“It has brought me closer to my kids,” says Augustin. “I’ve enjoyed the experience.” Augustin says he enjoys being primary caregiver so much that he launched www.facebook.com/DadsMiami for South Florida fathers to share their unique parenting experiences in a multicultural town, and he is working on a website. “I think you will see more fathers looking for places to talk about their challenges with other dads.”
In the Boston College Center’s previous study, 53 percent of fathers said that if their families could live comfortably on their spouses’ salaries they would consider being stay-at-home parents. While the perception of men as breadwinners still holds strong, at-home dads and working fathers share a definition for what makes a good father: “Someone present and involved in their child’s life.”
Hogan Hilling, an at-home dad in the 1990s who remains a spokesman for the At-Home Dads Network, says he’s seen an attitude change as men demonstrate they can be successful primary caregivers without losing their masculinity: “Most of today’s at-home dads are not afraid to publicly admit to being the primary caregiver and will not back down when people question their conscious, well-thought out decision to be the at-home parent.”
At-home dads cited a variety of reactions from others regarding their roles as full-time parents. Many stated that initially, their families didn’t always understand or accept why they were at home full-time, but upon seeing how well it was working for their families, eventually supported the decision. However, it was common for friends and neighbors of many of the dads to regard their role at home as temporary, wondering when they were going to get jobs.
Harrington says it struck him how similar the experiences are between moms and dads who stay home full time to care for their kids. For example, both struggle with issues of social isolation, loss of an adult network, uncertainty about future career plans and concerns about a stigma when they return to the workplace. “They know re-entry will be a challenge,” Harrington said. “But they also know they want flexibility in whatever position they take in the future.”
Harrington expects to see men create their own work arrangements — much like Mercier who has become a life coach and sees clients while his daughters are at pre-school. “I think we are seeing men trying to do what women have done for years, invent career opportunity in more entrepreneurial ventures that afford them greater flexibility and not force them back into highly constrained workplaces,” Harrington said.
Mercier’s wife, Herdyne, now expecting her third child, previously worked as a public school teacher and is now a full-time skincare consultant with Mary Kay Cosmetics. Formerly a clinical social worker, he tried to go back to work full time but says he quit after four months because of the long hours away from his family.
Meanwhile, Mercier, born in Haiti, plans to study minority fathers in America who are at-home dads as his thesis for his doctorate in marriage and family therapy. Based on his experiences, he says, minority at-home dads are more reluctant to join social groups and struggle more with issues of masculinity: “The stigmas are different than for white males.”
Mercier says surviving on a scaled-back income and dealing with male reactions to his status as primary caregiver have been challenging.
But he feels it’s a worthwhile struggle: “If I had to be absent much of the day and miss out on witnessing them growing up, I couldn’t accept that.”