Stay-at-home dad James Kline felt alone in a parental world where social groups seemed to be catered mostly to mothers. Then, he found an online group that gave him and his now 18-month-old son Tyler a sense of community that many stay-at-home dads find hard to come by.
Triangle Stay at Home Dads lives on meetup.com, a site that allows groups to organize events. Members of the dads’ group schedule biweekly playgroups for their children and semi-regular childless outings for themselves, like bar nights and days at a shooting range.
“It truly provides a social and educational outlet for both me and Tyler,” said Kline, 37, who lives in Apex. “It’s not something you can find in a room of your house or in your backyard.”
When Kline joined the group in February 2011, only a couple of fathers would come to the playgroups, and Cary resident Austin Dowd, 28, had just started restructuring the group after its founder left. But one summer day, he said, eight or nine dads came. The group has 110 members online, but 10 to 20 dads regularly come to meetings.
“For some dads, they’re happy just going to the park and mingling with who’s there,” Dowd said. “But there’s a lot more out there than people realize.”
The group’s embrace of full-time fathering attracted the attention of casting directors for a planned reality television show, and eight fathers who auditioned to be considered await word on whether they will be chosen.
A family decision
Before their children were born, many of the fathers and mothers decided that one parent would stay home because they believed it would be best for their children. The dads got the job for various reasons.
“I was the least happy with my job,” said Kline, a former healthcare IT project manager. His wife Michele is a project manager at Kruger Inc, a water treatment company. It made sense to them for Michele to keep her full-time job and for Dad to take on child-rearing full time.
Others balked at the cost of outside care. “We went to look at day cares, and they’re not cheap,” said Sandy Rose, 34 of Raleigh, who owns a small home-based insurance business and switched from working full-time to part-time when his 2½-year-old son Ryan stopped sleeping through the day. The only day cares he felt comfortable with cost at least $1,000 per month.
But the dads say the benefits of raising their kids full-time are priceless. In addition to a strong father-child bond, the children also have numerous opportunities to socialize with the other kids in their playgroup. Rose said Ryan used to stay by his side in new situations, but that changed after his first play-date with the group.
“The first time I went to one, he left me and just went over and played.”
An ‘invaluable’ network
But the main attraction is the ability for the men to socialize with other adults. Michele Kline said she observed a change in her husband’s happiness once he joined the group.
“For him to have that sort of social connection was invaluable,” she said.
James Kline said fathers have more opportunity and reason to stay home with children as more women enter and succeed in higher-paying jobs. He thinks dads are succeeding in at-home parenting just as much as the moms are in outside jobs. “Dads, we’re working harder in this field to prove ourselves, and we’re doing a good job,” he said.
But socializing with mothers who stay home isn’t the easiest for the dads, who say conversations can take turns into areas they’re unfamiliar with, from shoe shopping to breastfeeding, and sometimes in a catty manner they’re uncomfortable with.
Raleigh resident Ian Worthington, 42, and his wife adopted 2 ½-year-old Dex in September 2010. Worthington said he felt out of his element during a play-date when one mother left early, and the others immediately criticized her shoes. And Dowd said women have such different styles and opinions about breastfeeding in public that it’s hard to always decipher personal rules.
The fathers stay clear of those types of situations during their meetings.
“We don’t talk politics; we don’t talk preferences,” Worthington said. “(We talk about) guns, cars, kids, diaper changing.”
With mothers comprising 97 percent of stay-at-home parents in the U.S., the fathers say they regularly witness a bias about fathers parenting while mothers pursue outside work. “At the grocery store, the cashier will say, ‘Oh, Dad’s Day Out,’ ” Dowd said. “No, every day is ‘Dad’s Day Out.’ ”
But whether at the grocery store or in the house, the dads said they develop a special bond with their children by spending all day with them.
“If he gets hurt, who does he run to? He runs to me,” James Kline said of Tyler. “He expects me to be there.”
But the mothers’ absence, too, creates a unique connection.
“[Tyler] learns from [Michele] faster,” James Kline said. “He values her time.”
Even though he’s not working in information technology, James Kline said he tries to keep up with the industry and his certifications for when he might go back to work, when Tyler starts school. But to him, a stay-at-home father is a more important and rewarding job than a project manager.
“Because of [Tyler], it’s not as hard as it could be,” he said. “You love your job, it’s an easy job.”