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Stay-at-Home Dads Talk Breadwinner Wives, Leaving the Workforce

  • By Emily Co, POPSUGAR Smart Living
  • June 27, 2013

With so many interpretations of the "modern family," the stay-at-home dad is becoming a more talked-about role. In fact, statistics show that house husbands are gradually on the rise. According to the census, 32 percent of married fathers in 2011 were primary caregivers of their kids. That's up from 26 percent in 2002. The topic of house husbands surfaced again in the media when results of a recent Pew study revealed that 40 percent of households with children under 18 have mothers who are the sole or primary income provider for the family.

Just who are the great men behind these great women? I talked to two stay-at-home dads who shared what it was like to leave their careers behind and how they deal with being married to women who are the main providers in the family.

Pat Byrnes, 53, Chicago, IL
Married to: The Illinois Attorney General
Kids: Two daughters, ages 5 and 8

Byrnes was a guy who wore many professional hats before taking up the role of a stay-at-home dad. The blogger at Captain Dad is a self-described "former aerospace engineer, ad copywriter, voice actor, comedy writer, and performer who had always wanted to be a cartoonist." His dream of becoming an illustrator was finally taking off when he first became a dad, but he knew that "something had to give."

POPSUGAR: How did the idea of becoming a SAHD come about? What is life like for your family?

Pat Byrnes: There was literally no discussion — or protest — about who would stay home with the baby. I worked at home and made my own hours; my wife ran a big office. When we got married, we had agreed that we would not do things 50/50. The only way things would work if it was 100/100. So I churned out cartoons while the girls slept or, later, went to school, and the kids consumed every other waking moment. My wife would race the Chicago rush-hour traffic at the end of each day to help me survive the remaining few hours until the kids were in bed. Then, she and I would finish any lingering work we may have before shutting our own eyes. And so it continues. The trappings may look different compared to other families, but in any important respect, it's no different from what goes on in any home with kids.

What was it like leaving the workforce?

As a freelancer, mine was a slow fade from the workforce rather than a quick cleaning out of my desk and turning in my ID badge. I still published and illustrated a few books and produced a handful of advertising illustrations — at first. But the constraints on my time and schedule, particularly after my second daughter was born, made it increasingly difficult to field phone calls, let alone meet deadlines. So I had to try to keep my visibility alive with cartoons alone. I am still hoping that as long as I still turn up in The New Yorker now and then, few will notice that I have massively scaled back my hours.

I have a book that came out only a couple weeks ago, which I am hoping will serve as a loud reminder that I'm still around. It is called "Captain Dad: The Manly Art of Stay-at-Home Parenting." With that title, it should also explain my diminished professional presence to anyone who has cared to notice it.

How does it feel to have a breadwinner wife?

I am a huge fan of my wife. So huge that I have to restrain myself from bragging about her to passersby. Thank you, by the way, for feeding me this opportunity. She is a fundamentally good person. And I am gratified at how readily people apprehend that about her from the work she does as the Illinois attorney general. My taking the more hands-on role in raising our children is the only thing I can do that can compare to the importance of her work. So I am proud of what I do at home, because letting my wife do what she does so well is my way of making this a better world.

What's next for you?

In just over a year, my younger daughter will be in school full-day. I will have six-and-a-half hours to work, five days a week for most weeks. I am not sure how long it will take to resurrect my career. My industry has changed so much in the decade I will have been withdrawn from it. It won't be easy, but it was necessary. Kids are what perpetuate human life on Earth, not careers. And they give back a greater sense of achievement. As for my career or what's left of it, I should take the advice I'm always giving my kids: whatever the case, it will be an adventure.

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