More dads are choosing to stay home with the kids, and loving it
My one-year-old son, Finlay, is stowed in my backpack carrier. He ignores the rain dripping through the trees and happily munches a rice cake, while his older sister, Amelia, holds my hand and skips along the trail. Keith, a “dad” friend, pushes his one-year-old in a jogging stroller beside us. “Hayden was up all night,” he sighs. “Nothing worked.” I nod sympathetically and tell him my son needed to be breastfed three times during the night. The conversation rambles as we walk, but inevitably drifts back to our kids. As we follow the path through the wet woods, trailing this trio of toddlers and swapping stories about parenting, it suddenly occurs to me that this is our “baby group.” This is how dads connect.
One generation ago, the idea of stay-at-home father was foreign; two generations back it was unthinkable. While daytime dads are still a minority in Canada today (13 percent in 2007, according to Statistics Canada), they are becoming more commonplace every year. It’s a different dynamic for everyone, but the benefits to a family willing to explore non-traditional roles can be incredible. Dads experience a stronger connection to their kids; moms are empowered to pursue meaningful careers; children flourish in a nurturing environment where a parent is always present.
Are dads different?
Do men bring a different perspective to daily life? Perhaps, but the differences may not be that profound. Bill Rieger works for the Coast Guard in Sandspit, BC, and is home with his two-year-old son, Anten, for 21 days at a time. While he relishes the opportunity to spend so much time with Anten, daily life as a dad does present its challenges. “One of the difficulties is that I’m ‘Daddy,’” he says, explaining that when Anten has a tumble, he instinctively wants his mom. “She’s very much number one on his list. He wants to be cuddled, and maybe I’m not naturally like that.” But just as newborns crave contact with both parents, toddlers thrive on different parenting styles. The approach might be different, but dads do provide a nurturing environment. “Maybe I tell him to ‘brush it off’ sometimes,” Rieger admits, “but I’m always trying to make sure there’s the same level of comfort as he gets from his mom. Anten’s wants and needs are number one.”
“I’ll call you right back,” Darcy Mathews tells me from his home in Victoria. In the background, there’s a sleepy wail from his toddler, Arlo. “He’s been doing this lately,” Mathews explains when he calls back. “He goes down for a nap, then wakes up about 10 minutes later, and I have to cuddle him back to sleep in our bed.” Mathews, an archaeologist studying for his Ph.D., recently took on the role of primary caregiver when his wife, Holly, returned to her job as a molecular biologist. “Most people in our situation — two working professionals — put their kids in daycare,” he says. “We didn’t want to do that.” Instead, he and Holly decided that one of them should stay at home. He now studies in the evenings and on weekends, sometimes taking Arlo to meetings, the university library and even into the field for research. “If I really need to distract him,” he laughs, “I give him my iPod. That keeps him busy for a really long time.” But if Arlo needs his dad — to play or for reassurance — he drops everything. “My priorities are Arlo and Holly.”
Darren Bouwman, a stay-at-home dad also based in Sandspit, struggles to find differences between his parenting and his wife’s. “You know what? I can’t see my day being a whole lot different,” he says. “We like going for nature walks. It’s something I have a passion for and I like to get the kids involved in that as much as possible.” But Bouwman does admit that his wife arranges more playdates. “She’s a bit more social than I am,” he explains.