When people think of traditional masculinity, they picture a man at his blue-collar job working hard to bring home the bacon. Or maybe they think of a doctor, a lawyer, or the cast of Mad Men, smoking and marketing like there’s no tomorrow.
My point is that the traditional picture of masculinity includes men at work (not the band) and their wives at home, raising the kids, preparing dinner, and taking care of the home. This is especially true in conservative, patriarchial communities similar to the one that I was raised in.
As such, the idea of being a stay-at-home dad is something so foreign to my friends, family, and community that they didn’t know what to think when I told them this is what we planned to do. They believe that, somehow, being a stay-at-home dad is emasculating and that anyone who does it is less of a man.
However, I’m here to tell you that this belief couldn’t be further from the truth. Sometimes, being a stay-at-home dad is actually the manliest thing you can do, and here’s why.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, masculinity is defined as “the quality or nature of the male sex: the quality, state, or nature of being manly.” That’s it. There’s no mention of having to know how to build fires, chop wood, shoot guns, or even be the breadwinner of the family.
Similarly, the Oxford Dictionary defines manhood as “the state or period of being a man rather than a child.” In other words, being a man means having the ability to be mature and make adult decisions. It means not blaming others when things go wrong and being comfortable in your own skin.
Traditionally, being a man meant getting married, working hard for your family, making money, and teaching your kids how to play sports or ride a bike. It didn’t mean being their chief babysitter while your wife was at work. However, this traditional idea of being a man originates from a time when work and career opportunities for women were extremely limited, if available at all.
Even as recently as the eighties and nineties, it was much harder for a woman to find employment capable of making enough money to support a family. However, those days are long gone, which is why it’s time to redefine what it means to be a man.
While there are certainly a few physical qualities that make a man a man, I believe that true masculinity is every bit as much mental as it is physical. You can be a manly man regardless of what you’re doing, what your job is, or what your role in the home is.
Rather than strictly being attached to how much money you make or how hard your job is, being a man means doing what’s best for your family. After all, family is what it’s all about, and they’re the reason you do the things you do. So, if staying at home and taking care of the kids is what’s best for your family, it’s the manliest possible thing you can do.
At least, I sure hope it is because that’s my new role in our little family. While I was once the blue-collar worker (HVAC technician, plumber, and electrician) I mentioned above, those days are long gone, and I’ve settled into a new role – stay-at-home dad.
While this goes against all of the “manly” principles I was raised to believe, I know in my heart that it’s what’s best for my wife and daughter, so it’s one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made.
As a kid, I grew up believing all of the tropes about traditional masculinity and truly thought that you couldn’t be a man unless you were the top earner in your family. I also believed that any man who stayed at home while his wife was at work wasn’t much of a man at all.
After all, that’s the environment I grew up in, and, to this day, I can’t think of a single family in my area where the dad stayed at home while the wife went to work.
However, to say that I was a closed-minded and ignorant nincompoop would be the understatement of the century. My idea of masculinity and the role of a husband versus that of his wife was so far off the mark that I’m embarrassed to even think about it.
It took getting married to a strong and determined woman for me to understand just how wrong I was. You see, my wife is a physical therapist and has a doctorate in the profession. I, on the other hand, am a college dropout who was fortunate enough to fall into my family’s heating and cooling business.
Therefore, when we decided that we wanted to have a kid and start a family, we were faced with a tough question – were we going to hire a nanny, or was one of us going to stay at home with the baby?
Because the cost of childcare is absolutely outrageous and we don’t live close enough to family to rely on them for babysitting, the first part of the decision was easy. One of us would become a stay-at-home parent.
However, we then had to answer the second and more difficult part of the question – who was staying at home and who would continue to work?
Speaking from a traditional perspective, the answer was obvious. I would be the man and go to work, while my delicate homemaker wife would stay at home cooking, cleaning, and parenting (please pardon my sexist sarcasm).
At least, that was what a part of me wanted to say, even though it made zero sense whatsoever. Why would I, an HVAC technician who hated my job, insist on going to work while my Doctor Wife sat at home with our kid? On the face of it, the idea is laughable at best and downright foolish at worst.
Not only would I not make as much money as my wife, but I would also be keeping her from living her dream of being a physical therapist. She had gone to school for seven years to get her job, while I simply went to work with my dad one day, and accidentally happened into mine.
Additionally, for me to insist on working just to save face would be childish, selfish, prideful, and not doing what’s best for my family, which are all the polar opposite of true masculinity.
Instead, I had to come to the realization that swallowing my pride and going against the grain of traditional masculinity was the manliest thing I could do. It allowed me to empower my wife, be an ever-present role model for my daughter, and do what was best for my family.
That sounds pretty darn manly to me.
How to Maintain Your Masculinity as a Stay at Home Dad
Being a stay-at-home dad while your wife has a career goes against the grain of traditional manhood. However, there’s no reason why you can’t be a masculine homemaker in the modern world.
Jalin is a full time writer who enjoys writing about his own journey being a dad, husband, and someone deeply passionate about his work. His authenticity in what it means to be a stay at home Dad shines through in his story as he seeks to inspire other men to not only run after their dreams, but to do so in a way that is supporting and uplifting to the people most important in your life.