My editor has been asking me since I first started writing this column to talk about what it’s like being a young, Black stay-at-home dad. I didn’t address it initially since I felt too inexperienced at the time to speak on it. But after two years of being a dad, I finally feel like I’m at a place where I can explain it without sounding like a total moron.
I grew up in a traditional household. My dad worked a blue-collar job and my mom stayed home and raised my brother and I. Just like the now famous Chris Rock joke, my mom cooked every night and we saved the big piece of chicken (the breast) for my father. That’s what I saw growing up, so that was my guideline for being a husband and father. I’d get a job, work until exhaustion and then come home to the family. But when my time up to bat came, things played out much differently.
I had a job but by the time my son was born, it was gone. Luckily, my wife found work before we were kicked out onto the streets. With decent childcare nearly as expensive as leasing a Rolls Royce, it made more sense for me to stay at home with the new baby. At least that way, the kid would be in good hands and I could get help out by getting some freelance work in here and there.
Still, my traditional upbringing stuck in my head. I couldn’t get past feeling like an utter failure as a man, especially after being the one-time breadwinner. As much as I’ve heard women talk about how men can also stay at the home with the kids, it still felt as if I were being judged as less of a man. Regardless of what they say on talk shows and in internet memes, many people still view a “real man” as someone who works a nine-to-five and is responsible for the financial well-being of his family. Though it’s no big deal now for women to either hold down a career or stay at the crib to take care of the kids, it’s still an eyebrow-raiser and a definite stigma when the man stays home.
When I tell people that I’m a stay-at-home dad, I get one of two reactions. It’s either a “Go ‘head girl, make your man take care of them kids” or an “Oh OK,” with a look that says, “You’re one of them unemployed n****s at home living off your woman.” The last one usually comes from older folks or other men. As a concept, the man staying at home with the kids is a wonderfully progressive thing and should be encouraged but in the real world, it’s the social equivalent of farting at the dinner table.
It’s tough to shake the thought that your in-laws are wondering why their daughter couldn’t have married that other nice boy who got a good job right out of college. You also wonder if your own parents feel like failures because their son isn’t in a nice house lip-syncing to classic soul records with his wife and children by his side. These are all mind-ravaging demons that hover around a guy’s head when he’s watching his wife go to work and he’s heading to the park with his kid.
But finally, you get to the moment when you realize none of that matters. It hits when your baby wakes up crying and when you pick him up, his little arms wrap around your neck and you feel him calming down. Or the moment may come when you get a tiny thumbs up after you’ve made their lunch. This is when the demons begin to lose their power and the stigma of being a stay at home dad turns into a badge of honor. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there isn’t a sense of satisfaction in knowing that you’re an exception to the stereotype of a Black man who’s not present for his children. When other parents at the playground see you wiping ass and pouring up bottles like a G, you know that you’ve just made them rethink everything they thought they knew about Black fathers.
Most of all, as a guy you begin to think of silly ways to have fun with your kid that your wife would frown at if they were there. Things like Instagramming your one-year old daughter sitting in a recliner wearing a tank top and holding an empty beer can. That YouTube video of the father hurling his daughter through the air for her to dunk a toy basketball comes to mind as well. While at times I still feel the need to be a traditional dad and do the full-time grind, my son always discovers a way to remind me of my most important one.
Just recently, my son woke me up by punching me in the groin at 7 a.m. to tell me it was time to wake up and dance to Silento’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” video.
When I really think about it, I know I’ve got the best job in the world.