For Howard Ludwig, the decision to stay at home with his newborn
son while his wife worked was a no-brainer.
"We started talking about these issues even before we were
married," says Ludwig of Chicago's Morgan Park. "And when we got
pregnant, we looked at how much child care would cost. When you
subtracted it out of my salary as a journalist versus my wife with
her master's degree, it became clear. My wife had a higher earning
potential. We were lucky enough to be able to tighten our belts and
go without my salary."
That was almost three years ago. Now, Ludwig, the father of two
toddler-aged boys, cherishes his role as a stay-at-home dad.
"I think I've gained a lot by staying at home," Ludwig says. "I
see a lot of things that I would otherwise not be exposed to if I
was at work."
Twenty-five years ago an image of the typical stay-at-home dad
might conjure up the memories of Michael Keaton in an apron
wreaking havoc in the kitchen. Fast forward to today, however, and
the picture of a stay-at-home dad is much more serene.
Stay-at-home dads are becoming more and more of the norm. The
U.S. Census bureau estimates there were 140,000 stay-at-home dads
in 2008, the latest numbers available.
While the statistics are still fuzzy, 25 percent of children
aged 0-4 were estimated to be in their father's care while their
mother was at work, the Census reports.
Some dads are pulled into the domestic sphere by choice, others
Sam Shepard, father of Lucy, 2, found himself in the fortunate
position of having options. He and his wife lived in Chicago's
Mayfair neighborhood before relocating to Southern California for
"We were able to make our parenting choices based on what type
of care we wanted for our daughter," Shepard says. "We are acutely
aware many other parents don't have the same luxury."
Jason Avant, founder of the popular dad Web site, Dad Centric
found himself on the other side of the equation when his job as a
consultant for a defense company was cut. "My wife's job has been
very successful so we decided I'd be the primary caretaker for our
kids." Avant says. "But losing my job actually opened up
opportunities for me to pursue my other interests."
Although Avant's main job is to "make sure the house is clean,
the kids are fed and there are groceries in the refrigerator," he's
now able to spend more time cultivating his blog and other writing
"I'm trying to put a unique stamp on fatherhood with the site,"
Avant says. "And, I'm trying to move away from those typical
negative stereotypes of fatherhood."
Finding outlets to express the joys and frustrations of
parenthood are crucial to maintaining the sanity of not just
fathers, but any at-home parent.
For example, Ludwig, a former business writer, writes a weekly
online column for the Southtown Star.
"I know what I deal with every day and now I can put it into
words," Ludwig says. "Plus, it's something that keeps my feet in
the door in the industry."
Luckily, there are many resources for stay-at-home dads to
connect with each other in the Chicago area. On the Web site
Meetup.com, a search for "stay at home dads" returns more than 30
different groups. The online forums at www.chicagodads.com abound
with discussions about parenting, relationships with wives,
professional advice and pregnancy and dads-only play groups.
But in general, common misperceptions still abound about
"I've been out with my kids on a weekday afternoon and I've had
people come up to me and say things like, 'well, I guess it's mom's
day off, eh?'" Ludwig says. "Sometimes it's just not worth it to
Avant echoes Ludwig's sentiments.
"While it's not that uncommon to see dads out in the middle of
the day in San Diego, there is still the notion that my parenting
skills aren't as good as a woman's," he says. "If my daughter is
crying, I'll get all kinds of moms coming up to me with
Not to mention the sacrifices that dads make, just like their
mom counterparts. While the choices women make about work and
family are often played up in the media as the "Mommy Wars," dads
have to give up a lot too.
Shepard and his family are now moving back to the Chicago area
after his wife was relocated again for work.
"In sunny California, getting outside to the parks all year
round made it simple to find good activities for us," Shepard says.
"Now, by moving back to Chicago we'll have to start over a bit to
find some parks, programs and new friends that (Lucy will)
But even if Chicago's winters are long and gray, there are many
sunny prospects to being a stay-at-home dad in Chicago and
"At least in Chicago we'll be a lot closer to the grandparents,"
Shepard says. "I didn't realize it until I had my own child how
important having family around can be."
Dad facts by the numbers
36 percent Percentage of children under 6 in 2006 (the
most recent data available) who had 15 or more outings with their
fathers in a month.
64.3 million Estimated number of fathers in the U.S.
25 percent Percentage of the nation's 11.3 million preschoolers
who are regularly cared for by their fathers during their mother's
1966 Year President Lyndon Johnson issued a presidential
proclamation honoring fathers and designated the third Sunday in
June as Father's Day.
$3.3 billion Amount of child support custodial fathers were owed
in 2005 (most recent data available.) This compares to the $34.7
billion in support owed moms.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
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