'Mr. Moms' Actually At-Home Dads


Stay-at-home dad Peter Baylies and his book. (AtHomeDad.com)
The notion of a father staying home to care for children burst onto the national consciousness in 1983 when Michael Keaton played an at-home dad in the movie "Mr. Mom." Its tagline read, "When mom goes to work, dad goes berserk!"

The notion of a father staying home to care for children burst onto the national consciousness in 1983 when Michael Keaton played an at-home dad in the movie "Mr. Mom." Its tagline read, "When mom goes to work, dad goes berserk!"

 

The movie played the situation mostly for laughs, much to the chagrin of film critic Roger Ebert.

 

"They had a great idea here," he wrote in 1983. "It's too bad they didn't follow it through on a human level, instead of making it feel made up and artificial and twice-removed, from the everyday experience it pretends to be about."

 

When Eddie Murphy starred in "Daddy Day Care" 20 years later, Christian Science Monitor staff writer Marilyn Gardner wrote, "The 'Mr. Mom' formula remains firmly in place: Men + kids = laughs galore."

 

Producers of a new NBC reality show, "Meet Mr. Mom," are certainly banking on that formula. The new show, premiering Aug. 2 (read our story), takes moms out of households and drops dads behind domestic lines, complicating the circumstances with things like unwelcome pets, talks about the birds and bees, and much more.

 

Mr. Baylies

 

At-home dads, however, are more than script devices and TV-show hooks. They're real people, like Peter Baylies of North Andover, Mass.

 

Baylies, whose wife teaches fourth grade, has stayed home for 13 years with their two sons. He also runs the popular At-Home Dad Newsletter and Network out of their home and has co-authored The Stay-At-Home Dad Handbook.

 

When Baylies started his newsletter in 1993, at-home dads were "unusual," he told EthicsDaily.com over the phone. "There's been a change," he said, but "it's very, very slow."

 

"There's still a lot of dads who become at-home dads but don't get full acceptance from mothers-in-law or families," said Baylies. "The culture is very, very slow to change."

 

More than 6 million parents stay at home "to care for home and family," according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data gathered in 2003. The vast majority were mothers.

 

Though roughly 1 million fathers (of children 15 or younger) were not in the labor force at all in 2002, only about 16 percent (or 160,000) cited "to care for home and family" as the reason. Roughly 45 percent of fathers stayed home because of illness or disablement.

 

"A 1993 estimate of 2 million stay-at-home fathers, a figure that has been widely publicized, was based on the number of fathers providing the primary care for their children under 15 years old while their spouses were at work," the report said. "This number, however, included 1.6 million fathers who actually were employed."

 

Mr. Beene

 

Fathers who stay at home do so for a variety of reasons and with a variety of jobs.

 

Keith Beene, who stays home with two children while his wife works in the publishing industry, also works part-time out of the house as administrator for the Baptist Communicators Association.

 

The California native, now living in Murfreesboro, Tenn., took the assignment as a way to remain part of the Baptist writing community while staying at home.

 

"It's just a great job for an at-home person," said Beene, who used to work as an editor and writer. "I can do it at night when they [the kids] are in bed."

 

Beene found Baylies' network when he became an at-home dad about seven years ago, and he started a Middle Tennessee dads group that has had close to two dozen active members at its height.

 

They talk about sports and politics as well as diapers and potty training—"maybe some things other fathers don't talk about," said Beene.

 

Beene said he tried going to play groups run by moms, but it was difficult.

 

"You always feel kind of weird," he said, noting that some of their topics, like breastfeeding and c-sections, were impossible to relate to.

 

That's what made the dads group so vital.

 

"We'll drive an hour just for this get-together," said Beene, adding that group members reside all over Middle Tennessee: Murfreesboro, Nashville, Columbia and elsewhere.

 

Of course, the decision to join a group is difficult for some men.

 

"For some dads, it's a real challenge to reach out for support," said Baylies.

 

Added Beene: "My mother would always say, 'Men aren't joiners. They don't join groups like this.' I have found that it's hard for some of the guys to come to the group. And that's OK."

 

The Show

 

Beene said he'll likely watch the new NBC reality show "just to see," even though he and other dads don't particularly like the term "Mr. Mom."

 

"We're not moms," said Beene. "We're dads."

 

Baylies doesn't think a show like "Meet Mr. Mom" will really affect the image of at-home dads.

 

Having seen a trailer for the show, Baylies said it appears to focus more on outlandish themes and situations rather than the day-to-day existence of being at home.

 

"In reality, most of the dads that I talk to, they're home and alone and their wives are working pretty long hours," he said. "It's difficult. It's tedious."

 

"It's purely an entertainment-type show," said Baylies, "but the fact that they're showing more at-home dads on TV shows that they're getting the ratings."

 

The topic has also interested publishers. In addition to Baylies' handbook, readers can find: Stay-At-Home Dads: The Essential Guide to Creating the New Family by Libby Gill (2001); Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Dad by David Eddie (2003); How Tough Could It Be? The Trials and Errors of a Sportswriter Turned Stay-At-Home Dad by Austin Murphy (2004); and the acclaimed 2004 novel Househusband by Ad Hudler.

 

Religion and Fathers

 

Baylies had little to say about the role of religion in at-home dad culture, but he did venture that "in certain parts of the country geographically, the dads are accepted more."

 

"The least amount of subscribers [to his newsletter] were from the Bible Belt states," he observed.

 

Beene said he has observed no difference in the reactions of religious or non-religious people to his situation.

 

Karen Zurheide, author on family matters and chair of the Baptist Center for Ethics board, surmised, however, that cultural conditioning may play a role in acceptance.

 

"I think there's a cultural bias that may or may not be religious," wrote Zurheide in an e-mail. "I think that nontraditional models are less acceptable in regions that are more 'conservative' culturally—which may imply a conservative Christian aspect to family practices."

 

"I don't know what those [fundamentalist] preachers are telling folks these days about spousal/parental roles," wrote Zurheide. "But surely the macho expectation that the man provide for the family—and the woman do no more than supplement the family income—must still be part of such teaching."

 

Try It

 

Beene said when some older men learn what he does, they'll say, "Oh, I wish I could have done that when I was that age."

 

Various factors may deny some fathers an at-home option, but for those who do try it, Baylies advised giving it some time. He said it takes six months to a year to get used to the idea, schedule and work.

 

Money makes many couples hesitate for one spouse to stay home, but Baylies said couples should also consider the areas in which they'll save: child care, transportation and other work-related expenses.

 

Beene said he and his wife didn't want to place their children in daycare, feeling it was important for one parent to be with them even if it meant a reduced income.

 

"We don't have the nicest car, the SUV in the driveway, the nicest house in Murfreesboro," he said. "But we've done it intentionally. If you want to have this kind of lifestyle, you can."

 

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.

 

 

 

 

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