I Had A Stay-At-Home Dad (And It Was Awesome)

My feminist ’70s punk dad stayed at home with the kids while my mom pursued a career and it was perfect.
Publish date:
October 9, 2014
parenting, father, dads, fathers, feminist parenting, stay at home dads

I have a really great dad. My dad is an old punk dude who loves vintage Halloween decorations and surf rock, and liked going to feminist consciousness raising events in the ’80s, and homeschooled me because he liked the David Bowie song “Kooks.”

My dad has also not had a job outside the home since he worked a summer before college in a Sears warehouse. He has devoted his life pretty much entirely to being there for his wife and children.

If I had to use a trope to describe my father, I would say that basically he is the Victorian ideal of the angel in the house. He is a quiet, endlessly kind and endlessly gentle man who is in many ways too psychologically delicate to work outside the home but functions perfectly within it.

My father has fairly severe ADD, and prior to meeting my mother was constantly getting his electricity turned off with $4,000 in his bank account because he lost the bill and took six years to get through college because he kept turning in A+ papers six months late and getting marked down to an F. Regardless, he is incredibly bright and a wonderful and profoundly loving and emotionally present parent.

He and my mother met in college. He looked like Billy Idol and she had a Grace Jones haircut. People thought they were scary even though my mom fell in love with my dad when she saw him win the college vocabulary bee. They’re three years apart in age, and my mom (at 5’10) is an inch taller than my dad.

They got married in a courthouse by a JP with my mom six months pregnant with me, wearing a pair of my dad’s jeans unbuttoned to accommodate her belly. They bought the cheapest rings they could find and went out for Indian food. They’d decided in typical bohemian fashion to have me without getting married, until they realized that it would complicate the paperwork. So they rushed to the courthouse. Frankly, I think that’s incredibly romantic. My own marriage was similar (a quickie civil ceremony to make paperwork simpler).

After I was born, my mom continued her job in publishing while my dad stayed home and watched me, reading to me constantly, telling me stories and answering my endless series of questions. My mom had my brother and we moved, and my dad homeschooled me, making up games to explain everything from evolution to the limited size of hunter gatherer bands. He told me stories about Lonely Yeti, who was an incompetent yeti I’d made up who ran various businesses including a hair salon and ice cream shop, and patiently explained to me that my insides were not leather and filled with pockets like a wallet (which was how I imagined them till I was told otherwise at age four).

He taught me to be proud to be left-handed, and to love comparative mythology, art history, and historical costume. He tutored me in Latin. He made endless peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He filled our playroom with brightly colored autumn leaves for Halloween one year, and the dining room with balloons for April Fools' another. His patience was nearly endless, and his goofy sense of humor fills my childhood memories.

He read to my brother and me for ages every night before bed, ran games of D&D and Call Of Cthulhu for us as family game nights, and was always there for me and my two younger brothers.

He showed up for me as a teenager through multiple hospitalizations for anorexia, coming on every visiting day with board games while I was inpatient and driving me two hours each way to my outpatient treatment program four days a week for months. We listened to books on tape and talked endlessly about everything: the news, politics, history, literature. And when my mother went away on long research trips to Peru (my mother is an incredible hand weaver) or to teach workshops or attend conferences all around the country, we’d watch loads of horror movies together.

On family vacations, he took us to historical graveyards, the Edward Gorey house, and to places like Longwood Gardens and the House Of Seven Gables in Salem. He taught me to identify styles of historic architecture -- Queen Anne, Italianate, Georgian, Moorish Revival, Gothic Revival, Greek Revival, Craftsman, ad infinitum, and shared his abiding love for enlightenment philosophy and good chocolate milkshakes.

His favorite color is orange because it’s the rarest favorite color and because he really REALLY loves Halloween. He’s an atheist who taught me to respect other people’s beliefs, a man whose greatest concern when his son (the elder of my younger brothers) came out as gay was losing him to AIDS like he’d lost his best friend (a gay man who shared my dad’s love of punk rock, and taught my punk dad to love disco) in the ’80s.

My dad is a punk who loves disco, a man whose raison d'être is being a great father and husband. (I remember how lovingly and carefully he picked out gifts for my mother every year for Valentine's Day, Christmas, her birthday and Mother’s Day. He knew my mother’s chunky, bohemian, vaguely Sumerian taste in jewelry exactly and everything he’s bought her she loves).

He has been there a helping hand, and an endless comfort in times of stress through my adult life. He was the one who sang me silly songs as I rocked as a baby in my rocking chair/cradle-thing that I apparently loved beyond all reason and who pushed me in my stroller to meet my mother every day after work when we were living in New York.

Without my dad, I probably wouldn’t have made it through my stormy adolescence, wouldn’t be writing, wouldn’t be anywhere near the person I am now. My loving, warm, funny, caring, feminist dad is the best stay-at-home parent/primary caregiver anyone could ask for, and the reason I think that someone who genuinely wants to stay at home with the kids is so incalculably valuable to their children and to their partner.

I see constantly how much my parents love each other, how my dad thinks my mom is as beautiful as the day they met and how my mom thinks my dad is the handsomest thing going. Their relationship, their balance, is one I think is worth aspiring to. My mom loves her kids but would go nuts without a career. And my dad is sweet, kind and nurturing but would go nuts if he had to deal with the harsh competitive nature of the professional world.

They suit each other, balance each other and have raised two exceptional children and me together. (And frankly you can’t really blame them for me -- I’m just like this.)