Life as a Stay-at-home Dad: I’m Not the Perfect Father!
Published on: April 29, 2019
One stay-at-home dad shares his honest view that just because he’s the primary caregiver doesn’t make him special or the ‘perfect dad’.
By Seita Arafune
I am a stay-at-home dad. Am I a perfect dad? I’m afraid not.
I secretly delight in observing people’s reactions when I am introduced to them as a stay-at-home dad. That initial moment is awkward. And I can see that as they puzzle out what it means, they eventually end up reflecting on parenthood.
I moved to Bangkok two years ago with my wife when she was assigned as a correspondent here. I worked as a journalist back in Tokyo but took an extended sabbatical to raise my then-two-year-old daughter. It was not an easy decision in male-chauvinistic Japan, where men were supposed to be the breadwinner and women the caregiver, but I enjoyed the stay-at-home life. Since then, I’ve simply been introducing myself as a stay-at-home dad, or poh-baan in Thai.
Although I’m ‘stay-at-home’, I often take my daughter out and about. And I stand out among the crowds, especially at parties. In place of carrying a plate of food in one hand and a drink in the other, there stands a man sipping a drink with his right hand and holding a child with the other.
I get applauded by strangers not because I am the perfect father, but because I am a primary parent.
Couples with kids spot me and like to come over to introduce themselves. Almost certainly, first comes the applause. Mothers praise my patience, endurance, and handling of my child. After they run out of nice adjectives they can think of, their appreciation towards me slowly turns into criticism against their husbands.
“You can’t handle a kid this well.” “You are good, but only for short periods of time.” “If he can do it, why not you?”, etc. Most of these fathers were called ‘good dads’ just minutes ago. But now, because another man was found to be handling the greater share of childcare than they were, these men came under fire from their wives. (One of my long-time friends called me a day after I met his wife and jokingly begged me not to show off my ‘dad’ face to her.)
It might be easy for a mom to assume that the special bond between herself and her child derives from her being the mother, the child-bearer. This is what traditional gender roles and society tell her too.
I do not argue the special nature of motherhood. But most of the common advantages mothers have on fathers (i.e., kids not sleeping without mom, kids always asking for mom’s help not dad’s, etc.) come not by virtue of mom being female; it’s because mothers are usually what I call the ‘primary parent’, or the primary caregiver—the parent that spends the most time with the children.
I get applauded by strangers not because I am the perfect father, but because I am a primary parent, as many mothers are. We are the parents who are with the child every day, who take care of their day-to-day needs. Kids give the greatest weight to what they are used to. That is why they treat primary parents as special.
As a stay-at-home dad, I hope I can be accepted by female primary-parents simply as a fellow primary parent, and not as the ‘perfect dad.’ That should save me from losing dad friends, too.
About the Author
Seita is a Japanese expat in Thailand. After covering the 2011 Japanese tsunami and crime (including yakuza) in Tokyo as a journalist, he took a sabbatical. Seita is now enjoying tropical life and raising his four-year-old daughter.
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