Sometimes what you think is the end is really just the second chance you never knew you needed.
There are a lot of differences between stay-at-home dads and our female counterparts, but maybe none is as fundamental as how we each come to our respective roles.
For many women being the mom of the house is the blessed fulfillment of a dream that was born with their first doll when they were just babies themselves. Even those who are torn between professional and maternal ambitions are naturally afforded a period of time to weigh their options and prepare themselves for the ramifications of their choices.
It’s different for men. I’m sure there are stay-at-home dads who long aspired for the position; I’ve just never met one. All of the homebound guys I know have come by their roles as the result of some personal crisis: an employment position that disappeared, a career that failed to keep pace with the wife’s, a seat on the “trailing” end of the trailing spouse express.
It was that way for me: sudden and unexpected. One day I was a professional engaged in the occupation I’d persued for almost fifteen years and then the next day...well, I just wasn’t anymore.
Instead, while the world as I’d known it kept spinning through yet another work day, I stayed home. Discarded. And completely alone.
Well, not completely. My nine-month old was there with me, too.
I suppose I could offer up some touching anecdote about the instant bond we forged, but that would be more than stretching the truth.
The fact of the matter is that at that time I knew my child largely as something that had to be put to sleep at the end of a long workday or juggled with all of the wanna-do’s and have-to-do’s of an overbooked weekend. Which is to say that I barely knew my child at all. And, maybe more important, my child barely knew me.
There was, I’m not proud to admit, an emotional standoff between us at first. One that wasn’t overcome quickly or easily.
Still, with every day that passed with me missing the life I’d known as a working adult and my child craving the routine that had existed while I’d led that life, something wonderful was happening without either of us noticing: We were getting to know one another.
Slowly but surely, I became the new routine. And with that came a sense of security in realizing that dad was a constant, something that wasn’t going away.
For my part, I started to notice all of the little things that I’d been missing when my child wasn’t my profession: An insatiable curiosity. A mischievous twinkle in the eye. The same smile that made me fall in love with my wife.
And then one otherwise unremarkable day, the two of us exchanged a look and I realized that things had changed. We'd become friends. Best friends.
Since then, I’ve thought less and less about the business dinner and drinks I’m missing out on. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my professional hiatus has effectively ended any hopes I might have had for resuscitating my career. I don’t worry any longer about trying to explain to people what I do--and I don’t take offense at the look of confused-horror that is frequently their initial response.
I’m doing something that I love. (Something I never could have said before) What I do may never be noticed, but I’ve never done anything more important. (And I don’t think I ever will.) And now every day, no matter how routine, is an incredible adventure.
Every once in a while I remember those days when it seemed everything in my life had come to an end. But being a stay-at-home dad doesn’t leave much time for reminiscing. And when my thoughts return to my continuing adventure I realize that it wasn’t an ending at all--just the second chance I didn’t know I needed.