Thursday, September 21, 2000

These dads feel right at home


More fathers finding time to watch their children grow

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When 4-year-old Sara Nabors gets frustrated with her parents, she's been known to say, “Mommy, why don't you go to work? And Daddy, why don't you go clean?”

        Her daddy, Tim Nabors, laughs about it — a sure sign of job security. This at-home dad from Milford turned 40 last month with no midlife crisis in sight.

        “I'm in the right place in my life,” he says. “This is the right thing to do.”

[photo] Tim Nabors plays with his daughter Sara at a local playground.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        Tim is one of an estimated 2 million U.S. dads who have traded in a briefcase for a diaper bag — one indication that more dads are taking an active role in child-raising.

        Other evidence: Dads are working from home while taking care of kids, and dads are adjusting their hours to see their kids off to school or be home when they get off the bus. The At-Home Dad newsletter, Web sites and an at-home dad convention all point to a growing lifestyle choice.

        “Twenty years ago it would have been considered almost freakish,” says Peter Baylies of North Andover, Mass., publisher of At-Home Dad.“Now, it just seems unusual.”

        The trend began in the booming economy of the late 1980s when more women began getting higher-paying positions. Now, men are staying in the at-home role longer because they have more support from each other. (The average time spent at home is about five years.) Dads are connecting through the Internet and play groups. They're more committed to doing what's important for their family. And, thev've gradually attained a measure of cultural acceptance.

        The cultural shift has spread to the media. Daddio, a television show about an at-home dad, starts its first full season Oct. 2 on NBC. The lead character's competence in child-raising is more accurate than the outdated, bumbling Mr. Mom.

        Mr. Nabors is a real life example of that competence. He turned to Internet parenting sites for help with potty training. “I read Parents magazine cover to cover.”

        OK, he admits he skips the articles on breastfeeding and looking pretty in the summer. Men can go only so far.
       


He gets up early

        It's 8 a.m. at the Nabors house. Usually, Tim gets up by 4 a.m. to lift weights, read the newspaper, do woodworking, drink coffee and get dressed before Sara wakes up around 7.

        Arthur plays on the television in the living room, but Sara is upstairs. “She's cleaning her room,” Tim explains. “Can you come every day?”

        Tim sits at the dining room table while he talks about life as an at-home dad. “Isn't that sad?” he says, holding up shards of a barely recognizable baby blanket. “We tried to switch it when it started getting ratty. I keep a little piece in my wallet for emergencies,” he says, fishing for the evidence.

        He gets up and calls upstairs. “Come on Sara, you've got to brush your teeth. We've got all kinds of stuff to do before we go to the playground.”

        Twice a week, the Cincinnati Stay-At-Home Dads play group meets at Sharon Woods and the Children's Museum. The group consists of 22 at-home dads and one at-home mom from Greater Cincinnati.

        After more cajoling, a little girl with long blond hair appears in her pink Blue's Clues pajamas. Tim runs his fingers through her curls. “Where's your hairbrush?” She runs off.

RESOURCES
    • Cincinnati Stay-At-Home Dads. Visit members.tripod.com/cincidads or call 559-9033.
    • At-Home Dad, a quarterly newsletter, offers news, views and tips for stay-at-home dads. To subscribe: At-Home Dad, Peter Baylies, 61 Brightwood Ave., North Andover, MA 01845. Cost: $15.
    • National Web sites: www.athomedad.com and www.slowlane.com.
        Tim starts making lunch to pack. He spreads chunky peanut butter and grape jelly on whole cracked-wheat bread, cutting the crusts off for Sara.

        Lately, he says, the guys have been talking about the first day of preschool. Sara started preschool that week.

        “She was so excited,” he says. “I didn't like it. It was just weird for me to leave her some place for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, drive home and be here by myself. I was the clingy one.”

        Did he cry? “I'll say "no,' but I was close. I made a quick exit.” His “babe” is growing up and, for a few hours a week, doesn't need him as much.

        Sara reappears, dressed in short Winnie the Pooh overalls and pink shirt. He compliments her on how nice she looks.

        Tim's wife, Yvonne, works for Keane Inc., a software consulting company in Blue Ash. Tim was self-employed in sales. He's been at home full-time for two years.

        After Sara was born, they took her to a day-care center. “I hated it,” Yvonne says. “It's not that she got bad care. She got decent care. It was two caregivers to every 13 babies. You just can't give them the attention they need. It just broke my heart to leave her there every day. I thought about quitting my job because it was so excruciatingly difficult for me to drop her off and go to work.”

        So Tim went part-time, and they switched to a home child-care provider for three days a week. “I found myself cutting out early and circling where she stayed,” he says.

        They sat down and crunched the numbers. Yvonne could make more money and had company benefits. He worked on commission and had no benefits. Considering day-care costs, it made financial sense for him to stay home. Soon after they made the decision, Yvonne got a promotion. It seemed meant to be, but that doesn't mean it's easy.

        The couple had to cut back on eating out and going to movies. He had to clear the hurdle of thinking that he was spending her money. And he still has days when he misses going to a regular job — especially those long winter days.

        Summers are easy. He and Sara ride bikes, go for nature walks, work in the garden and play games like Go Fish, Old Maid and Candyland. “Candylaaand,” he says with the exasperation of someone who's played it for the umpteenth time.

        Tim does laundry, cleans house and makes dinner. That way, he says, Yvonne can spend evenings with Sara. And he gets free time to do woodworking, go hiking or edit videos.

        Ready to go to Sharon Woods, Tim lifts Sara onto his lap to tie her shoes and brush her hair. The bond between them is obvious as they tease each other. “Daddy, you crazy nut,” she says playfully.
       


Dads get together

       

        At the playground, Tim meets up with 11 other dads. They fawn over and watch out for each other's children. They briefly compare parenting notes, but talk turns to sports, computers and politics.

        There's a machinist, a salesman, a mechanic, a chef, a chemist, a nurse. Some work part-time nights or weekends for spending money or just to get out of the house. They consider themselves the lucky ones. They are the ones who often get to witness the first step, the first word, the first potty victory.

        Oh, they have their moments. Like the day one working mom came home to her husband, two kids and a house in disarray. “What did you do all day?” she asked, surveying the mess. He responded, “You take a vacation day and stay home with the kids and see if you get anything done.”

        What did you do all day? It's the kind of piercing question that's stung many stay-at-home moms greeted by husbands asking: “Is dinner ready?”

        This lifestyle requires sacrifices. Finances get tight. Men are even more isolated than at-home moms because there are fewer at-home dads. Yet, these dads wouldn't miss this part of their children's lives.

        Stereotypes die slowly, though. Not long ago, someone sent an e-mail to the Cincinnati Stay-At-Home Dads Web site: “Why don't you guys go to work like normal men?”

        “There are people who still think it's unnatural for fathers to be home with their kids,” says Dr. Robert Frank, a Chicago-area psychologist and stay-at-home dad who's also studied the subject.

        “People still think women instinctively have something above men that will make them better parents ... I can't find any research to back that up.”
       


He knows she's happy

        After eating their lunches at a picnic table, Tim and Sara leave early to get to preschool. She sits quietly in her booster seat, almost dozing, as he talks about being an at-home dad.

        This life-changing, stay-at-home decision didn't come overnight, he says. It took 1 1/2 years to become a full-time at-home dad, and it was scary.

        “I knew if it didn't work out, I could go back to work pretty quickly,” he says. “It was more, "Am I doing the right thing for Sara? Am I nurturing enough? Am I patient enough?' I think I have been.”

        His parents and two sisters are all for his career change. “My Mom has been real supportive,” he says. “She thinks it's the greatest decision I ever made.”

        Friends were surprised when he told them, but most have been supportive. Some tease him, saying, “Now you can sit around and watch soap operas.” For the record, he doesn't. He's not a big television viewer, but will turn on Everybody Loves Raymond.

        Once Sara goes to elementary school, Tim might return to work in sales, at least part-time, but he's not sure what they'd do about after-school time and summers. “It's really important to my wife and I to have one of us home for her,” he says.

        Tim arrives at Sara's preschool. She races to a feltboard where she arranges felt characters. “I'm going to go bye-bye now, Sara.” She ignores him.

        He leans over and puts his hand on her shoulder, pulling her close. “Bye, Sara. Give me a hug and a kiss. I love you.”

        She halfheartedly responds, feverishly working on the feltboard. In his head, he knows this is good. She's happy at home with her dad, and she's happy at preschool.

        But in his heart, like so many parents, he wishes she'd wail when he leaves. Just once.

        Tim spends the next two and a half hours running errands, doing two loads of laundry and measuring the bathroom for remodeling. Time to pick her up.

        She races into his arms for a hug. “Did you bring any treats?” she says. “I made the mistake the first day of preschool of bringing a bag of M&Ms to celebrate,” he explains. “Now, she asks every day.” He asks her about school and what she learned.

        Once home, they go for a bike ride, and Sara watches Arthur. Tim only lets her watch about an hour of television a day. He canceled cable so it wouldn't be a temptation. Next, he fixes Sara a bowl of “broccoli treats” — frozen florets warmed in the microwave — to keep her satisfied until dinner.

        Then, he grills steaks and potatoes. Yvonne gets home by 6:30 p.m. and they eat together.

        The arrangement has worked out perfectly, Yvonne says. “Tim is a wonderful father. He has a tremendous amount of patience.”

        By 9:30 p.m. he's in bed, refueling for the next day. Even if he starts the morning in a bad mood, Sara has the power to change it.

        “I love this age,” he says, smiling at the little girl drawing a "rainbow monster' on the living room floor. “She still wakes up every morning with a smile, like she's happy to be alive. It's an inspiration to me.”

stars


Part-time work gives dad time for kids

       
        Who: Wes Lower, 36, Wyoming, works part-time, mostly from home, for Applied Technology Associates, advising clients on lean manufacturing techniques. He teaches an MBA course one night a week at Xavier University. His kids are Alex, 7, and Zach, 4.

[photo] Tim Nabors plays with his daughter Sara at a local playground.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        How he does it: His wife, Niki, is an account executive for Directions Research, a downtown marketing research firm. They're taking turns being the primary breadwinner. His turn lasted seven years. His father owns the business where he works. On days he has to meet a client, his mother cares for the kids.

        The sacrifices: “I do find a palpable loss of social identity. Invariably you go somewhere, and they ask what you do. Ninety percent of the reason I work at all is so that I can answer the question ... I make a fourth of what I used to make. I feel guilty about that. When I want to buy something, I ask myself, "Is this exorbitant?', because it's somebody else's money. It's Niki's money.”

        Why he does it: “My goal is to always be there (for the kids). That's the No. 1 reason for being home ... I just have to believe, right at these crucial moments, it's so important to them and to us.”

Professor adjusts hours for his son


        Who: Michael Malone, 40, Oxford, is an associate professor in early childhood education at the University of Cincinnati. He adjusts his schedule so that he's home to see his 6 1/2-year-old son, David, off to the school bus and to pick him up at 3:30 p.m. His wife, Connie, works part time at Miami University.

[photo] Tim Nabors plays with his daughter Sara at a local playground.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        How he does it: His job allows him the flexibility to juggle classes and work at home. “It costs me face time, which is a desirable thing on the job, but my son is a priority.”

        The stereotype: “It really befuddles folks if they see me stroll the dog in the middle of the afternoon. They don't see me when I'm working in the wee hours at 3 a.m. on the computer.”

        Why he does it: “The role of a parent is so important in the life of a child. ... We just believe the people who should be primary caregivers for a child are the people who decide to bring that child into the world. That's not a small task. There are sacrifices.”

       



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