Today's stay-at-home dads aren't 'Mr. Moms'

Friday, June 14, 2002

NEW YORK

"Mr. Mom" didn't know how to wash clothes or make grilled cheese sandwiches, let alone keep the kids in line; Daddy can do all of the above and more.

The only similarity between today's stay-at-home dads and Michael Keaton's character in the famous 1983 film is that they're the ones who mind the children while their wives are at work.

"For many families, it's not a question anymore of 'Can mom stay at home based on her income and personality?' but a question of 'Can a parent stay home based on their incomes and personalities?"' says Libby Gill, author of "Stay-At-Home Dads: The Essential Guide To Creating The New Family" (Plume Books).

"You can't think in black and white. There are many shades of parenting," she adds.

By keeping an open mind, families double their chances of having a stay-at-home parent -- something that was important to Gill and her husband when it came to raising their sons, now 7 and 11.

As soon as Gill became pregnant, the couple examined their paychecks and stability of their jobs. At the time, Libby Gill was an entertainment-industry executive, Ned Gill was an actor.

It wasn't hard to come to the decision that Ned Gill would be the one to stay at home, although, at the time, it was "a little odd" since they lived in a traditional stay-at-home mom community in Los Angeles, explains Libby Gill.

That family model, however, has changed considerably over the past decade, she says, and children might be benefitting since working mothers are often better at staying connected with their kids' daily life than working dads.

And, while the different sexes have different parenting styles -- women tend to be more nurturing and men are more action-result-oriented -- there isn't anything other than breastfeeding that women can do that men can't.

Barry Rezsel says his outgoing personality coupled with his wife's love for her job as a human resources consultant figured into the decision that he'd be a stay-at-home dad. The arrangement works for everyone, says Reszel, although his wife Lori, who remains an involved mother, sometimes wishes she had more time with 8-year-old Bradford and 5-year-old Christina.

Running the family's home in Libertyville, Ill., requires a lot of organization and self-discipline, explains Reszel. If he doesn't follow his "get up, get dressed, set up" routine every morning, things would unravel.

"I am still a part of the world, I just have a different job," says Reszel, a former marketing manager for an accounting firm.

The switch from corporate world to children's world "clicked" with Reszel from the start and the fact that he helped care for his much younger sisters growing up probably gave him good training.

Still, he says, he's glad he made the transition while Bradford was an infant because the baby slept a lot, allowing Reszel to plot out his plan, which included launching a freelance journalism career and finding other daytime adult companionship.

When his son was 8 months old, Reszel make the first of many treks to a local coffee shop with Bradford in a backpack.

At first, some of the older female patrons would say, "Oh, dad's off work today," reports Reszel, but now 95 percent of the comments are positive. He's met several other dads and even attends a national conference for stay-at-home fathers held every year at nearby Oakton Community College.

David Drucker, who runs a Web development company from his Massapequa, N.Y., house, has been a single, stay-at-home dad since his then-12-year-old daughter came to live with him a decade ago.

He says working at home while caring for a child is not only possible, it's pleasurable. (The only caveat is that it's easier once children are in school full-time. With babies and toddlers, he says, "your time is not your own.")

"When you work at home, they (children) know you're there all the time, they never have to worry that they don't want to bother you at the office just because they don't have a ride somewhere," says Drucker, who developed a parenting-advice Web site called Father's World.

"And as a parent, your priorities change, you don't have to say, 'I'll talk to you at home because I'm in a meeting."'

Drucker says he was always upfront with the people he did business with that watching after his daughter Leslee was always the most important job. That statement, he notes, opened him up for a lot of questions and almost as many compliments.

But the greatest reward is the close relationship he now has with his daughter.

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