When I decided to stay at home with my daughter, I was excited. Excited that I would witness her first words, first steps and first foods. I was envied. Envied because several of my friends returned to work six to 12 weeks postpartum and wished they could spend extra time bonding with their babies. I was optimistic. Optimistic about being able to finish all the projects I started, like editing my manuscript and organizing my closet. I absolutely loved being a stay-at-home mom.
Then at six months in, I was lonely. Lonely because the majority of my friends and family members were at work, and I had very few people to talk to. I spent way too much time online or watching TV. I yearned for adult interaction at locations other than the baby gym. I felt like I was losing myself. In my mind, I was no longer a journalist, an activist or a consultant. I was just a mother.
As time ticked on, I realized being a mom was indeed the greatest job I ever had, and yes, it is a job. You just get paid in kisses instead of currency! Why should I erase my past? I was still the same person, perhaps even improved. When you add a new job to your rÃ©sumÃ©, you don’t delete your prior professional experiences. So, I made sure to meet my daughter’s needs but mine as well. I started a blog, founded a book club and volunteered my writing services. I defined who I was–not a job and not a paycheck. Some may say, that’s all well and good for a woman, but what happens when a man stays at home? Does his ego bounce back as quickly as mine? I caught up with Jeffrey Faulkerson, who has been on daytime dad duty for the past seven years.
Why did you decide to become a stay-at-home father?
JK: Prior to becoming a stay-at-home parent, I was well into my fourth year as Project Director of Youth Opportunities Upheld, Inc.’s Bruce Wells Scholars TRIO Upward Bound Program. This federally funded program prepares low-income, first-generation and disabled high school students for success at two and four-year colleges/universities. I was also in my second term as President of the Massachusetts Educational Opportunity Association (MEOA), which advocates for educational access and opportunity for disadvantaged students. My decision to become a stay-at-home father was made after my wife accepted a promotion in August 2005 that required us to move from Massachusetts to North Carolina.
Do you feel pressure from society to go to work and become your family’s main financial provider?
Not really. My wife has been the primary breadwinner throughout our 19 years of marriage, earning a six figure salary. I have earned some moderately high salaries as well, but nowhere close to the amount she brings home. While the decision to stay at home was somewhat bittersweet, resulting from the satisfaction I received from my educational advocacy work, I jumped at the chance to be home with my son. Because both my wife and I had been raised in single-parent households, we wanted to ensure our son had the foundation he needed to excel in school.
That first year was hard. We were still getting accustomed to our new life in North Carolina. I often stacked my life up against that being led by my male friends. They are the sole financial providers for their households. I was also worried about not being able to build up my retirement savings. But I pushed these comparisons and worries aside after realizing how much God had been blessing my family in the now. We have had modest-sized homes and nice automobiles, and our bills are paid on time each month. And even after all that, we’re still able to save for the future. Granted, we could have saved a lot more if I had been working. But then we would grow to regret this decision because our son would have been influenced more by daycare providers and teachers than by us.
Do you worry about not contributing to your family’s finances?
No. But that’s because I have grown accustomed to supporting my wife’s career advancement and my son’s development. It warms my heart knowing this support has allowed my wife to secure a higher-paying job with the same company (we now reside in Southern California,) and my son to assert himself as one of the smartest students in his second-grade class.
When my son entered school as a toddler back in 2007, this support remained constant. But I also thought it was time for me to make a more fervent pursuit of my personal goals. I started a home-based writing, editing and consulting business. And because being a new parent made me a subject matter expert, I decided to become certified as a parent educator (through Active Parenting Publishers, Inc.) and facilitate community-based workshops/seminars. My parent education work actually generated more income than my writing and editing services.
I also wrote, illustrated and published the first four offerings in the IT’S GOOD TO BE GOLDEN Children’s Book Series, as well as a book of essays. In 2010, I placed my independent consultancy on the backburner to become the Alexander Family YMCA’s Community Outreach Youth Director. It felt good to earn a steady paycheck after not doing so for five long years.
I would have gone stir crazy if I didn’t create this outlet for myself. I’m a Master’s level social worker (concentration in Management and Community Practice), so I have this need to be around other people, and add value to the community at large. During this time, I was dropping my son off at school and picking him up at the end of the day. I had plenty of time to work on personal book projects and schedule parenting workshops/seminars. When I picked my son up from school, I felt satisfied because I had done what I wanted to do. Now, I could devote my full attention to helping my son with his homework. I could also spend some quality time with my wife after putting him to bed.
Do you feel judged by working dads? Is there a stigma attached to a man staying-at-home? Do you think your role takes away from your manhood?
Most of the working dads I speak with say I have it “made in the shade.” And I do, to a certain extent. I still have to do the things that my wife is unable to do because she’s always working and traveling. The life of a domestic wasn’t something I prayed or asked for. But I keep the house clean, helped my son with his homework, and cooked dinner. I’m also THE MAN. So, I’m washing the cars, mowing the grass, trimming the hedges, and making household repairs.
There is a stigma attached to men staying home and not working. Men who occupy this role are often seen as weak and docile. But as someone who didn’t receive a lot from his biological father, I know it is my obligation to be present in my son’s life. I have been, and will always be, his first teacher. That, to me, is a position of power and influence.
We Americans have a hard time explaining what responsible manhood looks like. I know men who work 9-5 schedules, giving their full attention to their employees and/or colleagues, but have nothing to offer their children when they get home from work. I can relate to how they’re feeling after dealing with all of those adult personalities and egos, but responsible men maximize the minimal amount of time they spend with their children. Our children could care less about what we do on the job. All they want from us is our time, attention and support.
My stay-at-home father status doesn’t take away from my manhood. If anything, it makes me a more significant brother. While it is true that people in the world place a lot of stock in what a person has accomplished during his/her lifetime, I will be able to watch (with a sense of pride) my son accept his high school diploma. I will know that I played a major role in his becoming a responsible, and competent adult. And I accomplished this feat in spite of my own father’s lack of guidance, support, and influence in my life.
Are you offended when people consider fathers as babysitters?
Yes, because we’re not. We’re parents who care deeply about how our children turn out. The only thing we can’t do for our children is breastfeed.
How do you avoid loneliness as a stay-at-home dad? Have you joined stay-at-home dad support groups/online circles?
When we lived in North Carolina, I co-led our Warriors Rites of Passage Program. This program was comprised of African-American boys between the ages of 10-14 and was operated by the men of the church. I also actively participated in my church’s Iron Man bible study ministry. We met every other week, having candid conversations about God’s word and responsible manhood. The relationships that I established with the men affiliated with these ministries helped me keep moving forward and upward.
If you were presented the opportunity, would you return to work?
Yes. I’m seeking full-time employment now. When we moved to California in August 2011, I decided that I would wait six to 12 months before searching for a job. We have been living in California 10 months, so the time to start looking is now.
Because I live so close to Hollywood, California, I’m also registered as a background actor with Central Casting. I have completed two paid jobs to date, appearing in an episode of “CSI: Miami” (“At Risk”) and the soon-to-be-televised pilot episode of “Devious Maids”. When I do these jobs, my wife and I have to coordinate our schedules. Most shoots are 8-12 hours long. My wife usually drops our son off at school, and picks him up, when I’m on set.
What have you learned from staying at home? Found any hidden talents? Have you become more domestic?
I have learned that stay-at-home parents have to take care of themselves. Most of the stay-at-home parents that I know fail to eat right and work out. But I have made a point to put in at least three 30-minute workouts per week. During these workouts, I either run on the treadmill or road and lift weights. My wife and I have also invested in Sean T’s “Insanity” Workout DVDs. I keep telling myself that I have no excuse for being overweight. I haven’t discovered any new talents. The talents that I do possess have always been there.
I have become more domestic. But if you ask my wife, she will tell you that I continue to be a work in progress. Sometimes, I get so engrossed with my writing projects that I neglect my household responsibilities.
Have you met many African-American stay-at-home fathers? Do you think there is a certain view towards stay-at-home dads in the Black community?
Within two months of joining the Los Angeles-based Organization of Black Screenwriters, I met a brother from Chicago whose life resembles my own. His wife is also an executive with a major company, and he is a writer like me. We have been getting together for lunch at least two times a month to talk about screenwriting and filmmaking, and we lift each other up as African-American stay-at-home fathers.
If there is a view, I would think it would be positive. With so many African-American men checking out on their children and their children’s mothers, I feel we African-American stay-at-home fathers are the exception rather than the rule. In short, we are a novelty that is in short demand. This shortage results from too many African-American boys growing up in homes without responsible male leadership. They have no men to hold them accountable for their responsible and irresponsible thoughts, feelings and actions.
What would you say to other men who are thinking about staying at home with their children?
Make sure it’s something you want to do. While it’s true parents have a genuine concern for the well-being of their children, this concern can, at times, be subservient to a man’s desire to provide for his family. Most men find meaning in what they receive from employment, not who they serve through investments of time, talent and treasure. Therefore, other men need to weigh the pros and cons of becoming stay-at-home parents.
Men have this need to be significant. That’s why they place so much stock in their careers. But when they choose to become stay-at-home parents, they must flip the script on this notion. They must now be committed to working with their wives (or baby’s mothers) to help their children establish their own platforms for success. To me, that’s the only way African-American families can build upon the gains of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.
Jeffery A. Faulkerson is a freelance write and motivational speaker in Rancho Cucamonga, California. You can follow his musings at www.jefferyafaulkerson.com Offered services include copyediting, proposal writing, screenwriting and publishing. Right now, Faulkerson is working on a new book that is tentatively titled SIGNIFICANT BROTHERS: Real Men Being Exceptional Fathers.