Year of the Yummy Daddy

 

The stay-at-home dad is a growing phenomenon as the recession bites hard and men are losing their jobs in the hundreds each week. ITA O'KELLYreports on a new breed of father

THE BOOM YEARS in Ireland were characterised by work. Men in particular were often invisible to their families, leaving home early and returning late. But today, with hundreds of jobs being lost every week, more and more men are picking up children from school, filling the supermarket trolley, and doing the housework.

According to the most recent Quarterly Household Survey from the Central Statistics Office, there are almost 5,800 men “engaged in full-time home duties” in Ireland. By the time the next household survey is completed, this figure is likely to have sharply increased as more men who have lost their jobs take over the role of minding their children.

Forty-year-old Howard Hughes from Lucan in Dublin is one of this new breed of father, minding his new baby son Samuel. Admitting he is still a novice Howard says it is the best job that he has ever had.

Howard had strong indications that his job was going to go, and he and his wife Mary decided that minding the baby was the way forward for them rather than to look for another job. Six months before baby Samuel arrived, Howard started to cut his teeth as a house husband in preparation for his promotion to full-time carer to their bundle of joy.

Mary earned more than Howard so the couple felt it made financial sense for her to continue working and for him to stay at home with Samuel. If he was working, the cost of childcare would have more or less eaten up one salary so it didn’t make sense. “For us it wasn’t the right choice to put him in a creche.”

Mary, who works as a project manager with IBM, says that she encouraged her husband to be the one to stay at home.

“I am not yet quite ready to give it all up to be a stay-at-home mum. Really the only thing Howard cannot do is breastfeed him. He can do everything else and I have huge confidence in his ability to thrive as a stay-at-home dad.”

Mary says that with the additional tax benefit that they get for Howard and the absence of creche fees, their plan means that they will break even financially.

“Although we made the decision before Samuel arrived, for the first two weeks after he was born I did feel envious that Howard would get to be with him all day and I wouldn’t, but that was probably influenced by hormones. Now I am happy with the decision because it is the right decision for all of us. Yes, it means fewer meals out, but we are not bothered by things like that.”

WHILE MARY’S DAY begins early– she leaves at around 6.30am for work – Howard’s day is entirely dictated by the baby. He covers all the usual chores but says that he doesn’t plan to become house proud any time soon.

“I think that’s a female thing. To me a dirty kitchen floor is just that. To a woman it means another task that is pressing on her mind to do . . . Learning to cook has been a little bit trickier but I am getting better at it every day.”

Mary won’t be coming home to inspect the house and to have Howard account for himself. She says that, if she returns after a long day at work to a happy rather than a clean and tidy house, she will be well satisfied.

When the weather gets finer Howard plans to fill the days by going to the park, visiting museums and art galleries and later to start an early education programme with his son. Unlike some stay-at-home fathers who moan that they don’t get invited to coffee mornings, Howard plans to start his own coffee circle.

“My message to other men who may lose their job is that the future is bright if you choose it to be. I think we all need to look at how society is changing. Many of the jobs that are now being lost will not be replaced,” says Howard.

“I will admit that when I left work I was leaving my comfort zone but while nobody wants to lose their job, in my experience many men are not that happy in the workplace anyhow. Often the corporate ladder isn’t leaning against the right wall for them.”

Howard admits that while he does occasionally miss the banter with colleagues, what he does not miss is office politics. When the routine with Samuel is well established, he does plan to do some work on his laptop at home, but he has no intention of ever being tied to a desk again.

Howard says that he is the first in his circle of friends to become a stay-at-home dad.

“To be honest I feel hugely privileged to be able to do this for our child. I will be there for all the major milestones in his life. After 18 years in the workplace, it’s a great place to be. We very much hope to have more children in the future and the more long-term plan is to have a bigger house in the country some day.”

He feels that he will be providing his son with a good role model and that in the years to come, more and more couples will decide on a life like theirs where the woman is the main breadwinner. His message to other men is to embrace the opportunity to spend time with their children if it presents itself.

Howard and Mary Hughes’s story is a heartwarming one. Perhaps the key to their upbeat outlook is down to their only house rule. They never ever talk about recession; instead they talk about a new world of opportunity.

“I DON’T MIND admitting that it takes time to adjust to being a stay-at-home dad. It took me eight whole months to really come to terms with the whole idea and to get on top of the job,” says Colm Stafford from north Co Dublin who has been minding his three children for just over 15 months now.

When his wife Louise went back to work as a company director in the family firm, Colm left his job as a sales rep on the basis that he would be working just to pay a child minder. With the eldest Daire (seven) at school and Billy (four) at Montessori, Colm has Caylum (two) with him all the time.

The daily schedule is tight.

At 7am he makes the lunches and the breakfast and then gets the two youngest ready. At 8.30am he drops the eldest off to school. At 9.30 he delivers to the Montessori and then it’s back to the housework with his two-year-old. Later he cooks dinner for everyone.

“I come from a large family of brothers who would be traditional. It was a hard sell in the beginning when I told them I was giving up work to take care of the kids but now they are used to it . . . I do get lonely for other adult company during the day and I miss earning my own salary.

“On the plus side I have lost weight running around after the kids, I am less stressed . . . and there is no doubt that both Louise and the children are benefiting from me being at home. I think there is a temptation in the beginning to justify what you are doing to other people. You also tend to do too much and keep the house spick and span but after a while you relax . . . and start enjoying it.”

On Saturday he gets a day to himself when he indulges his passion for horse riding.

“All the old cliches are true. Being at home is very rewarding and of course exhausting too. But to me a big hug from my two-year-old is my preferred pay day anytime.”

“THE DECISION TO become a stay-at-home dad is ideally one that should be actively chosen and carefully considered,” says Brendan McKiernan, a family psychotherapist from Bray Co Wicklow.

“There is a growing awareness in society today that it is best for families if one parent can be at home to raise the children. While it is not traditionally a role occupied by men, there is no doubt that temperament rather than gender should be the deciding factor.

According to McKiernan if the role of stay-at-home dad is foisted on a man, this can make it more challenging for the whole family.

“In this situation it may take time for the man to settle into and come to terms with his new role within the family. The loss of identity that can come with the loss of a job outside the home can make it more difficult for a man to successfully adjust to being the parent in the home.”

Yummy Mummy vs Yummy Daddy

The so-called Yummy Mummy was a product of boom times. Her replacement in these lean times is an altogether different and more frugal animal. Spot the difference.

Mode of transport

Yummy Mummy – 4x4

Yummy Daddy – Walks everywhere

Consuming passions

Yummy Mummy – Shopping

Yummy Daddy – Organic farmers’ market

Appearance

Yummy Mummy – Sleek designer chic

Yummy Daddy – Baggy jeans or corduroys

Baby transport

Yummy Mummy – Three-wheel buggy

Yummy Daddy –Baby sling

Communication tool

Yummy Mummy – Prada mobile phone

Yummy Daddy – Battered BlackBerry

Favourite accessory

Yummy Mummy – Prada sunglasses

Yummy Daddy – Generic sunglasses

Food preferences

Yummy Mummy – Butler’s Pantry

Yummy Daddy –Scratch cooking

Green credentials

Yummy Mummy - Vast carbon footprint

Yummy Daddy - Carbon neutral

Dashboard tipple

Yummy Mummy – Skinny Latte

Yummy Daddy – Still water

Sounding board

Yummy Mummy – Charity coffee morning

Yummy Daddy – Stay-at-home-dad blog

Staff

Yummy Mummy – Au pair, cleaner and gardener

Yummy Daddy – None