Monday, April 5, 2010

The Tao of the Stay-At-Home-Dad Part II

The reasons behind why men choose to stay at home to take care of their children are as varied as the fathers themselves. This was especially true in decades past but now, as we stand in 2010, there does appear to be a unifying factor that might be connecting more SAHDs than ever before: the economic crisis. While the decline of the financial markets has led to instability in employment opportunities, an unintended stabilization has occurred in the impetus for men to elect to stay at home. With more professional men losing their jobs at an increased rate (and, with many of these men being married to professional women making comparable salaries), the opportunity not to work has presented itself as a viable alternative to taking a salaried position. Some men who opt for a stay-at-home career have no foreseeable return to the workforce in mind; others, like me, are keeping such possibilities open but are choosing to focus entirely on taking care of their children for the conceivable future.

For some men (myself included), being a stay-at-home Dad presents unique opportunities to pursue personal interests such as writing. A simple search in Google will yield dozens if not scores of stay-at-home Dad blogs, each with a different focus. Most outline the unexpectedness of the situation on the part of the men (in terms of how they became a SAHD) and most seem to identify blogging as a way of documenting the experience both for themselves and for posterity, as a way of expressing and exploring their thoughts in a public form, and as a way of connecting with other men (and women, in some cases) who are in the same position.

It is interesting to see how many SAHDs were either writers already or are now taking up the pen for the first time since the opportunity has presented itself. Though I am new to the blogging realm I have been writing recreationally for as long as I can remember. I decided to attempt fiction writing in 2001 when I began to work on my first novel. In 2007, a month after celebrating my wedding and honeymoon, my first novel, "The Lion in the Desert" was released. Two years later, I finished working on its sequel, "The Walking Ghosts" and self-published it in January of 2010. I will discuss the experience of writing these novels (and the books themselves) in future posts but, for those who are interested now, I will be linking the websites for both novels to this blog.

As a writer and a SAHD, I am simultaneously thrilled by the prospect of having more time to write and daunted by the task of scheduling my writing each day. I should note that I will not officially become a SAHD until April 13th when my wife returns to work full-time but I have been home full-time since the middle of August 2009. I had taken care of the household duties between August and January, and, though my wife has been on maternity leave, I have done my best to maintain those duties to allow her to rest and to recuperate while she is home. On the 13th I will once again be home alone, although now I will have my little guy to take care of and to keep me company!

Returning to my previous point, I am looking forward to writing not only this blog but my fictional pieces as well. I have only one more novel to go to complete the overarching narrative that I began working on in 2001. It took me six years to write the first novel (with no prior experience) while I was working on my undergraduate work and working part-time. It then took me only two years to draft the (longer) sequel while I completed my graduate degree and worked mostly full-time. Perhaps I will be able to manage my time well and will complete the third novel in even fewer time!

Regardless, writing does seem to be the most common extracurricular activity that SAHDs engage in. For me (and I would assume many others) the practicality and logic of a stable and steady full-time career precludes the possibility of writing full-time; there are only so many hours in a day and, with a writing career being nearly as unstable as they come, it is not practical for one both to work at a job and to write full-time. I would never have left my job to become a writer and, yet, I am only one agent and major publishing contract away from perhaps heading down that road as my career. Were it not for my decision first to be a SAHD, I would never have dreamed of writing and seeking to have my work published in magazines or entered in competitions (as I do with the short stories and novels I hope to complete).

Very few blogs mention photography as an interest or creative pursuit on the part of the SAHD but for me it is something that I plan to explore on a nearly equal level to my writing. The beauty of being at home is having the freedom to make creative use of one's free-time. A stroll with Timmy, my son, might result in a number of photographs that I can put towards a portfolio. Even our quality time might yield some portrait shots I would never have gotten had I been working full-time. Though I am not writing or taking photos for the sake of making money, the fact that I am home affords me the opportunity to seek monetary gain for my creative work; it would be nearly impossible to be sitting at a computer terminal in my cubicle and look online for places to submit my photographs and writings (unless I did so on my lunch break).

Though the profile of a SAHD might be impossible to narrow down to a single set of characteristics, it does seem that more men are electing to head down that path because of the current economic situation. It will be interesting to see how many men return to work when the job market picks back up again. Many, I am sure, will have grown used to the quality time with their children, to the freedom of having forty or more hours a week during which to do their household and fatherly duties, and to perhaps explore alternative ways of producing income for their families. Some, though, might find that the work they performed at home was far more difficult than that which they would have been doing for their employer. I would like to think that few feel like they have been forced into stay-at-home-dadness but instead have taken advantage of one of the best employment opportunities they have ever been presented with. I might not be getting paid in money or gum (as in a recent Trident commercial) but I am accruing something far more valuable: quality time with my son and the satisfaction in knowing that my wife and I are raising him the way that we believe is best for us.