Big Kid

Being There: Four Men Embrace Fatherhood

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dad and kidsJohn Hutchinson was born in 1959 with severe digestive problems, and he wasn’t expected to live long. His mother took him home and hoped for the best. After several exhausting days of caring for John and his siblings, she asked her husband to step in and went to bed. When his attempt to make formula ended in the mess exploding all over the kitchen, John’s dad ran a garden hose through the window and sprayed out the room. “That was his idea of helping,” says John. “With a sick newborn and two little kids in the house—to hose down the entire kitchen. So for me to be a household guy . . . we’ve come a long way.”

More men like John spend many hours per week juggling jobs and childcare with their partners, or staying at home full-time. Their parenting roles are based less on gender than family economics and personality types. Dismissive about any stigma surrounding “women’s work,” they’re defining fatherhood and masculinity not in terms of money and career, but what’s best for their families.

Before having children, Hutchinson assumed “I’d be the breadwinner and my wife would take care of the kids.”

But he left a career in concert promotion when his wife Kim found her “dream job” in Portland, Oregon. John says, “I wanted to be supportive of that … I do have some moments of self-doubt that I’m not the sole provider.”

Now they share childcare, so that someone is always home with Jolan and Luke, 5 and 10.

dad and kidsKent Sugnet is at ease with his role of househusband.

“My wife is an entrepreneur and her temperament is suited to being out in the business world. I’m more of a homebody and it suits me better to stay home with the kids, Jem and Jule. I also like to cook. We’re a good team because we balance each other out in our family roles.

Sugnet says, “Just being involved with kids is less manly, because you have to be more sensitive and playful. But I think we have evolved to the point where such role changes are possible. Women don’t grow up now only expecting to be wives and mommies. If you’re a man and you like smart strong women, you assume they’ll have some sort of career. You expect that as a dad you’ll have to help with the kids and the housework because that’s just the way it is.”

dad and kidsFull-time dad Layton Dezell isn’t concerned about how others may view him, but he admits he’s had awkward moments.

“Sometimes it seems like moms don’t know how they should relate to me or what they can talk about when I’m around,” says Dezell. “Elderly people especially don’t understand that a man can do this work. I worked in commercial fishing for years. I can be rough and tumble but you should be comfortable with your emotional side, confident in what you believe. Homemaking isn’t demeaning, and there isn’t just one way of living.”

When Zira, 2 , was born, it “was easy to decide” who would be her primary caregiver.

“We talked about the most willing person to stay home, considered the cash flow and physical toll from both our jobs.” Layton and his wife Sarah are expecting a second child, and he’s eager to be an at-home dad of two.

Balancing personal and family needs is as challenging for these fathers as it often is for mothers.

“Weekends have to be both family and alone time and it’s hard to fit it all in,” Layton says. “I feel guilty if I cater to myself, that I should be doing something for the home.”

“Personal time?” says Hutchinson. “We don’t get it. We know our commitment to not having daycare is probably better for our boys than it is for our marriage. I’m certain that I’m only going to be married once and I’m going to be there for my kids. I knew that by the time Luke was five years old that I had spent more time with him than my dad had my entire life.”

It’s important to Sugnet that Jule and Jem, 6 and 7, know that he’s there for them, even if it means deferring personal needs: “I want to be around the kids as much as possible while they’re still so young and precious, so there are things I’m willing to give up.”

dad and kidsDavid Levy, underground hip-hop musician and at-home father to 4-year-old Brenna, makes her needs his highest priority: “Your kids are as involved in the world as you are with them. Hip-hop is really an egocentric project. I did that, so it’s easier to be a stay-at-home dad now. I have immense patience for small children and dogs. As an MC, I repeat the same message over and over.”

Balancing personal and family time is “a plan in motion, constantly evolving. Like anything that matters, you keep working at it.”

While these men may not have chosen the traditional paths their fathers did—academia, law, business—they are creating environments for their children that are rooted in stability, structure, and respect.

Layton says, “It seems like it’s harder for people to be in respectful disagreement, to know social parameters. I think kids like clarity and structure.  I want Zira to be able to count on order and accountability; that we have a sense of her future and preparing for it.”

Comfortable with their choices, these fathers want their children to be true to themselves and happy with who they are. They don’t care if their kids remember them by title or career—just that they were there.

Stacy Larsen is a freelance writer and editor.