More fathers choosing to stay home with kids after job losses
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT) - Instead of sitting in traffic for a long drive to his office in Concord, Calif., on a recent Monday, Chuck Hammond sat at his kitchen table in Roseville, Calif., cutting the rind off little pieces of orange and feeding them to his 1-year-old daughter, Reagan.
Hammond lost his project-management job in the technology industry when job growth changed to job shrinkage around the turn of 2007-08.
"I've read somewhere that moving, buying a home, having a baby and getting laid off are in the top-five list of stresses for a marriage," Hammond said. He survived all four in three months -- plus a stint living with his parents. He lost his job, but gained a daughter: Reagan, born in March 2008.
Reagan's bib says "KISS me I rock." The "KISS" looks like the rock band's logo, and the bib also shows a hand making the two-finger gesture popularized in hard rock.
The stay-at-home dad picks the outfits around here, except when Reagan visits Mom's office. They don't want tongues wagging about Dad's odd clothing choices.
IT MADE FINANCIAL SENSE
Debi Hammond, the breadwinner for the family, runs Merlot Marketing in Natomas, Calif. As such, she works 12-hour days. Instead of finding new work outside the home when he was laid off, Chuck Hammond offered to stay home with the soon-to-be-born baby.
"I brought up the idea," he said. "She had to think about it." When they did the numbers, though, it penciled out.
"We were going to get nannies. We had an au pair lined up," Hammond said. They canceled those and more. "I'm the landscaper guy; I'm the pool guy."
And he does the shopping, makes the meals and even packs his wife's lunch. The savings are great, though not quite equal to what he was making.
Debi Hammond's business is also affected by the economy, but Chuck Hammond said, "It's really pretty doable."
Chris Piper, of Sacramento's Tahoe Park neighborhood, was working when he started staying home with his kids but had been laid off before and knew that his high-tech career could be rocky.
"It's kind of an unstable industry," he said. His wife's teaching job was more stable and had good benefits.
Aaron Williams, who also lives in Sacramento, began taking care of his daughter after the start-up that employed him folded.
"The job that I had, we just lost the funding for it," he said. "My wife makes more money than I did, so it made sense."
A GROWING TREND, BUT STILL ...
It makes sense for more and more families, said Scott Coltrane, a University of Oregon sociologist who studies the role of fathers. In the months since Hammond lost his job, the work force trend toward 50-50 parity between males and females has accelerated, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Experts interpret that as indicating that more men have been laid off than women, freeing them for greater parenting duties.
Even before the recession, fathers were taking a larger role in family responsibilities as dual-income families became more the norm, Coltrane said.
"We have much more tag-team parenting," he said.
And more stay-at-home fathers. The number jumped by almost 50 percent from 2003 to 2006, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. Even so, there were still more than 30 stay-at-home mothers for every father after that growth.
That leaves men like Hammond feeling a bit isolated because women simply don't invite him into the groups they have established. Debi Hammond goes to the store with Reagan and comes home with telephone numbers from women who want to start a play group.
Chuck Hammond goes to the same store with Reagan and comes back with ... nothing.
"You'd think women with children would be coming up asking me questions," he said. "I'm the leper. You don't get invited to that women's network."
Women make assumptions about guys with kids. At Funderland Amusement Park with his daughter, Piper spoke to a mother. "She's like, "Oh, you must be giving your wife a break today,'" he reported.
WHAT'S A DAD TO DO?
Such isolation led Hammond to start a blog for stay-at-home dads -- www.dudesondiapers.com. He and a childhood friend who lives in Colorado blog about the fatherly side of staying home with baby.
"We try to put it in the way guys can relate," he said. He's hoping it may lead to some more stay-at-home dad networking.
Williams is looking to network, too.
"I'd like it if when I go to the gym there'd be some other guy," he said. He drops his 2-year-old off at the Natomas, Calif., Racquet Club's child-care center for socialization and a chance at some exercise. When he does, though, he sees only moms leaving their kids.
Forget the chat. Williams is looking for a different sort of stay-at-home-dad networking.
"If any guys out there want to play tennis ..." he said, letting the sentence trail off.
© 2009, The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.).
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