For the last nine years or so, I’ve been a stay-at-home dad, but I prefer to call myself a write-at-home dad. That’s because I spend a lot of time writing. I mostly write emails to my wife with questions such as: “Why isn’t the baby drinking from the bottle? Doesn’t she like Coke?” and “Is it okay if the baby watches Law & Order with me? She seems to like it.”
Actually, I don’t ask many questions these days. That’s partly because my three kids aren’t babies anymore -– the youngest is 5 –- and partly because I’ve become an expert at being a stay-at-home dad. If this were a real job, I would have been promoted by now. I’d be the Director of Domestic Affairs or the CEO of Home Management.
Being an expert at this job does not mean doing everything well. It means making a list of everything that needs to be done and figuring out a way to get the kids to do it.
My youngest child, Rahul, often helps me load the washing machine. My oldest child, Lekha, often helps me sort the socks and underwear. My middle child, Divya, doesn’t help much, but at least she doesn’t leave her dirty clothes lying around on the floor like a few other members of this household, who apparently believe that Dad has nothing better to do than pick up after them. I do have something better to do: watch Law & Order.
Yes, being a stay-at-home dad isn’t easy, even when you’re an expert. There’s so much to do at home — cooking, washing, sweeping –- and it’s hard to get it all done during the commercial breaks. I don’t know how the stay-at-home moms do it –- I just don’t.
Thankfully, I don’t do most of the cooking –- my wife does. It’s her main responsibility when she returns from work, aside from spending time with the kids and asking me why the house is such a mess.
Most of the cleaning falls on my shoulders –- and then I flick it onto the kids’ shoulders. At least I try to. When I turn on the vacuum cleaner, my son gets excited and I can usually con him into doing some of the vacuuming. He loves to watch things get sucked up. This arrangement has worked rather well, especially since my wife hasn’t counted our children recently.
The biggest challenge for a stay-at-home dad, I’ve come to realize, is dealing with society’s expectations. Dads are not supposed to stay at home. We’re supposed to go out and make money. And if we can’t make money, we’re supposed to go out anyway –- go out and play golf, go out and watch a movie, go out and do yoga under a tree.
A woman can call herself a housewife and no one will bat an eyelid. But you should see the looks I get when I call myself a houseband. “Stay-at-home dad” is more acceptable, of course, but even then, the first question you’ll get is “Are you looking for a job?” Trust me, I know. I’ve heard that question hundreds of times –- and not always from my mother.
It’s going to take another century, perhaps, for society to completely embrace the idea of a father staying at home, looking after his kids. After all, the custom of fathers working outside the home goes back thousands of years. Just imagine a caveman saying to his wife: “You go kill mammoth. I stay in cave, look after baby.” What do you think would have happened to him? Yes, he would have received a threat: “You no kill mammoth, you no get my mud pudding tonight.”
Caveman: “Me no need your nasty pudding.”
Wife: “You no kill mammoth, you no get my fire-roasted worms tonight.”
Caveman: “Me no need your nasty worms.”
Wife: “You no kill mammoth, you no pudding your little worm anywhere near me tonight.”
Caveman (grabs spear): “How many mammoths you want me kill? One or two?”
Photo by Michael Verhoef
If you enjoyed this piece, you’ll love Melvin’s humourous novel “Bala Takes the Plunge,” available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. Read the latest reviews here and an excerpt here.