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A father, not a sitter

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A few weeks ago, my wife and I stood in a friend's kitchen talking to our Bradley Birthing Class instructor. We hadn't seen Laura since a few months after Oliver was born. As we relayed the details of the intervening time—I had decided to quit my job and stay at home—Laura said she's been seeing more and more of that, of the "stay-at-home dads," especially among her Bradley students. "Do people call you Mr. Mom a lot?" she asked. It turns out, I wasn't alone.

I'm not a fan of figures of speech (unless it's a pun coming from me), and I generally have to ask my wife, Stacy, to translate idioms and clichés. Phrases like Mr. Mom and Daddy Daycare—which have both been uttered my way fairly often of late—don't necessarily bother me. They just seem misinformed and reductive.

In a handful of recent articles, The New York Times has examined the trend of more fathers staying at home with their children. Columnist David Brooks has said that men are lagging "behind women in acquiring education and skills," and that "the gap between the male and female unemployment rates has reached its highest level since the government began keeping such records."

True, maybe the economy and education have caused some of the shift. But there also seems to have been a change in family dynamics and structure during the last two decades. More fathers want to stay at home—maybe not all, but, at least anecdotally, more and more seem not to dismiss the notion so readily. I almost immediately volunteered to stay at home with Oliver when Stacy and I discussed our options for day care. And why not? It's a family, not a hierarchy.

Our culture, though, is still catching up to that idea, and it's been a long time coming. I had never seen the classic 1983 film Mr. Mom until recently, mainly to find out what all this name-calling was about. Like Michael Keaton's character, I've grown a massive beard and tend to wear flannels most days. I had the same look last winter, though, when I had a full-time job as an architect. While the film takes a comical approach to the stereotype, it ends with a traditional outcome—the father goes back to work, the mother stays at home.

Lately, more references to fathers staying at home have appeared in pop culture, including a new reality show on television called Househusbands of Hollywood, which takes the fun even further with its repulsive acting, simplistic portrayal of fathers and the tagline "House Husband (n.)—King of the castle ... ruler of the roost ... until his wife comes home from work ..."

This isn't babysitting. It's parenting. Between deadbeat dads and phrases like "baby's daddy," fathers get a sometimes-deserved bad name. But in the opposite situation, where a father makes a commitment to the kid, we're dismissive and poke fun at his decision. So let's call us what we are—Daddy, Father, Papa, Abbi, Baba, Vader, or even Papi. Just not Mr. Mom.

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