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Column: The rigors and rewards of stay-at-home dad life

After the first installment of Frontline Dad, I was happy to hear from encouraging readers who reached out to me and described their experiences as stay-at-home parents. In reading your stories, two common points became apparent from every account.
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Ten-month-old Lily is a pretty big fan of her dad’s column on Sudbury.com. Photo by James Depatie.

After the first installment of Frontline Dad, I was happy to hear from encouraging readers who reached out to me and described their experiences as stay-at-home parents.

In reading your stories, two common points became apparent from every account.

First, it is clear that a family’s financial situation plays a huge part in the decision (or requirement) to become a stay-at-home parent.

Second, being a stay-at-home parent is certainly not easy. I can attest to both points based on firsthand experience, but before I elaborate, allow me to make good on the promise I made in my first column — let me introduce my family and describe what precipitated our decision that I take on a stay-at-home dad role.

I will start with introducing our youngest: Lily is the newest addition to our family and is my stay-at-home companion. She is a happy and bright-smiling bundle of pure joy who is now 10 months old.

Next, my son, Grayson, is seven going on 16. He is a big-hearted old soul who loves reruns of “Full House” and “Family Matters,” and has decided that he wants to work in a pet store when he is older. My wife and I couldn’t be more proud of the patient and loving big brother he has become to his little sister, who he affectionately nicknames ‘Lily-Belle’.

My wife, Lianne, is the self-employed owner/operator of a successful hair studio in Sudbury. She is the kind of person who can do anything well the first time she tries it, and she beats me at pretty much everything I challenge her to. Although it may shame me to say it, she is one who really wears the pants in our home. I think the kids know it, too.

Now, for how I became a SAHD.

Although my wife considered a full maternity leave after Lily was born, she knew that operating a small business was a challenge on a good day. It becomes even more challenging if you are not there to manage it.

Additionally, we were not comfortable leaving our daughter in someone else’s care as an infant, so it was inventible that one of us would stay home. Since I work in frontline office management for a national employer and was able to submit for non-permanent leave, we decided it made more sense that my wife return to work to manage the business while I took on the home role shortly after our daughter was born.

While I fumbled at first, I have grown to love my new gig as a full-time father, as it provides me ample time to be with my kids, which is my favorite place to be.

But I’d be lying if I said it was easy. When you hear people say that being a stay-at-home parent is difficult, they are not kidding. The struggles they face every day can be daunting. Your time is not your own. It’s kind of like a job you can never leave, because it literally follows you home.

It can be back-breaking, fatigue-inducing, stain-fighting, silly-face-making, and nutty-dance-moving work. You are the chef, the maid, the activity planner, the toy builder, the grocery shopper, the dish cleaner, and the full-time caretaker to a mini-human being who holds a slight resemblance to you (but a way cuter version, of course).

In the spirit of full disclosure though, I cannot stake a claim to all of the household duties in my home — my wife still rocks the laundry and I am more than grateful to her for that.

I've learned that while there are certainly tangible challenges in being a SAHD, there are an even greater amount of rewards. The biggest perk of all is that I am present for each and every moment in my daughter’s young life.

Her first word was “Dada.” Her first little wiggle dance was to a song I was singing. Her first tooth was felt when she bit my finger. I didn’t get a call at work telling me these things were happening because I was here experiencing them for myself. What a gift that has been for me.

While I may have my Man Card suspended for what I am about to say, it is worth the risk because my Dad Card gets me better rewards:

In my experience being a father, it is a love that is pure, raw and unedited. For me, the rush of emotions a daddy feels when he is the reason for his baby girl’s bright smile is, quite simply, the stuff of whimsy and splendor.

It is the uplifting, addicting, weak-in-the-knees kind of feeling that makes him do everything in his power to try and make the next smile appear, again and again. It becomes his only mission as a dad because smiling represents happiness and isn’t happiness what we all want for our children, at any age?

Admittedly, it gets more difficult to put a genuine smile on your child’s face the older they get.

What used to make my seven-year-old son smile as an infant makes him roll his eyes in embarrassment as a little boy. I’ve really had to step up my game on the crazy dad front, because peek-a-boo and silly faces just won’t cut it with him anymore.

For to him laugh now, I have to bust out impressions of Steve Urkle or complete ridiculous dance routines to songs like “Gangnam Style” or “Uptown Funk.” It's a scary sight, but it works.

The good news for me is that peek-a-boo and silly faces are still a riot for my baby girl – which makes me happy because it gives my sore back time to heal from my failed attempts at the leaping Russian splits or the “Whip/Nae Nae” dance moves I do for my son.

In my next installment, I will be discussing the inadequacies I felt the first few weeks alone with my daughter and how I developed the notion of Daddy Inc. as kind of daddy quality control tool.

James Depatie is a writer and parent who lives in Greater Sudbury. Got an idea or a question for him? Email James at james.depatie@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @JamesDepatie.



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