It’s official. Since my last post on this, I’ve decided: I shall not call myself a “stay-at-home dad” anymore!
In fact, technically speaking, I probably couldn’t from the very start when I stepped away from a full-time career in 2018. While I had several weeks and months without any work or income thereafter, I did undertake some part-time gig/teaching jobs that helped keep my finances afloat.
The only months I was truly staying home without any work or income were the months of June to October 2019. Plus some weeks between February and April, as well as August and October each year since, thanks to the academic calendars of various IHLS* I teach at.
[*Institutes of Higher Learning]
So have I been misrepresenting myself to the world?
A misrepresentation? That depends…
Well, I believe the answer can be a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’.
It’s a ‘yes’ if by “stay home dad” we mean someone who’s STRICTLY a house-husband. One who handles ALL domestic and childcare matters, and collects ZERO income. Period.
However, it’s a ‘no’ if he spends a majority of his waking hours with family, and prioritizes them in ALL his schedules. Even as he works gigs on the side to pick up SPARE change.
The latter has been me these past four years. It’s how I’ve represented myself to those from schools or media outlets who interviewed me for their projects or news features on issues like parenting, masculinity or special needs. In fact I’ve often made it a point to tell them that if they were looking for the former type of stay home dad, then I’m not their guy.
Still, I’m a firm believer in making periodic self-reassessments. Which I recently did as I reevaluated my role as a stay home dad.
But first, let’s recap my journey.
My SAHD (stay-at-home-dad) journey since 2018
When I started this sad — oops I mean SAHD — journey in 2018, I too had the idea a stay home dad was someone who took no pay and stayed home to tackle everything domestic. Not exactly a ‘dream job’ for most guys.
Back then I wasn’t really picturing myself as a SAHD. My only thought was to spend more time figuring out how to care for my then newly-officially-autism-diagnosed second son C. Which I couldn’t properly do unless I left full-time work.
However, the more time I spent at home with my family, the more I found myself identifying with the role of a SAHD. Before long, I found myself reading up and talking to other SAHDs with special needs kids. Their sacrifices inspired me and I wanted to more closely identify with and embrace the characteristics of being a SAHD.
Characteristics like spending majority of my waking hours with, and caring for, my kids. Helping them with schoolwork daily, and prioritising time to spend with them doing any and everything that will cement our relationships more tightly. And to guide and journey with them closely as they grow older each year.
In short, to be a more physically and mentally present (and emotionally-available) father. Something I never had growing up.
Coincidentally, these SAHD characteristics also resonated with my Christian values. So it just felt natural to see myself as a stay home dad.
And even though technically I was still working part-time most weeks of every year since 2018, it was the SAHD “hat” I wore most proudly. It was the identity I felt the greatest affinity for.
And still do.
Re-evaluating my identity as a stay home dad
Lately though I’ve started to re-evaluate my position and decided that maybe it’s time I hung up the SAHD hat.
Certain things also happened recently that convinced me this is the right move now.
Three months ago, I had the good fortune to connect with not one but two book publishers. They had expressed interest in considering for publication a draft manuscript I wrote two years ago about my SAHD journey. Ironically, I realized while chatting with them that neither had a great impression of SAHDs. One went as far as saying his first thought was that SAHDs were lazy good-for-nothings!
Last month, a news outlet emailed to ask if they could interview me about my views on masculinity. They wanted a SAHD and had the impression I was the stay-home-no-paid-work type. When I clarified otherwise, they clearly had second thoughts because I never heard back from them after that. (Of course, there might have been other reasons but I’ll never know. So…)
Last Sunday, watching the tenacity and persistence of my wife as she took our stubborn son C through our home-based occupational therapy (HBOT) for more than an hour — when I had all but thrown up my hands in resignation — it suddenly dawned on me. Even if I were to embrace the second definition of a SAHD, there were certain things I fell short of when it came to helping C with intervention therapies for his autism.
I rarely oversee his HBOT without losing my patience and temper. His constant protests often wear me down, causing me to “cut corners,” meaning I’ll reduce the number of repetitions his occupational therapist says he should do. I’ll also allow him to do them sometimes without precision. Things like balancing on a gym ball with his tummy to build core strength or going down the floor on all fours and simultaneously lifting alternate leg and hand to point backwards and forwards respectively. (And the list goes on!)
Talk about doing a lousy job!
Can I really then claim to be a genuine SAHD? Especially when my wife seemed to pick up my slack almost effortlessly. [Caveat if you’re reading this my dear wife: “Don’t get me wrong dear, your efforts are very plain to see!”]
Hmmm yet again…
How the world sees me vs how me & my family see me
Now, in my defense, I’m not a complete klutz at being a good SAHD. I’ll like to believe in these past four years, I’ve done what I’ve been able to, rain or shine.
For most waking hours, my sons can still count on me to be present and available to them everyday. Our father-son bond has also strengthened these years to the point that my knowledge of their whims, fancies and moods are almost instinctively spot-on. Most of the time anyway!
Even during weeks I’m caught up with my IHL teaching duties. I’ve helped them navigate new school terms, homework, and prepared them for tests and exams. And I’ve tried to bring them outdoors whenever I can, especially when my outdoorsy wife can’t.
I’ve been the family’s go-to transport guy, always on standby to ferry them to and from school, and to undertake grocery runs.
But all that matters little to the world if I’m not also cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, housekeeping, and planning outings, events, trips etc like my wife ably does on a regular basis. To the world, that fact alone disqualifies me from wearing the SAHD crown.
And you know what? I agree now. Having read about bona fide SAHDs that fit that definition (I’ve even met a couple of them), how dare I claim that crown?
So from now on, I won’t.
But not because the world accepts or rejects my claim to the throne. How this imperfect world sees me matters little in the end. How my family — and me — see me though? Now that’s a whole other thing.
It’s my hope my family and me see my worth and value all these years and beyond.
For only my family’s opinion (and God’s) ultimately matters.
Meantime, to avoid any accusations of misrepresentations, I shall say a fond farewell to the label SAHD even as it’ll always have a place in my life and inform how I see my identity in this world.
How I shall always see myself in the final scheme of things.
2 thoughts on “Parenting Motivations #14 — Am I still a stay-at-home dad? (Part 2)”
It is indeed true for me as well. Having gone through the 1st definition and the 2 nd in the space of 5 years, I feel I’m now on my 3rd phase of defining my purpose as being more of a present dad regardless of being in full or part one work.
I’m now also able to discern a journey of working so that I can still provide the time I need for my boys. I’m not sure if this is going to be a long term arrangement and mindset but I’m definitely enjoying this phase of my fatherhood a lot more than when I was chasing numbers and ensuring I had what I needed to secure and live the lifestyle of a highly ambitious career person in Singapore.
Congratulations on the opportunity to publish your book and I hope your journey continues to be a blessed journey of exploration and enriching your experience as a father who wants the best for his family.
I have no idea why but I am reminded of the ‘should I call myself a writer’ question here. I’ve no experience with being a parent, so I can’t comment on that, let alone state the differences between being a SAHD or not, but from the writer question, I think labels really don’t matter, as long as you’re doing good by yourself.
Congrats on your book journey too. One step closer to being published! How exciting!