'I'm Not an Anomaly': More Dads Staying Home to Raise Kids

PHOTO: When David Lessers wife, Allister, had their daughter Penny, he opted to leave his job as a plaintiffs personal injury lawyer for good and stay home.PlayABC News
WATCH Stay-at-Home Dads Increase

When David and Allister Lesser had their daughter Penny, he opted to leave his job as a plaintiff's personal injury lawyer for good and stay home.

Though the two felt the decision worked best for their family, friends, relatives and coworkers weren't so understanding.

"The perception is still that the man goes out and works and the wife, maybe she works or maybe she stays at home, but that's usually the choice," David Lesser said. "I got and I still get the question 'So what are you going to do next?' That this is somehow a very part-time thing. It's still pretty unusual for the dad to stay at home."

But that way of thinking seems to be changing as more fathers choose to stay home, care for the children and take over the household tasks.

On NBC's "Up All Night," Will Arnett's character raises the couple's infant daughter as his wife -- played by Christina Applegate -- returns to her job at a talk show.

On ABC's "Modern Family," Eric Stonestreet plays Cameron, a stay-at-home dad helping to raise his adopted daughter with his partner.

And recently the parenting blogosphere erupted with chatter after Tide released a commercial featuring a "dad-mom" folding clothes.

On Dec. 5, a U.S. Census report said that one-third of fathers -- up from 26 percent in 2002 and more than the 154,000 originally reported by the census for 2010 -- with working wives regularly cared for their children younger than 15. Of those fathers with preschoolers, one in five fathers was the primary caregiver.

The Daddyshome Network

Al Watts, president of Daddyshome, a national at-home dad network, said the Tide campaign was "awesome" and showed that "marketers are finally figuring it out."

Watts has been an at-home dad since 2002 when his daughter was born. He said he left his job in advertising after his wife got a promotion. They now have four children ages 9, 7, 4 and 3.

Daddyshome, which started in 2003, has 2,000 members in 47 cities in the U.S. and Canada. Watts said that besides chatting in forums on one of the group's sites, members also met at the annual At-Home Dad Convention, in its 16th year.

Hogan Hilling, a board member at large for Daddyshome, said society had the wrong impression that fathers chose to stay at home because they had no other option.

"No one takes into consideration that dads want to do this," he said. "With the recession, it has put men in a position to rethink and reevaluate their role as a father. [They now say,] 'I'm not working. I'll be a stay-at-home parent."

Hilling said thanks to groups like Daddyshome, fathers were learning about at-home dads and also gaining the support of their wives but more needed to be done.

"We're making a small step," he said today. "At-home dads have been a wakeup to fatherhood and how we look at fathers. We have to educate people. We have a pool of fathers. Why don't we offer them emotional support."

Saxon Palmer and other fathers said they find that support in the NYC Dads Group.

"It helps you combat the judgment," he said of the group, which goes on excursions to museums and the zoo and attends art classes. "You're like, 'Look, I got a posse of other guys doing the same thing so I'm not an anomaly.'"

"The more people who say I'm doing the right thing, [that] I'm a better dad for him, I'm more confident," he said. "I'm more relaxed so it's important for me to see other dads doing it successfully."

'I Know He's a Lot Better'

Though David Lesser said he enjoyed being home with his 3-year-old daughter, he told ABC News that he had to check his ego at the door.

"I did feel guilty ... that I wasn't bringing in money, that we had to cut some corners here and there and we couldn't always do what we wanted to do because my wife was making money and I wasn't," he said. "I kind of wish I could be doing something. ... But I think I got over that for now."

His wife said that having him stay home was not only about not spending money on childcare and Penny's security, it was also about which of the two were better suited for the job of parent 24/7.

"He is more patient. ... He is more easygoing. He's just so perfectly suited to being home with her and helping her thrive in that environment," said Allister Lesser, who returned to her job as a fundraiser. "There is no way I could do the job that he does. ... I know he's a lot better at [staying home] than I am."

"Sadly, I know [being a stay-at-home mom] is not the right job for me. I have a job that has a lot of hours involved and I really, really love what I do, but there's no way I could keep those hours without knowing that Penny was home with Dave," she said.

David Lesser said he had no regrets about leaving his job and was excited that they would be adding a baby boy to their family in April.

"I knew deep down inside that I was not going to be a good lawyer. It wasn't a good fit. ... That career path was a mistake," he said. "I never had that passion as an attorney. I do have that passion as a dad."