Several months ago, my husband and I sat down to have a serious talk. If you are married, you know the talk. It was right after he had left yet another job because going to work “made him miserable.” This—the spontaneous quitting of jobs without so much as a backup plan)—made me furious of course. I could not understand how my husband could be so irresponsible. He couldn’t understand how I could justify spending 40 hours a week doing something I loathed.
I had never loathed a job. I didn’t understand. I listened to my husband as he talked through possible options, which are somewhat limited because of consequences from his past that continue to follow him. The more he talked, the more discouraged he became.
He paused for a moment to take a quick breath, and I interjected with the following question:
“If money, time, education and background were not a factor, what would your ideal job be?”
He didn’t even blink before answering.
“I would want to be a stay-at-home dad.”
This was not the first time he had mentioned wanting to stay home with our three boys. There is no doubt in my mind that my husband was born to be a dad. He’s naturally affectionate, nurturing and loving. He intuitively knows how to handle situations that most parents find difficult. He passionately pours his heart and soul into raising our boys to be kind, loving and respectful. Yet, when he told me his dream job was to stay home with the kids, I felt betrayed. I felt lied to. I felt like the ambitious, respectable, hard-working man I married suddenly became someone I didn’t know.
I responded with the most shameful words that have ever left my mouth.
“I don’t know if I can love someone I don’t respect. And I can’t respect someone who has no drive.”
I thought wanting to stay home with the kids meant my husband lacked motivation. I thought it meant he was void of ambition, that he had no goals, and his life had no direction. I thought wanting to stay home with our kids made him less of a man, and I was disgusted at myself for thinking this way.
Our conversation resolved quickly but my guilt remained. I know plenty of stay-at-home dads and respect every single one of them. I don’t think raising their children makes them any less of a man. Why did I feel so strongly against my own husband staying home?
In an attempt to process the guilt I felt, I talked to several of my friends. I was shocked to discover they all felt the same way I did. They agreed that it was perfectly acceptable, even honorable, for a man to stay home and raise the children, provided it wasn’t their husband.
I can’t help but feel sad for our generation of men who are judged and defined by what they do and feel sorry for our generation of women who were conditioned to believe that “real men” can’t be homemakers. I feel sad, and I feel sorry.
To my amazing, passionate husband:
I am so deeply sorry.
I’m sorry that we live in a world filled with double standards. A world where women are encouraged to join the workforce and fight for equality, while men who cook, clean, do laundry and take care of kids are judged and criticized.
I’m sorry that my brain still defaults to the lies that society feeds us. The lies that tell us men who stay home are void of ambition. That they lack passion and drive. That because they don’t have a corporate job, they are somehow less than. That they don’t deserve respect.
I am sorry. Because the truth is, staying home with the kids is the most ambitious job you could have. Pouring your heart and soul into those kids day in and day out is the most respectable thing you could ever do. Teaching them, molding them, shaping them into the man that you are would give them the best chance at succeeding in this big, brutal world.
Because the world needs more men like you.
Men who are soft. Men who are kind. Men who care about other people and consider their feelings. Men who show empathy and compassion. Men who invest in their family and spend time with their children, rather than investing in a job that takes them away from their family.
The world needs men like you, who fight for the underdogs. Men who teach their children to stand up for each other and protect their friends. Men who educate their children about how to stop bullying from happening around them.
The world needs more men who stand up for women, even if it’s at the expense of themselves. Who are willing to call someone out if they are degrading a woman, even if it means losing a “friend.”
You show me what a real man looks like. You show me what respect looks like. Respect doesn’t come from a fancy job with a fat paycheck. Respect is found in the way your eyes well up when you look at our boys, and your heart is bursting with love. Respect lives in your tears. In your humble apology after you’ve lost your temper. Respect lives deep inside your heart. And your heart is the most ambitious, passionate, driven heart I have ever known.
Thank you for changing me. For breaking down the walls society had built up inside of me. For patiently loving me while I learn how to love you in a deeper, more profound way.