Tomorrow is Father’s Day and I wanted to take this time to acknowledge a special group of fathers I got to know since April this year.
These wonderful gentlemen have given me new hope that maybe, even at this stage of my now five-year-journey as a stay home dad, it’s still not too late to find others like me who have taken the road less traveled. These are guys I like to refer to as “non-traditional fathers.”
Now finding fathers isn’t a difficult thing; they’re everywhere. However, finding fathers who rank fatherhood as their number one priority and identity, above career, riches, and social status? Not so easy.
The Traditional Roles of Fathers and Mothers
Since the beginning, fathers have been defined by how they protect and provide for their homes. That’s their chief contribution to raising a family. Mothers, on the other hand, play a more nurturing role. They take care of the emotional and even spiritual needs of their children, not to mention cleaning, clothing, and feeding them daily.
I’m aware I’m possibly generalizing. This is 2023 after all, and families today don’t necessarily look anything like they did say 100, 50, or even 20 years ago.
Still, I’ll stick my neck out for now and say that my “generalization” holds mostly true across cultures and communities around the world.
So, when either fathers or mothers choose to take a different pathway from this tradition, then we plunge headlong into what I call non-traditional parenting roles.
So who exactly are non-traditional parents? Or more specifically, non-traditional fathers?
Simply put, any father who does not perform their parenting role in the traditional way I stated earlier will, in my books, qualify as a non-traditional father.
In particular, if the father is the main caregiver in the lives of the children, then he will definitely qualify as a non-traditional father. By “main caregiver”, I mean the person who spends comparatively more time with the children than anyone else in the family. The “time” here is time spent chiefly to meet my kids’ daily needs and be their constant companion.
Into this definition, I would throw in homeschooling dads, stay-home dads, part-time/freelance working dads, single dads, and just about any dad who is more visibly present with, and attentive to (both physically and emotionally), their children, than traditional dads.
I, The Non-traditional Father
Since leaving full-time work in 2018, I’ve been solo navigating the terrain of parenting as a non-traditional dad without any other fathers to guide me, as I knew no other dads like me. I was first a full-time stay-home dad, then later part-time when I returned to teach regularly as an adjunct lecturer.
Either way, my role as a main caregiver was firmly established. My duties included chauffeuring, tutoring, befriending, mentoring, playing, and simply being the go-to parent first for everything my children needed.
And those are still my main caregiving duties now, even as I scale up my part-time lecturing gigs.
While many may assume I’m the “mother” as well, in the traditional sense, ie. I cook, clean, wash, and manage all domestic affairs, this isn’t my case. I possess very little “talent” in the domestic arena — something my wife will readily attest to — and often play second fiddle to her for all major household decisions.
In the beginning, I struggled. Not being able to “mother” as well as my wife the way I initially thought all stay-home dads ought to, I felt like a fraud. Like I wasn’t even “doing” my job as a stay-home dad well!
Non-traditional fathers are different
Now, however, I’ve come to accept that stay home dads aren’t like mothers. Or even other fathers.
Just because a stay home father is a primary caregiver doesn’t mean how he parents mirror the way mothers, especially stay-home mothers, parent. The things I do as the main caregiver, as mentioned above, are things I’m more predisposed to doing. Whether or not I’m effective, I do find myself gravitating toward these responsibilities more readily than others. Like a duck that moves more smoothly in water than on land.
If I take the cue from Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs, then my primary caregiving for my kids goes beyond fulfilling the first and second levels of needs — physiological and safety –and into the higher levels of belonging, self-esteem, and even self-actualization as I daily spend time to teach my sons about life, and prepare them for this world they are growing up in.
Which is a nice segue into the community of non-traditional dads I got to know two months ago.
Or as they call themselves, The Ordinary Dads.
Like me, these dads are also creating a space for non-traditional expressions of how a dad parents, versus how our still-traditional society believes they should parent.
A Community of Non-traditional Fathers
For a couple of years now, I’ve had the good fortune to connect with a fellow stay-home dad. He regularly advocates for fatherhood on blogs, podcasts, and various social media platforms. With his sizeable following, he was the dad best poised to start an informal chat group. A community, as it were, of fellow stay-home dads.
Which was exactly what he did this year.
Thanks to my friend, the inaugural monthly meeting of these dads happened two months ago with six of us. By the time we had our third meeting this month though, the group had nearly doubled in size. In fact, there would have been more dads at that meeting if every father in the chat group turned up!
There were fathers who were full-on stay-home dads, and those (like me) who were stay-home dads that worked part-time. There were those who were between jobs as well, making the “tenure” of their non-traditional father role uncertain. We also have a father who homeschooled his five kids for more than a decade. And a widower, who single-handedly raised two sons for 14 years and counting. There were new fathers (in their 30s) with babies and toddlers, and “seasoned” fathers (in their 50s and 60s) with teenage and young adult children.
Yes, the group was definitely mixed in terms of our various non-traditional father personas!
Non-traditional Fathers are Ordinary Dads too
In our meetings so far, we shared many challenges with regard to our parenting.
One common thread that ran through our conversations was how hard it was to find our sense of identity and self-worth. Especially if we were to base it on traditional definitions of fathers, ie provide (materially) and protect (to ensure physical safety daily).
So for us as non-traditional dads, we needed to expand the definition. We needed to forge a new narrative for what makes for not just a non-traditional dad, but an “ordinary” dad. To make the non-traditional, ordinary. So no one in society should look at us any differently than they would, say, another parent who falls safely within conventional notions of parenting.
As I look to yet another Father’s Day tomorrow, I hope our society is ready to embrace us, the “non-traditional, ordinary” dads!
To that end, I hope (with the help of my new community of fellow fathers) to use my blog to share more about what makes for “non-traditional, ordinary” fathers.
Do stay tuned okay?