’t feel like I’m holding parts of myself back out of insecurity that I’m not acting like a man with a capital M. I am a better dad, and friend, and husband because I’m expressing myself. I give my sons hugs and kisses. We pretend to fight with his LEGO guys, and we also pretend to care for the baby doll that now sleeps beside him (which he calls Big Baby). I talk about my emotions in ways I never would have done five years ago. I feel fully human, because I’m not trying to live up to some ideal that a man shouldn’t be emotional, compassionate, and nurturing, even though those are integral elements of my personality.

Having the confidence of talking more about my heart has allowed me to finally realize my dreams of being a writer. I never would have had the courage to share this very story if I hadn’t been so engaged as a father. Over the course of my time at home with Felix, I created space to pursue my passion. Sure, when he was an infant, making time for writing was tough, but when he became a toddler it was easier to juggle it all. My professional dreams weren’t suffocated by domesticity. On the contrary, I only had a little time for myself, so I used it to the fullest, approaching my work with discipline and determination. I think many people believe that if they lean in at home then they’re forever saying goodbye to their professional selves, but that’s not true. Being the primary caregiver can provide you great inspiration to work harder than you ever had before.

Being a stay-at-home dad has changed my life in ways I never could have dreamed. I’m happier, more secure, and more successful in ways that matter to me. I have no doubts I’m a caring guy, and a patient one, and that I feel things very deeply. My time with my son has made that abundantly clear. Making the choice to lean in at home has led me to becoming the man I always secretly was at heart. It was, without a doubt or any exaggeration, the best decision I’ve ever made.

When men lean in for equality, they win — and so does everyone else. Children are happier, healthier, and more successful. Marriages are stronger. Teams and companies produce better results. Visit leanintogether.org to learn more.

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