How Stay-at-Home Dads Bounce Back From Career Hiatus

VIDEO: The Money Couple on how to keep your family and finances stable after a layoff.

After 19 years at a major newspaper, Ken Kaplan accepted a buyout so that he could shift his career and spend more time with his two young children, now 9 and 14 years old.

That decision made Kaplan, a Boston resident, the primary caregiver in his household of four.

"I thought I owed it to myself to have some time with the kids," says Kaplan. As the children began heading off to school, "I sort of felt like an absentee father being at work during dinnertime. For many years, I felt cut out of their lives."

As the economy continues to putter along, households are rethinking their mechanics and shifting gears, allowing more dads to embrace the role of Mr. Mom. And, like the women before them, some men have been left wondering how to return to the labor market after a short- or long-term stint at home taking care of the kids..

VIDEO: Mark talks about life as a stay-at-home-dad.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2009 unemployment rate for women was 2.2 percentage points lower than the rate for men, revealing one of the largest work force gender gaps ever.

High unemployment has hit both men and women, with men numerically bearing the brunt of the impact as the recession continues to snatch more jobs from men than women.

In September, the unemployment rate for men 20 years old and up stood at 8.9 percent, a few paces above the 7.2 unemployment rate for women in the same age bracket.

A layoff took systems analyst Raymond Gordon, who lives in Atlanta, out of the work force in early 2009. While he searched for a job that would take advantage of his skills, he found himself building stronger ties with his two children, including a young son for whom he has custody every other week.

"The time with your children you can't get back," he says.

The number of stay-at-home dads rose to 158,000 in 2009, a bit of a jump from the 140,000 married men who spent at least one year at home in 2008 caring for children under 15 while their wives worked.

The stay-at-home ratio for moms to dads continued to shrink, moving from 38 to 1 in 2008 to 32 to 1 in 2009.

Stay-at-Home Dad Organizations Help Counter Isolation

But the new role reversal has yet to create a huge increase in traffic at the annual At Home Dad Convention, where stay-at-home fathers met for expert and academic discussions on such topics as how to discipline children and nutrition.

"We may see an increase in years to come as dads become more comfortable accepting the role that they have been put into," says Philip Andrew, a stay-at-home dad based in Lincoln, Neb.

"One thing people need to realize is when a dad goes through this transition it takes quite awhile to get through that period and be comfortable with it," says Andrew. The adjustment from full-time employee to stay-at-home dad can take one to two years.

A stay-at-home dad for 10 years, Andrew was catapulted into that role after his employer went bankrupt and day care became a problem. "We sat down to figure out how to work this out, and [how to] get rid of day care costs, then we jumped right in," said Andrew. His period of adjustment lasted a year. "I really ... enjoyed being around my daughter, but I did struggle a little bit with the isolation."

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