Stay-at-Home Daddy

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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In 1989 my wife and I arrived in San Antonio, fresh out of seminary, where we graduated together with identical degrees. We came because Jeanene had been hired as a chaplain in the Baptist Health Care System. I was making plans to pursue further education and had some time to spare, so we decided I would stay home and care for our first child, Reiley, who was then 6 months old. It was a reversal of traditional male and female roles. Jeanene got up each morning and went to work, while I stayed home in a world of baby food, diapers, Sesame Street, and housework. Like many fathers, I had a pragmatic, albeit somewhat awkward, parenting style. I made my own Band-Aids out of duct tape and paper towels, and once gave up - after days of trying to get her to stop - and let Reiley eat dog food right out of the dog’s bowl, reasoning that it wasn’t any worse for her than the hot dog I had tried unsuccessfully to feed her for lunch. I could tell funny stories like those, but what I want to share with you is how hard it was for Jeanene and I to adjust to our new roles. We entered into our arrangement with the best of intentions, but we underestimated how emotionally taxing it would be. I could never make emotional peace with my new role. Intellectually, I knew that I was doing something very important. And I loved spending time with my daughter. Even so, I struggled with depression. And I worried that my friends were making headway in their careers while I was going nowhere. I remember one night sitting on the floor of the shower, letting the water run over me and trying to keep from crying. For her part, Jeanene knew that having EITHER parent stay home and care for a child is a blessing in our culture, where some families need both parents to work in order to survive. But she still felt guilty for leaving in the mornings. She felt that her child’s precious early years were disappearing fast, and she was missing them. She was at work when Reiley took her first steps, and it broke her heart to have missed it. She had some very lonely lunches alone at her desk, wondering what Reiley and I were doing at home. And now 21 years have come and gone. We divided the care of our second daughter evenly between us by working odd shifts. And Jeanene left work for a few years to stay home with our third daughter, something I know she cherishes. I wouldn’t change anything about the way we shared the daily work and joy of nurturing our girls. If I could go back in time and change something, I would give Jeanene and I the wisdom to see the pain in each other. Lost in my own fear and uncertainty about my career - or lack thereof - I didn’t know how much Jeanene suffered, wishing she could have been at home with Reiley. And perhaps, in her pain, she didn’t realize how hard staying home was for me. When Reiley started to take that first step, I wish I had been wise enough to scoop her up and drive her to the hospital. The three of us could have had lunch in Jeanene’s office and shared that moment together. That’s what I should have done. So for young couples out there, trying out creative and new ways of parenting, I want you to know that I admire your commitment and creativity. I hope you can hear me when I remind you to pay attention to each other in these busy days. Never forget that your children aren’t the only ones who need you. Gordon Atkinson Photo by peruvalores