Stay at home

Sitting in the bleachers of the Farmer Family gym, Terry Martin’s cheers and commentary carried a powerful personal touch most of the other parents could not replicate. This was not because Martin’s enthusiasm dominated the clamor, but rather because his commentary revealed that he knew many of the names and position of the boys on the grade 8 basketball team. Martin was one of few not dressed for work. 

Leaving his job as the vice president of marketing in an investment benefits firm when he moved to London has meant Martin now has a schedule where “you don’t have to change three other appointments, and change your schedule around to accommodate the kids and what they need,” he said.

But, this came at the price of working at home.

More than five years ago, Peter Bohn, a high school parent, worked in the largest plastic manufacturing company in the northeastern United States. Symbolic of a movement that is happening all throughout the western world, Bohn transitioned from a life of work to a life devoted to full-time parenting.

“I was working probably 50 hours a week,” in addition to an hour commute each way adding up to nearly 60 hours a week away from home Bohn explained.

While the hours Bohn was regularly putting in may have sounded strenuous, it’s not unusual for many working parents at ASL – Martin recalls working similar hours before he made the transition to staying at home.

While working, Bohn struggled to spend the same amount of time with his kids he is able to today. “It was hard, they were small then, so it wasn’t quite as bad, but it’s definitely hard when you are working because your energy goes into work and you don’t have a lot when you get home,” Bohn said.

As their spouses worked as well, both Bohn and Martin were reliant on nannies to help with their children before they left their jobs.

Today, Bohn’s schedule has taken on an entirely different sequence than it had before. Bohn starts every day by preparing his kids for school, unfailingly followed by a trip to the gym almost always before 9 a.m. The rest of the day, Bohn dedicates his time to varying interests – often London Baseball. Since Bohn left his job he has become one of the major players in managing the finances of London Sports, and has been working towards its unification with other leagues throughout the greater London area.

While Bohn’s schedule is far from leisurely, he still sometimes lacks a certain sense of satisfaction, in comparison to what he felt when he was in the workplace. “The culture of the workplace is more stimulating,” he said. “I do miss the culture of working and being in that environment.”

Martin expressed a similar sentiment, although he believes satisfaction is not acquired from either working or not working, but rather through finding purpose. “There’s just a million opportunities to find your niche, to dedicate your time to do different things, to find the satisfaction so that you are happy person,” Martin said.

While being at home may make it more difficult to find gratification, both Martin and Bohn are more than grateful for their role in the family. “Oh, it is great to be around the kids, to be the person that can make sure everything is going smoothly,” Bohn said. “It’s an opportunity to just be around the kids more when they are growing up, rather than having a nanny do it all the time.”

Bohn recalls the difficulties of having two working parents, and the stress it caused for his family. When “you’re both working it’s hard to take advantage of ASL, and hard to get into the community at ASL, unless you actually have one parent who can go to all of those events, all the college nights, all the coffees in the morning,” he said.

The transition from working to staying at home presented few challenges for either Bohn or Martin. The challenge becomes finding a new focus and finding a new purpose. Martin and Bohn both spend considerable amounts of time doing charity work, and will often volunteer at school when possible.

When Bohn was first becoming accustomed to the culture of being a stay-at-home father, his move to ASL presented some challenges. “When we were at English primary school it was great, there were maybe a couple of stay-at-home dads, but we were generally looked at like resource, like we could do things, we could help out a lot. But when we got to ASL things were a little bit different,” Bohn said. “I don’t think ASL really know how to use [dad’s] really well, probably because they don’t really need them.”

Bohn explained that there is a high intensity from some stay-at-home moms, which can make involvement difficult. “You are definitely on the outside, because there are so many stay-at-home moms. It’s their environment. It has gotten a bit better but you are an outsider if you are a stay-at-home dad.”

The struggle for stay-at-home dads to participate in the school community may be compounded by their “non-tradtitonal” position in the family. Martin sees that in some instances, society may look down upon the stay-at-home father. “I think there are some people that believe if you are not taking a traditional role then somehow you are less of a person in some way, or you are only successful if you are  [the] CEO of Texaco, or the president of a hedge fund,” he said. “I strongly believe that people find their own validation and their own success and have a different definition of what success is.”

Highlighting the stereotypes that often surrounded traditional roles in the family, Martin recalls one of the earlier confrontations he had about being a stay-at-home father.

When his daughter was in Grade 7, Martin volunteered to participate in a cultural cooking activity for his daughter’s Spanish class. The parents were sent the recipes days before the event and Martin was taking no chances. The night before Martin stayed up and ran a test trial of the recipe. Sure enough, the recipe was wrong, and required some adjustment. The next day in class, surrounded by mothers and their children, Martin and his daughter were the only pair to produce a successful dough. Competition was admittedly fierce, as Martin was soon confronted. “One of the moms comes over to me and a little miffed, a little annoyed, asked, ‘Did your wife make that batter for you?’”

The mother’s question was met with laughter from Martin and his daughter. His response, simple: “No, actually my daughter and I made it.”

Martin described that event as “like a little win for the dad who really does not know any better.”

Memories like those though are hardly the most vivid recollections Martin has of his experience as a stay-at-home father. It’s “the little victories” like his children getting a good score on a test, that Martin is grateful to have the chance to observe because of the position in his family. “It’s those moments with your kids that are the best, where you bond with them and you feel like you share a nice time and a nice moment.”

Today the number of stay-at-home fathers is on the rise. Bohn attributes this social phenomena entirely to the rise of gender equality. “I think it’s a natural progression of women in the workplace and gender equality that there will be more stay-at-home dads. I think they are not totally accepted and it’s still a bit unusual, but if there is going to be more gender equality then there is going to be more working moms,” Bohn said.

As a child, Bohn does not remember seeing his father very often. Running a family business meant he often worked very late hours. He believes firmly that 10-20 years ago it would have been nearly impossible to work at home like he does now. Today, Bohn is glad this is no longer the case. “[Kids] are only young once,” he said. “So, you really have to take advantage of it while you can.”