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Stay-at-Home Dads and the Rally Against Scrutiny

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I discovered the stigmas stay-at-home dads face after receiving a compliment from a fellow shopper in Target.

I had it easy.

Many stay-at-home dads (SAHDs as they’re known on social media), endure sideward glances or direct comments that demean the work we routinely applaud moms for doing. These men are shattering the mold of what it means to care for our children, and the many I’ve met do so with passion and tenderness.

Societal changes happen slowly, though. That leaves SAHDs to bear the brunt of strangers unwilling to accept a positive cultural shift.

Consider the dad who left a public pool after a group of moms assumed he was up to no good for simply being social with a few pre-teen girls. Or how often SAHDs endure derogatory comments from fellow men about the path they’ve chosen.

One SAHD on my Facebook page recalled someone saying his son could end up gay if he sees his dad doing “mommy work.” Another met a female school superintendent shocked that he routinely gave his young daughter a list of fun activities to keep herself occupied, as if a father would rather ignore his child and watch ESPN.

Is this any way to treat people who spend their days wiping snotty noses, kissing “owees” and making sure their children get unconditional love? When did that stop being a wonderful thing?

The discussion matters because SAHDs are on the march. A Pew research study released last month showed the number of dads home with their kids nearly doubled since 1989. Blame a struggling economy or the need to avoid costly childcare. SAHDs are here to stay.

My current job finds me working from home. I typically take on the childcare duties for the first third of the day. Recently, a mom who takes her children to the same school my son attends approached me in Target.

“Oh, I see you at school all the time,” she told me after our carts crossed in the store’s aisles. “You’re a really good dad.”

I smiled, soaking in the compliment. Later, it hit me. Why did she say that? What did I do that was different than the moms who lugged their kids to and from school just as I do? The short answer: nothing. I was a dad doing it, though, and this woman thought that fact alone deserved kudos.

My smile faded. Some dads are assumed to be predators. Others get praise for accomplishing basic tasks any mother could do. Neither is deserved.

Today’s SAHDs aren’t content to take the insults in silence. They rally via social media, meet once a year via the annual At-Home Dads Convention and let advertisers know that modern dads are not to be ignored or mocked. Consider the online movement to alert Huggies about how insensitive its 2012 commercial campaign was toward fatherhood. Huggies caved.

The online space allows SAHDs to connect, complain and coordinate the best ways to be a parent. And, father by father, stare down societal naysayers for the sake of their children.

Photo credit: Julie Toto

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