I have a job that I almost never speak about. All that stuff about quitting full-time employment to become an engineering monk? That is only half the story. My other job, my ‘day job’, is as a stay-at-home dad. It is a difficult thing for me to talk or write about, and in many social circles I go out of my way to hide my house husband status.
There are lots of subtle social cues that make stay-at-home dads feel isolated. Alone, like all the unicorns and other fictional animals that don’t exist. Stuff like a sign taped over the bin in the mens toilet: “Nappy bins located in the FEMALE toilets.”
Or that time that I took my daughter to ‘rhyme time’ at the local library. I deliberately arrived just after the start time. I wanted to sneak in, get straight to the singing and hopefully avoid the embarassment of being the only guy in the room. I was thwarted by a ‘helpful’ librarian who practically vaulted over the counter, so she could loudly ask “Do you need any help? We could make room at the front.” A room full of mothers stopped mid-chorus and stared straight at me.
I stuttered and did my best to kindly assure our helpful librarian that I was OK. But I’m pretty sure my tone reflected my embarassment and inner thoughts: “Thanks, I also went to primary school, I think I can remember how to sit cross-legged on the floor with everyone else.”
Oh, but the scariest of them all? Mothers Groups. These cliques are terrifying to me as a stay-at-home dad, they are worse than anything I encountered at school. I went along to a mothers group once. Not long after my daughter was born, when my wife was still at home. It was the first time the Mothers group was meeting and my wife was super nervous. Everything went well, my wife relaxed and made some excellent friends. At the end of the session the facilitator looks at me and says, “We don’t normally let Dads come to these sessions, they are just for the Mums.”
I have never been a popular person, but I needed to check my privilege here. Caucasian. Male. Heterosexual. This was my first bitter taste of adult ostracism.
Then we moved to Cairns, and I became super isolated. No family. No friends from my pre stay-at-home days. No local support groups. The only thing that kept me on an even keel was the stuff I created as an engineering monk. It was my only connection to an identity and world beyond being a Dad. That is until my wife left a copy of ‘Hear Me Roar: the story of a stay-at-home dad’ by Ben Roberston on the kitchen bench. It opens with a story of John Lennon.
John Lennon struggled with loneliness when he was a stay-at-home dad. He told Yoko he wanted to talk to other house husbands about the suffocating isolation, about the mood swings and the depression. But Yoko said he couldn’t find anyone.
If I met Ben in person, I think we would really struggle to find things in common. He is into sports and doesn’t make a single passing mention of SpaceX or rocketry in his book. We would probably both avoid any talk about the one thing we have in common: that we are stay-at-home dads. This would be the one thing that connects us, the one thing that would break the ice and crippling isolation.
If you are a stay-at-home dad and feeling anything like John Lennon in the quote above, grab a copy of Ben Robertson’s book. It will help. You are a part of the 0.45% (proportion of Australian stay-at-home dads to population). While rare, you are not a unicorn. You do exist. We exist.
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