Finding their tribe: James Gordon talks to stay-at-home dads about getting out, avoiding isolation and being in good company

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As anyone who has stayed home to care for children can attest, being a full-time parent can sometimes feel very isolating.

This is especially true for stay-at-home dads.

Unfortunately, “traditional” views in Western society hold that the father of the family goes out and provides financial resources and security, while the woman stays home and cares for the children and the home. If either partner strays from those roles, they are frowned upon. Fathers who stay home to care for children are sometimes seen as less than a man, and they may turn further inward as a result.

While those views still maintain a stubborn hold for the less enlightened among us, things are changing for the better.

Just a few years ago, it might have been extremely difficult for a stay-at-home dad to connect with others in the same situation. Now, more and more stay-at-home fathers are coming out of the shadows, as it were.

For me, staying home was a personal choice.

Two-and-a-half years ago, I took a buyout from my job as a journalist. While I’d originally intended to take less than a year off before rejoining the workforce, my wife and I ultimately came to the conclusion that having one of us home until both our boys were in school was the best option for our family.

I feel I made the right choice, though it wasn’t an easy one. The feelings of isolation are very real, and the sense that your choice is not respected by others is palpable. Naturally introverted, going out and participating in group activities just didn’t appeal to me all that much. In retrospect, I probably could have done with making more of an effort to connect with people outside my home.

Andrew Campbell, an electrical engineer in Kanata, faced the same challenges as I did when he was laid off from his telecommunications job a couple of years ago, just a month before his second daughter was born.

He was able to help get the house ready for the baby, support his wife in the early going, and connect with his second daughter much more quickly than he would have otherwise been able to had he been out of the house working.

Unlike me, he made an effort to connect with other adults, turning up some mixed results.

“The hardest part was finding other engaged dads,” Campbell told me. “If we went to any of the play groups or anything, there would be me and maybe one other dad and he would be off in the corner, sitting in a chair, kind of shell-shocked.

“Some places I felt welcome, and other places, definitely you could tell just from body language from some of the moms like … ‘you’re not supposed to be here.’”

Typically, men who’ve never taken any time to care for children simply don’t understand the amount of work, nor the time constraints, involved.

“I really lost track of a lot of my guy friends … they had time flexibility, but they didn’t realize their time flexibility,” Campbell explained. “I had hard time commitments: I have an alarm clock, the kids are going to be up at 6 a.m., we’ve got to get them breakfast and get them going, so I can’t be doing crazy, late nights all over the place.”

Ultimately, one solution for him was to reconnect through Facebook with old high school friends who were in the same situation as him. They organized a once-a-month movie group.

“It’s helpful because they recognize the time constraint there … they’re willing to move the day around and if I tell them at 7:30 that the kid has a fever and I can’t go see Thor: Ragnarok or whatever, they’re OK with it.”

Another stay-at-home dad, Sean Dauphinee, a public servant living in Stittsville, started his stay-at-home dad journey in mid-February. He’ll be off for a year with his three-year-old son.

Like me, Campbell prefers to do his own thing and is perfectly happy to hang around at home or go to museums and parks.

But when he does go to groups, he’s noticed there are a lot more dads around now.

“When I go to the gymnastics place, at least half the parents there are dads,” he said. “I definitely feel like it’s changing. I had drinks with (a friend) last week and he said there were, I think, four dads who were either on parental leave or preparing to go on parental leave.

“I feel like dads are taking more of a role than our parents would have taken.”