For the first year of my (now three-year-old) daughter's life, I was the stay-at-home parent; I preferred to refer to myself as a full-time father. My wife and I recently pulled my daughter from day care and I reclaimed that title, and we're preparing for baby #2, so it's a good time to reflect on how it all happened.
In August 2010 the United States Census Bureau estimated that 626,000 men were serving as a household's primary caretaker, roughly eight times more than just 10 years prior. This includes those who left the workforce completely, as well as those who reduced their professional load to part-time or freelance status. More and more moms were going back to work, and dad was getting the call rather than a nanny.
The impetus in my case was similar to many others: my job disappeared during the recession. Men were two and a half times more likely than women to become unemployed at that time. This was partly due to a greater percentage of women traditionally entering into what we now refer to as recession-proof jobs (e.g. mental health professional, nursing, skin care professional). My wife's job as a psychologist specializing in children with developmental disabilities wasn't going anywhere; my career as a professional video game strategist specializing in emerging media was laughably disposable.
What I and hundreds of thousands of other dads have found is that full-time, hands on fatherhood provides a deep-rooted sense of accomplishment and pride. Communicating with an infant, providing sustenance (even via a bottle), knowing what comforts her; this personal nurturing provides a level of gratification which is otherwise unknowable. Earning money to simply facilitate this nurturing now seems like parenthood by proxy in comparison. Now that my daughter is old enough to express complete thoughts, I shudder to think what I would have missed out on had our relationship not been so richly developed early on.
Cool Is Overrated
I don't know how cool it is to be a full-time father. The image of James Dean with a cigarette hanging from his lip isn't in danger of being replaced by a man with a toddler strapped to his chest and a diaper bag slung around his shoulder. That being said, I genuinely don't care; angst-filled sneers and causeless rebellion can have all the cool. I'll take the satisfaction and contentment that comes with providing something for my children infinitely more valuable than a paycheck.