How Stay-at-Home Dads Redefine Gender Roles

The Hollywood version of the stay-at-home dad hasn't changed much in 20 years.

In the movies, so-called "Mr. Moms" only take care of the kids because they've lost their real jobs or because they're hopelessly incompetent. But the cliche has failed to keep up with the reality, illustrated by men like 37-year-old Caleb Cohen, a former software engineer who seven years ago chose full-time parenting over a career as a software engineer.

"Seven years ago, if I were to be in a park like we are today, I would certainly have been the only one," said Cohen, of Scotch Plains, N.J. "I would have been looked at like, 'What's wrong with you. Where are you at? Did you lose your job?' And I'd be ostracized. And today, I have no problem. It's more accepted. It's like, 'Hey, there's a father at home at noon on a Thursday.' That's not such an abnormal thing anymore."

His wife, Lucinda, admitted that she can become jealous of her husband, who is the primary caregiver for their sons, Josh, 7, and Sam, 3. She envies the time he gets to spend with them, and the spontaneous pleasures they enjoy, including a recent trip to the beach on a day of triple-digit temperatures. But she appreciates the peace of mind she gets from having a husband who stays at home.

"From my perspective, it's a huge benefit," she said. "I don't have to worry about the kids. When one of them is sick, I don't have to try to coordinate my backup care."

Caleb Cohen said he "wouldn't trade this for anything in the world" despite the fact that the job comes with responsibility for the housework, too, including shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry.

The main reason more men are becoming stay at home dads may be because women increasingly earn more than they do. In 1981 -- just one generation ago -- 15 percent of wives earned more than their husbands, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Now 25 percent do.

Lucinda Cohen is a research chemist at the pharmaceutical behemoth Merck & Co. Inc., and she knows that their division of labor makes financial sense.

"I've got a PhD, he's got a bachelor's degree," she said. "I have more earning potential and, when we worked, when we were both working, I liked my job better than he did."

But the decision to be a stay-at-home dad is rarely just economic, said Aaron Rochlen, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, Austin, who has co-wrote a research paper on stay-at-home fathers.

"The notion that they're actively challenging is that 'provider' for men means economic," Rochlen said, "and I think these guys are helping to stretch that. And I think they're helping to redefine not only what a father's job is but what it means to be a man."

Lucinda Cohen admitted that people react with "nervous laughter" when she tells people her husband stays home and takes care of the kids.

"People think he's divorced and it's his day with the kids, or that there's something wrong with him, [that] he's a freak," she said.

Though it can feel socially awkward at times to explain he is a stay-at-home dad, her husband pointed out that being a working dad did little to boost his so-called manhood.

"Working in a cubicle in and of itself was not masculine," he said. "So not doing that doesn't mean I've lost any masculinity."

That attitude, Rochlen said, is emblematic of a larger cultural shift in the way men define their historical role as breadwinners.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
null
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: A home damaged by a landslide Friday, April 18, 2014 in Jackson, Wyo. is shown in this aerial image provided by Tributary Environmental.
Tributary Environmental/AP Photo
null
Danny Martindale/Getty Images
PHOTO: Woman who received lab-grown vagina says she now has normal life.
Metropolitan Autonomous University and Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine