Only Fun for Stay-at-Home Dad
Only Fun for Stay-at-Home Dad
By: Tracy Smith
Date: August 3, 2005
Source: Smith, Tracy. "Only Fun for Stay-at-Home Dad." CBSNews, August 3, 2005. 〈http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/08/03/earlyshow/series/main713664.shtml〉 (accessed March 6, 2006).
About the Author: Tracy Smith is a correspondent with CBS News and a co-anchor for The Saturday Early Show and a national correspondent with The Early Show on CBS.
While the concept of a stay-at-home mother—a mother who provides full-time childcare for her own children—has been a cultural norm for the middle and upper classes in the United States throughout the twentieth century, the idea of a stay-at-home father is new. Before industrialization, fathers presided over the family as head of household and was part of his children's daily life, as the family unit worked together and lived together in rural settings as an economic unit.
With industrialization and the concept of a "family wage," skilled workers and members of the managerial class were able to work in factory and office settings, earning enough with one income to support a wife who stayed at home to raise the children and manage the household. A stay-at-home father—one who nurtured and raised children while attending to and managing the domestic sphere—was an aberration or a role played by men who were temporarily out of work, filling this role while searching for another job.
In the United States, the first major public attention to the idea of a stay-at-home father came in 1983, with the release of the feature film Mr. Mom. Starring Terri Garr and Michael Keaton, the movie examined a family in which the father lost his engineering job, and the stay-at-home mother returned to full-time work, leaving the father in charge of three young children and the house.
The movie depicted the father as bumbling, inept, and incompetent, and a poor substitute for the mother's skill. By the end of the movie, the father had mastered the new role of stay-at-home parent and household manager, but the phrase "Mr. Mom" has become synonymous with a stay-at-home father as a comic figure who cannot manage.
There are no historical figures or estimates for numbers of stay-at-home fathers; the U.S. Census Bureau began recording self-reported stay-at-home fathers in 2003.
In this week's My New Life segment, National Correspondent Tracy Smith went to Bethesda, Md., to meet a dad who made the decision to quit his job and raise his children, even though he was making more money than his wife. This Mr. Mom has very specific ideas on how it's done.
Mike Paranzino used to wear a tie. But he's traded his high-powered job on Capitol Hill for racing cars with 4-year-old son Cameron and changing the diapers of the lovely Emily, who is 4 months old.
"I had a happy childhood," Paranzino says, "I had a wonderful childhood. Close to my parents and close to my brothers. And I wanted to try and recreate that for my children."
Paranzino, who prefers the title "full-time father," says he is never home. While wife Heather goes off to her job as a scientist, he heads outdoors to playgrounds and parks, making friends with both moms and kids.
He says, "I stashed enough diapers, enough water, enough formula, enough snack. We've done six, we've done eight hours out straight."
His biggest stress, he says, is keeping it fresh till mommy gets home.
"You have ten hours a day you have to fill," he notes, "You have to keep it interesting. And original. So that can be stressful."
But Mike Paranzino's definition of full-time fatherhood doesn't include cooking or cleaning. His entire day is spent with the kids.
He notes, "There's a Yellow Pages filled with companies that want to clean your house, cut your grass. They want to cook your food. I signed on to raise the kids, not to clean the house."
No sweeping? No laundry?
"Where can I sign up?" asks Jen Singer and her crew of stay-at-home moms. They applaud Mike Paranzino's choice. But isn't housework part of the gig?
"If I didn't have to think about the housework, this would be like a big vacation," Singer says. Paranzino says, "Maybe it's a giant ruse or hoax that the men over the centuries have foisted upon woman. But I don't buy it. I don't see any inherent reason, any natural reason why, because you're focused on raising the children during the day that also means you have to clean the toilets."
Laughing, stay-at-home mom Marybeth Vazquez says, "It would be wonderful. I would probably have more children."
At 39, Mike Paranzino has saved enough money to hire a maid service, and he says they are sacrificing fancy cars and vacations. But the group of stay-at-home moms says even if they had the money, they could never get away with it.
"When I see the mess, I will just naturally clean it up," Eisha Locascio says. "I notice when my husband comes home, and he sees the mess, he'll ask me to clean it up."
But Mike Paranzino says the mess is not important.
He advises, "Show him where the detergent is and say, 'You do it, because I'm focused on the kids. I'm going to go read the children a book instead of doing the laundry.'"
Singer says, "He's a trail blazer; but he's a trail blazer with a staff."
Trail blazer or not, Paranzino has had some uphill battles, especially early on.
"It took me about 14 months to really get comfortable in my skin," he says. "I did feel isolated for the first year, and I used to sort of feel a need to tell people: 'Well, I do some consulting.' I think it was a macho thing."
As for his friends that are not full-time dads, Paranzino says, "They think it is amusing: the play dates with all the moms. Even though I spend my days with beautiful moms and nannies, I mean, there are kids around. Let's just keep it clear."
So joking about the play date only goes so far.
He says, "There's more sexual tension on the metro than there is at playgrounds."
Paranzino does try to make time for his advocacy work, which he says keeps him sane. Otherwise it's 100 percent all kids all the time.
"Dads can do this," he says. "It doesn't have to be mom home with the kids. Dads can do it."
And as long as the kids like take-out food, life is good.
Before you send your e-mails, Smith notes that many stay-at-home dads do housework.
The census says that 98,000 dads make a deliberate decision to stay home, but there could be up to a million fathers home with the kids because they are unemployed or disabled, so there are more out there than you'd think.
The 2003 figures reported by the U.S. Census Bureau show that 5.4 million parents in the U.S. identified themselves as stay-at-home parents; 5.3 million mothers and 98,000 fathers. Stay-at home-father groups, such as At Home Dad, estimate that as many as two to three million fathers spend more than thirty hours per week as their child's primary caregiver, an estimate far in excess of the official census count.
While unemployed fathers have entered into stayat-home status temporarily in the past, more fathers in the post-Baby Boom generation are making stay-at-home parenting a valid choice when attempting to balance work/life issues. The archetype of the American stay-at-home mother includes a mom who per-forms full-time childcare and all household cleaning and management; stay-at-home fathers, like Mike Paranzino in this article, often eschew the drudgery of the domestic sphere in an attempt to define stay-at-home parenting with the focus on parenting, rather than domestic life. Modern magazines such as Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, and Family Circle, as well as websites such as Organized Home, address at-home mothers with articles on housework, organization, decluttering, and a host of household management issues that imply—or overtly state—that a stay-at-home mother's job includes much more than child care and that these domestic issues come with the choice to remain at home.
Stay-at-home fathers, however, spend less time than stay-at-home mothers on household management and cleaning. Their wives, working full-time, spend more time on household and cleaning issues than do their male full-time working counterparts in marriages with a stay-at-home wife.
According to media reports in 2004 and 2005, twenty-two percent of mothers with graduate and professional degrees choose to stay at home. Feminist groups point to this choice as a step backwards for women's rights, while fathers who choose to stay at home receive media coverage as oddities or as human interest stories. The disparity between the approaches, expectations, and assumptions about stay-at-home mothers vs. stay-at-home fathers rarely receives media coverage. As the number of fathers who stay at home increases, stay-at-home fathering becomes more mainstream, and census data track these social changes, stay-at-home fathers will contribute to the gender role debate in the United States.
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Peters, Elizabeth H., and Randal D. Day, editors. Father-hood: Research, Interventions, and Policies. Binghamton, N.Y.: Haworth Press, 2000.
Wallis, Claudia. "The Case for Staying Home" Time 163 (May 22, 2004): 259-276.
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