How Stay-at-Home Dads Redefine Gender Roles
Why stay-at-home dad Caleb Cohen says he has the best job in the world.
June 13, 2008— -- 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."