Categories: Feature Story
      Date: May 29, 2008
     Title: At Home With Dad

Stay-at-home fathers show one way to get more involved with children

By Josh Blair

For the four Glowaki kids, their daily routine is much like that of other children: wake up, eat breakfast, get ready, go to school, come home, do homework, play, eat dinner and go to bed. But one aspect of their routine differs from that of their peers: Every day, the four kids—Errol, 12, Tyler, 9, Grace, 7, and Essex, 5—come home to Dad. Their father, Rick, a 42-year-old Syracuse resident, handles all of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, homework help and other chores associated with staying home all day.



dadathome
Michael Davis Photo

For the four Glowaki kids, their daily routine is much like that of other children: wake up, eat breakfast, get ready, go to school, come home, do homework, play, eat dinner and go to bed. But one aspect of their routine differs from that of their peers: Every day, the four kids—Errol, 12, Tyler, 9, Grace, 7, and Essex, 5—come home to Dad. Their father, Rick, a 42-year-old Syracuse resident, handles all of the cooking, cleaning, laundry, homework help and other chores associated with staying home all day.

Before any of you stay-at-home mothers scoff, keep this in mind: Rick’s wife, Kara, is a trauma surgeon at University Hospital. In a normal workweek, Kara is at the hospital 100 hours. If she is on call on a Monday night, she might leave at 6 a.m. Monday and not come home until Tuesday evening. Ideally, when she is not on call, Kara makes it home by 6:30, but if she has five operations lined up, she won’t arrive until all the kids are fast asleep. Whether you’re a mother or a father, staying at home under those circumstances can be stressful.

Fortunately, Glowaki has a firm grasp on the situation: He’s been a stay-at-home dad for 12 years. And at first, when their oldest son was a newborn, Kara was a resident and things were much more hectic because she worked 120 hours a week. On top of that, Rick says, “I had never changed a diaper in my life and I didn’t have her to rely on.”

Kara admits that the time she left him alone with their child, she was “a bit nervous, and I felt for him.” But luckily “he’s naturally good with children,” she says. “He has an amazing relationship with our children. I never, ever have to worry about the kids.”

Now, Glowaki is a veteran stay-at-home father. But that doesn’t prevent him from getting ribbed by other men. “They say they wish they could stay at home full time,” he says. “They think you sit there and watch sports all day.”

Some men will ask Glowaki what he does all day. For him, it’s more like “What don’t you do?” he says. With four kids in four different grades, there’s a mountain of homework every night, in addition to the daily chores.

One of the biggest struggles Glowaki faces is finding other men to hang out with during the day. “There’s mostly just women staying home with their kids; it’s rare to find men staying home,” he says.

Despite not having any male counterparts, Glowaki appreciates understanding a woman’s perspective. He used to take Errol to a playgroup and met a huge network of moms with kids his age. However, when Kara comes home and asks Rick what he did all day, and finds out he spent his time with a bunch of women, “I don’t always love that,” she admits with a laugh. Yet when Rick points out that most surgeons are male, so Kara is around men all day, she responds, “Touché.”

Things are easier now for stay-at-home dads, Glowaki says, because there are more of them and because there are more places to take their kids, such as the YMCA. On days when Essex isn’t in preschool, Rick can drop him off at the Y’s in-house daycare center and work out for an hour or so.

Like Glowaki, John Hickman is also a stay-at-home father, yet he faces different challenges. Hickman, a 41-year-old divorced, disabled veteran from Mattydale, finds it difficult to be taken seriously as a parent, especially when dealing with school officials. “I’ve found that being the primary caregiver and a stay-at-home parent, when getting involved with things at school, teachers and educators are shocked because the father is the caregiver,” he says.

For the past 2 ½ years, Hickman’s two boys have lived mostly with him, he says, but he still feels as though he has to prove himself to their teachers every school year. “What I’ve run into is that at first, they tend to blow you off,” he says. “It seems like as a father, you have to reassert yourself.”

Hickman says most school officials only turn to the father when there is a disciplinary problem with a child. “We shouldn’t just be called if a kid gets into a fight,” he says, “they should be OK with calling if a kid is sick or not turning in homework.”

It’s also a struggle for Hickman when he attends PTO meetings because he’s almost always the only father there. “There might be one or two other dads,” he says, “but you can tell their wives made them come.”

Hickman believes teachers have a difficult time dealing with stay-at-home and single fathers. “Society is used to having mothers involved, but now, more fathers are becoming involved,” he says. “It’s a struggle getting society to realize that just because you’re a stay-at-home dad doesn’t mean that you’re not as involved as a mother.”

John Kondakoff, a father of five and the chapter agent for the Central New York chapter of the Fathers’ Rights Association of New York State, says, “Through the years, most of the resources were built for the moms.”

Now, with a growing number of working mothers and more companies offering flexible schedules, there are more opportunities for fathers to stay at home and participate in their children’s lives, says Kondakoff. School activities, church groups, volunteering opportunities, coaching and teaching give fathers a chance to become more involved in their children’s lives. Kondakoff himself volunteers as a room parent at his children’s school. “The room parents are usually mothers,” he says. “They’re blown away when a father wants to participate.”

Alice Honig, Ph.D., professor emerita of child development at Syracuse University, says people have “different attitudes about what men and women are good at.”

Honig, who has written several books and more than 500 articles about child development, says men and women bring completely different qualities to their children’s lives because they have different values, voices and ways of playing. “Dad’s gifts are different from Mom’s gifts,” she says. For instance, men might be more likely to encourage new skills and learning by allowing their children to figure things out for themselves instead of helping them and discouraging independence.

Kara Glowaki says that one difference between men and women is that men don’t look at taking care of the house the same way women do. “His first priority is taking care of the kids,” she says. “Cleaning comes second.” Women, she believes, value a clean house more than men do. Rick thinks Kara should put their children first while Kara thinks Rick lets the house become a wreck. Yet Kara does admit that she’s trying to loosen up. “I try to stop myself from putting cleaning first,” she says.

When it comes to parenting, men are at a disadvantage, Honig says. Most likely they were never taught parenting skills, at least not to the degree most women were. “You never took a class,” she says. “The culture never taught you how to be a good parent. You’re lucky if you had a parent who helped you learn these skills.”

Hickman says that he gets “strange looks at first” from mothers and has had “people ask me if my kids eat out every night.”

“There’s thinking that fathers don’t cook, clean or do laundry,” he says. “I do it all, and I’ve been doing those things almost all of my life.”

For families with stay-at-home fathers, things can be tough on the mothers as well. In the Glowaki household, sometimes it’s difficult for Kara because her children have a closer relationship with their father. For instance, they usually want him to put them to bed. “They call for Dad,” she says. “It’s a struggle, but you can’t have it both ways.”

Regardless of whether or not fathers stay at home full time, Honig suggests men embrace the idea of becoming more involved in their children’s lives than perhaps their own fathers were—despite what their own friends may think.

“You have no more important job (than being a parent), you have no more complex job, you have no more of a job that changes all the time and requires you to learn new ways of thinking,” she says. “You can be a man and you can keep that nurturing side.”