Malcolm Martin thinks his 10-year-old daughter, Lillian, is pretty interesting to talk to. A typical conversation when he was home caring for her and 6-year-old Jasper revolved around why Hong Kong had been a colony of Great Britain. So much for Katy Perry and American Girl dolls.
Martin was at home with the kids for about five years. His job in the maritime industry wasn’t panning out, and his wife, Celeste, worked full time in a stock footage and film company.
“We were both working full time, and it didn’t make a lot of sense,” Martin says. “It wasn’t so much economics but a feeling of being disconnected from our children’s lives.”
And they were always scrambling. “My work tended not to fit very well with school schedules, and somebody had to be home to pick up the kids,” he says. “The logistics were not good unless you hire a full-time nanny, and that was a surrogate-parent arrangement that never appealed to us. It was a good time for me to pull back and become a full-time parent.”
And it was good work if you could get it. “I like my kids,” Martin says, “and I like being a parent. I like my wife and family, and those are things I chose, not unhappily. There are many challenges, but it’s something I want to be part of.”
Martin, who is a boat captain, was often away from home for long periods when he was cruising on yachts. Captaining excursion boats on the Hudson, as he does now, is a better fit for the family life he wants to lead. A lot of little things add up to what kids do during the day, he says, and when he was not around he missed out.
And you don’t see too many men doing what he was doing. “Hanging out in the playground, everybody was a female, a nanny, or a mother,” he says, “but it wasn’t a problem. Not too many people do any of the things I do. Our community has so many different kinds of parents—a couple of men raising boys—there’s an acceptance of different strategies.”
Cleaning was never a strong point: “The house was kind of a mess, but that was not a problem for me,” he says. “Kids are messy, and you have to accept a lower standard.”
Basically, Martin takes the duties of a stay-at-home dad in stride. Laundry, for example. “It’s not fun, but it’s not rocket science either,” he says.
Being a boat captain, he had no problem preparing meals: “I can hold my own in the kitchen,” he says, “and I still do it.” In fact, being a parent is a lot like working on boats. “There’s no alternative but to take care of business,” he says. “You have no choice but to deal with things kids need if you want to call yourself a parent. If a kid is sick, you have to change the plan.”
Now that Malcolm is working again, Celeste is home with the kids.
Glen Greenlow is also back at work after spending a few years at home with his kids. An airline pilot, he was furloughed after Sept. 11, 2001. Conversely, his wife had been presented with a great opportunity at her job in the garment industry, so he stayed at home for three years with their son, who was 1 at the time.
At the start of the recession in 2008, he was laid off again. By that time, he was staying home with three kids—a 10-year-old and 7-year-old twins.
“When I first took on that role, people called me ‘Mr. Mom,’” he says. “It was hard to get used to, but in the long run, I realized it was important to the family and the children. However you labeled it, it was the best thing I could do.”
Glen and his wife, Kathleen, did not want to cede the parenting role to an outsider. “It’s important for one parent to be home,” Greenlow says. “It’s not fair to dump kids into child care. There’s no substitute for your parents.”
Greenlow didn’t have much trouble with the skill set for full-time parenting, except for one area—fixing his little girl’s hair. “I still can’t do my daughter’s hair correctly,” he admits. “I tried anything and everything and just couldn’t figure it out. I couldn’t get the barrette in the proper way.”
When he was flying, Greenlow says, “I missed out over the years on holidays, birthdays, school plays, baseball games. When I was home, I coached Little League, I was at every performance, every school activity. Now that I am flying again, I am missing out on things.”
Greenlow prefers the term “stay-at-home parent” to “stay-at-home dad.” He says, “Being home with the children is the most important thing for a man or woman—whatever.”
The Greenlows are now trying to “position ourselves so that she can stay home. My wife has always wanted to stay home with the kids. Now that they’re older, it’s more important to have somebody staying home with them. There are more activities and social situations.”
Paul Fizgerald is currently a stay-at-home dad. When his son, Parker, now 2 ½, was born he and his wife, Cyndi, were both working full time, so they put Parker in daycare when he was only six weeks old. While Cyndi was doing well at her job as an IT manager at Thompson Reuters, Fitzgerald was working long hours and losing money in retail sales as the economy spiraled downward.
Fitzgerald recalls: “After a while, Cyndi said, why don’t you stay home and watch Parker? There was no reason to continue working if I was losing money.”
Fitzgerald took this opportunity to launch a business, Urban Consign & Design.
Cyndi often feels as if she is missing out on things, but, says Fitzgerald, “Thank God for iPhones and a thousand photographs.” The Fitzgeralds also have a one-year-old girl, Riley.
Though Fitzgerald says he would love to meet other stay-at-home dads, he doesn’t have time. “But I don’t feel isolated or lonely,” he says. “These are the best years of my life. When I was dropping off Parker, I felt awful. The first two years of our son’s life were awesome. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
Fitzgerald calls himself a “pretty good stay-at-home dad. I grew up in an Irish family with tons of nieces and nephews. I’m used to bumps and bruises, but when they get sick for the first time, it takes you back.”
When he went to a Hoboken mommies meet-up group, he says, “I was the only guy there, but I have to learn these things, too.”—Kate Rounds