This piece was originally published on Ozy.
Before dads started ditching their day jobs to change diapers, they were the special guest stars. You know, the Joe Namath to Bobby Brady, the parent who buys the Fruit Loops when Mom's mandate is puffed rice, the hero who takes his kids to Despicable Me 2 when the haggard mom drags 'em to the dentist and then to the dry cleaners. Everyone knows Dad is the fun one.
Are they really enjoying parenting day in, day out as much as they did during their traditional two-hour window?
But do dads have more fun? With more fathers these days choosing, or being forced, to stay home with their kids -- washing peed-on sheets, picking Cheerios up off the floor, wrestling wailing toddlers into car seats and watching them go down the slide again and again and again and again -- I wonder. Are dads seriously able to hold on to their title? Are they able to sustain it? The fun?
From my perch at the playground -- and from watching A&E's new reality TV series, Modern Dads -- the answer sure looks like yes. Brief synopsis of the show: It's about a bunch of likable but bland, white-boy stay-at-home dads from Austin, Texas, "who married up," as Nathan the newbie puts it. They pour apple juice into baby bottles, stroller-jog in the park, skip lines at the grocery store and in each episode reveal very little angst.
And that's where, I say, stay-at-home dads have a kid-clinging-to-leg up on the moms. They don't care that sucking juice through nipples gives kids cavities by age 2, or that uncooked carrots are, like, guaranteed choke-ables. Dads just don't freak out. Nor do they deign to multitask. They seem to be biologically incapable of it. When they are with their kids, they are With Their Kids. But I digress.
A recent report from DDB Worldwide states that 84 percent of stay-at-home dads say that raising a child brings them "a great deal of happiness." Only 29 percent say that they find it a "real burden," and that jibes with my observations. The only stay-at-home dads I ever see are slightly graying teenagers tossing their 3-year-olds wildly into the air, contentedly sharing burritos on a park bench or strolling down the street in their Ergos without a worry in the world. They're not thinking, "What if I spill my hot latte on my daughter's precious little head?" Or "What if she takes ballet and grows up to become an anorexic, black swan, braces-wearing bitch?"
I know I'm projecting here. But the documentary The Big Flip -- which promises to chronicle the joys (and supposedly the struggles) of the rising number of families in which Mom brings home the bacon while Dad flips it -- doesn't come out until fall 2014.
So, in the meantime, I put out a few calls to friends and strangers, fully expecting to be told I'm being ridiculous about my theory, but instead found that, hey, I'm actually kind of right. "We have way more fun," says Gregory Dicum without hesitation, a 45-year-old entrepreneur and Princeton-Yale grad from San Francisco who fell into stay-at-home-dad-dom when his startup ran out of money and his wife's marketing job took off. "I walk by other dads on a Tuesday, and we're, like, wink, wink," he says." We know we have something good going."
Something good going? Not typically what you hear from most stay-at-home moms, even those who are happy in their role. That would imply a skirting of the system, when stay-at-home mothers are the system.
"The culture enables us to have more fun. Mothers have expectations that fathers just don't," says Dicum. "We could literally be smoking pot at the playground -- and that was just yesterday."
Nino Padova agrees. The former stay-at-home dad turned full-time editor from Millbrae, California, with a wife who works in finance, loved being a "day daddy" so much that he wrote a hilarious blog about his experience. "We do have more fun," he says. "There seems to be less pressure on us. So, the house is a mess, the fridge empty, the diaper genie overflowingMy baby's alive, our wide-eyed, been-at-work-all-day wives think as they walk through the door. Everything else is bonus points."
It's totally true says Madeleine Hanley, a stay-at-home mother of two from Portland, Oregon, with five years' worth of plastic toys under her roof. "Moms are more worried about the details: Are they wearing shoes, do they have sunscreen, do they need a snack. Whereas dads just let it roll and see what happens."
Kevin McPeek, from Corte Madera, California, has been rolling with it for nine years while his wife works market hours. As the father of two girls puts it, "All I worry about is the big stuff. Like, are they happy?"
Ronald Crouch, a 37-year-old former cook from Indianapolis whose wife works full-time as a receptionist for an insurance company, admits he feels isolated and has been ridiculed by his bachelor friends for taking care of his 3-year-old daughter and one-year-old twins. And yet, still, he says he's having a blast. "I love it. I just do." In fact, he doesn't ever want it to end and has decided to homeschool his kids. "Until all my hair falls out," he says, only half-joking.
McPeek, too, says he felt isolated when his girls were little, but now that they are old enough to have real conversations, "I'm legitimately having a great time," he laughs. "We actually just went back to school, and I overheard all these moms sighing with relief. Like, thank God. But, you know, I was bummed. I had a great summer."
In addition to dudes' general happiness and laissez-faire attitude, here's the real reason they are able to relax: The only baggage stay-at-home dads carry is their half-packed Skip-Hop. They're not succumbing to some gender stereotype they always feared. They -- as ridiculous as this sounds in 2013 -- are trailblazers. They get to define the role for themselves.
"If my wife was a stay-at-home mom, I think that would be a huge bummer for her. She'd be, like, I can't believe this happened to me!" says Dicum. His Facebook page features a photo feed which he frequently captions "at The Chateau," and is filled with midweek kite-flying, ice cream cones and father and 5-year-old son backpacking trips. His biggest dilemma: "Should I take my kid to Burning Man?" After much public deliberation, he ultimately decided against it.
Oh, sure, you could dismiss him as a San Francisco Mission hipster dad, but that's not it. He's just a good dad, one who is doing something more stay-at-home moms (or even sometimes-at-home moms like myself) should, too: He's reveling in it.