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Father as caregiver

June 12, 2012

Father as Caregiver

as published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette


I love Mondays. Racing through breakfast, I am out the door before the kids have finished spilling cereal and juice on the kitchen floor.

Meeting with clients and working on my laptop in a quiet coffee shop engages parts of my brain that are mostly dormant on days I am with the kids.

Tuesdays are different. My wife, Lori, starts her workweek, leaving before the rest of us finish breakfast and arriving home for dinner.

Daughter Zoe expresses dissatisfaction with the end of Mama’s three-day weekend by becoming more fickle about eating breakfast, getting dressed and brushing her hair. Her brother, Adam, spends more time clinging to my leg, sitting in my lap and letting me know, in a host of creative ways, that he wants more attention. And together, the two of them find countless ways of pushing buttons, theirs and mine.

On a recent Tuesday morning, unsettled by Lori’s departure, Zoe asked: “How come you don’t have a job, Daddy?”

Taking a breath, I said, “I do have a job, Sweetie. My job is to be with you and Adam when Mama works.” To which she replied: “How come you don’t go to work?”

Sometimes I ask myself this second question.

While a welcome blessing, this role – father as caregiver – does not come easy to me.

It baffles me how something as simple as caring for the basic needs of two young children, who I love dearly, can at times be so maddening. By simple, I don’t mean easy or unimportant. To the contrary, it is sacred. But it’s not rocket science. And besides, people have been doing it forever. Right? Yes, people, but not fathers.

As a young man, I imagined one day being a father, but not a caregiver. Yet soon after her birth, when Lori’s maternity leave ended, I became Zoe’s primary caregiver, two days a week for an eight-month stretch. Had the college where I was teaching not offered such a progressive paternity policy, I might not have experienced the tremendous joys and challenges of at-home parenting.

Two years later I was laid off. My unemployed status, Lori’s earning potential and our shared desire to co-parent made the decision for me to be the primary caregiver three to four days a week a no-brainer.

Still, the learning curve has been steep. After years of developing professional competence, I discovered that caregiving requires a level of domestic competence that was foreign to me. So, when readers of this column recently shared fatherhood stories and the dominant theme was father as role model, I found comfort in the realization that whether a caregiver, provider or both, I am always a role model to our kids.

A sample of inspiring stories offered by readers includes a wife sharing appreciation for the way her husband models for their son the belief that women are equal partners; a mother appreciating the value of earth stewardship that was first modeled to her by her father; a father modeling unconditional love for a son who has demonstrated great courage while overcoming challenges, and a woman appreciating the mere comfort and stability modeled through her father’s physical presence.

While Zoe and Adam might be too young to fully appreciate the benefits of Daddy as caregiver, I believe they are served well by our family’s arrangement. Still, I wonder what fatherhood stories they will share in years to come.

For now, when Lori arrives home on Fridays, spirits lighten for all of us. Zoe and Adam will have three days filled with lots of Mama-love, Lori will cherish her time as caregiver, and on Saturday morning I will head to the coffee shop with my laptop.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 13, 2012 5:15 pm

    Great column! All I can say is “Be in the moment”. Before we know it, this window will have closed…

  2. Paul Rau permalink
    June 18, 2012 3:05 pm

    As I sit in my quiet office listening to Mozart and sipping coffee, I can relate to what you said about the satisfaction of being able to engage my mind in ways that can’t be accomplished while chasing 3 kids and a dog around the house. Then this afternoon when I am sleepy and tired of Mozart, I will look forward to getting home to chase the kids and dog around the yard or go on an adventure with them. I feel fortunate to have both outlets (especially since one pays the bills).

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