Fathers often get pigeonholed into two categories. I hear/read complaints about men who spend no time in the home, need to "blow off steam" after work and spend weekend after weekend partying. I also find that fathers who do not fit this bill, who are out pushing babies in strollers or playing at the park, are seen as "forced" to do this. There is a vast middle ground, often overlooked. Not all husbands who choose to stay home with their family in their free time are under the thumb of a controlling wife, or "helping" a Mom who just needs a break. There are many fathers, who play a critical role in their children's lives - who are as much a parent as the Mom, or primary caregiver (please allow for alternate family scenarios here - two mommies, two daddies, one daddy, grandparents, etc).
Spurred by the recent article about how men need two nights out a week with their male friends to be healthy and happy, I (admittedly ironically) need to stand up for my husband and husbands just like him. Perhaps this article is true for single men, but even for single men - I believe the benefits of joining other men in community service, such as building houses with Habitat for Humanity or working at a food bank or homeless shelter would be more fulfilling and lead to a "richer" life as the article puts it. You can read the article here: http://life.nationalpost.com/2013/10/22/men-need-to-meet-up-with-friends-for-a-brew-or-a-brawl-to-stay-healthy-u-k-study/
When our first child was born, my husband didn't freak out, but he also didn't get it. Yes, he finally understood I was growing a person - someone who needed me to stop smoking, eat properly and take care of myself. It wasn't just the annoyance of my incredibly sore back, my inability to party like we used to, he was here - a human child who needed love. My husband took two weeks off of work, 11 days of which were spent in the NICU, and afterwards was back at life. We were happy, but he still longed for what life was like pre-children.
We bought a house, a minivan, welcomed 3 foster children into our home, and went from two single carefree people - to two parents of four with a mortgage and heaps of responsibility - all within two years. We had parties from time to time, with friends from high school, and they were great. They were so great. Costumes, food, games, sometimes belt lashings (long story), and we felt young and "free" again.
When our second child was born, my husband decided to take some of his parental leave. Our foster children were (are) very high needs and it would have been very difficult to manage a newborn and their behaviour. I believe this is where the shift happened for him. What he thought would be three months of leisure, family time, visiting friends out of town, a few rounds of golf, etc. turned out to be incredibly hard work. I had a c-section with my second child, had some complications afterward, and was off my feet for a while.
He got it.
At first, all he got was how hard it is to run a well functioning house. A house where the floors are swept, dishes are done, meals are made from scratch, and kids are happy (and usually dirty - the dirtiest things in the house!) The first few weeks, he didn't understand how the house could continually transition from disaster to normal over and over again throughout the course of one day. How laundry that was clean and put away went to unmanageable in a week. How three bunches of bananas disappear in fifteen minutes. While I appreciated him seeing firsthand how difficult staying at home can be, I truly cherish what he learned in his heart.
Family is where it's at.
After his 3 months were up, he was heartbroken. Couldn't believe he had to leave his family and return to something he now felt was so meaningless and empty. He loved (and still loves) his job. He feels he's good at it, it challenges him and he loves his co-workers. It just didn't compare. The last week or so of his leave, he spent a great amount of time and effort trying to find ways to make money while staying home. He felt sick to his stomach each time he remembered his time at home was running out.
He didn't take any trips out of town to see his old buddies. He played one round of golf. He didn't have a single night out at a bar, or a pool hall, or to the movies. He fulfilled none of the things he thought he would in his 3 months, but didn't have a single regret. He did take long walks in the middle of the night, with our fussy newborn in a sling, to help settle him. He did do 90% of the dishes to help ease my burden of cooking for so many people. He did spend special "boys nights" with his sons - watching movies like Star Wars and bonding over sword fights and popcorn. He spent almost every moment with his family, and still wanted more.
We have had two more children since the birth of our second son, and his parental leave has grown longer with each child. He took 8 months for the birth of our daughter, and 9 months for the birth of our last son. Each time he had to return to work it was the same scene. Tears and gut wrench at the thought of leaving his family.
I understand there are more Fathers who can't take leave than can. Their spouse works as well and only one can take leave, he's a single Dad, he can't afford living on less, etc. The point of this is not to say that Fathers should take parental leave, or have to spend all their free time outside of work with their family. The point is, when you love someone - absolutely love them - you want to spend time with them.
Spending time doesn't mean walking in the door and opening your laptop. It doesn't mean reading the paper in the morning (if you're lucky enough to see your kids in the morning). It doesn't mean watching sports and using your children as beer fetchers. You're not clocking hours. You're building relationship. My husband had a head start, he had (has) a Father who walked in the door from work and laid on the floor. Literally. He laid on the floor and his kids would jump on him, play with/around him, and inadvertently massage him until dinner. My hubby does the same; except the kids know they're helping his back when he gets them to walk up it and jump off his shoulders.
I am a strong woman. I have a tendency to be a leader. I, very intentionally, insist on my husband taking the reigns in our family. We make decisions together, he delegates many things to me, but he is the head of the household. Because he stays at home in his free time, brings children to the grocery store or library, or helps on laundry day has nothing to do with my personality, my "controlling" him or his position in the household. He does these things because he loves us, with a fierce intensity, that I am thankful for absolutely every day. What does he have to show for it? A wife that would lay down her life for him, who can't wait to rip his clothes off when the kids are in bed (watching your hubby do dishes can do that to a Mommy), and who picks up his socks from the TOP of the laundry hamper and puts them in with 99% no complaining. He has children who love and adore him, who beg for the next "boys night" and are excited when he's home from work. Most importantly, he has a family he his HAPPY to come home to, and a truly rich life.
This post has been husband approved