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Mother and Child
Mother and Child

What Do You Call Yourselves?

Howie Kaibel is Community Manager for Yelp Albuquerque–you can find him at howiek.yelp.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/howie.kaibel.9. He was a full-time, stay-home dad (he referred to himself as a Man Mom) for one year, when his daughter, Iris, was one year of age. He’s a husband and father of two kids: Iris (now three) and Aura (now 15).


First, an official note:

Iris is walking, everywhere. She prefers that mode of transportation. So the topic is finished: Attempted/began walking at ten months, fully mobile (“drunk robot” style) at eleven and a half.

Now, on to the everyday.

This morning Iris and I visited the library. They’ve started up with Story and Song time Wednesdays again. Last week marked the return, after a summer hiatus. +Today I recognized Adam and his beautiful nine month-old daughter Elizabeth immediately from the week before. Adam is an artist who specializes in blown glass, he moved here with his family from Mesa, Arizona just a month back. His wife is working on a Master’s in geology at the University. Surrounded by a sea of stay-home moms, Adam and I were immediately bonded as minorities.

I also noticed a man who appeared to be in his late thirties or early forties (gray hair was creeping along his otherwise bald scull) coddling a sweet little girl I would learn was perhaps two weeks younger than Iris, named Leah. He was Todd.

As festivities came to a close most of the parents departed with their kids, but all three dads hung tight. There was definitely some primal connection there, some inner need to sort of poke the edges of one another’s experience to find out if we were collectively navigating the same strange trip. Quickly we established we were.

Todd explained that he was also a transplant. “We were tired of the hassle of L.A., so when we left we had an agreement: whoever landed a job, the other would stay home. My wife studied endocrinology, whereas I’ve generally worked in the renewable and fossil fuel fields, so my wife found an opening much faster. So now we have a trade-off: she takes Leah two days a week and I take the other three. But I’m definitely looking for work.”

Like a bunch of guys, sitting around a garage, we started talking the mechanics of childcare. They were shocked I’d travelled to the library by bike. I said it was easy. I said Iris and I took rides everywhere: the zoo, aquarium, even Wal-Mart. It was a way to have an adventure and get some exercise. This led to a debate about the merits of child seats versus trailer, the economy of play versus nap time, and the overall dangers of Albuquerque city streets. And so the conversation seemed to wind endlessly, myself the veteran local, Adam and Todd the newbies.

At one point there was a pause and I said: “Guys, I just want to point something out… a sign of the times I suppose. Here are three men, all stay-at-home dads, sitting in a library talking about rearing our children. This doesn’t happen everyday, you know.”

This set off a deluge of impassioned discussion, as if I’d shattered a wall. We spoke about how difficult it was to find other dads who were living the caretaker life, and how awkward it felt to wander the aisles of a grocery store in the middle of the afternoon. Todd related his experiences with a group of mommies: “I’ve gotten together with them every so often, because I want to socialize Leah, but it’s strange. I’m the only man in the room.” On the other side of the spectrum, Adam talked about his life at home. “My wife comes in the door and she has all of these problems and stresses that she wants to talk about, and I listen,” he said, “and all I can do is hold my tongue, because what I really want to tell her is that we had the time of our lives, you know, I mean I just loved my day. But I feel bad.”

“I’ve noticed there’s a stigma, I guess,” I mused, “just wherever I go. Especially in family places. I walk around with Iris and I never see other dads, I only see moms, and they look at me and the look in their eyes… it’s pretty easy to read. They wonder why I’m the one pushing the stroller, what I’m doing or better yet—what I’m not doing. I must be dead-beat, right? Not providing, that sort of thing.”

Which naturally pushed the conversation towards my vocation—or lack thereof.

It was tough, honestly, to listen to these men go on about their current situations. They had no serious concerns about the future: Adam was building his studio and his wife would most likely find plenty of opportunity once she finished college; and although Todd was having trouble landing work, his wife more than provided for their welfare. I said I’d been laid off. It’s my easy answer these days. It saves a lengthy explanation and avoids the ugly truth.

Our kids were exhibiting the warning signs of nap-time exhaustion: rubbing their eyes and clinging. It was time to go. We began collecting our diaper bags and bottles and suddenly we noticed a woman standing next to us, holding her baby girl, examining our behavior like Jane Goodall.

“So… Are you guys, like… full-time dads or something?”

We were silent for a moment. I finally said “Yeah. We are. All three of us.”

“Really? Wow. So then… What do you call yourselves?”

We were speechless.

On the bike ride back to the house I reflected on the pow-wow–my first honest interaction with other stay-home dads. Well, maybe honest was stretching it. Had I been honest I would have admitted my desperation. I’d been applying for work religiously over the past two months and no one had responded–not a single employer. If life continued status-quo and no one even offered an interview, I’d soon rank among the tens of millions of people clinging to long-term unemployment in this country. People who were well-qualified, certified with college degrees, who for one reason or another fell into the cracks of this recession and were finding it impossible to climb out.

Todd did offer a resource: a group for job seekers on Tuesdays, downtown. Since it’s free I decided to follow up on this. The “class” which Todd has himself attended retools the entire objective of the unemployed. It re-brands the job seeker, emphasizing the strengths of his or her interests and experience, and focuses on how an individual markets those individual talents. It sounded like something I could use, as long as I could find a sitter for Iris.

And, I wish I could agree with Adam. I wish I were having the time of my life. I’d like to. I’d like to start each day with only one objective: Iris’s happiness.

But that isn’t the case.

Each day I wake up knowing that I don’t have a job and that my wife’s salary cannot ultimately support all four of us. Moreover, each day that I’m left unemployed makes me less desirable in the applicant field.

Every day I dig a deeper trench, unwillingly. Every day I fall deeper into this abyss. And I’m hoping these dads allow me a breath of air.

About Howie Kaibel

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