Father’s Day was made for stay-at-home dads. Shucking all the traditions of suits, ties and briefcases, these dads are making their way in the world of diapers, bottles and strollers. There is no big afternoon sales meeting for these guys. Just a 2 p.m. feeding or a fussy toddler who won’t take a much-needed nap. Carolina Parent caught up with three of these special dads who are going it alone at home during the day. And, despite all the challenges, they are proud of their jobs as dads who stay home.
Dale Mettam doesn’t wear a watch any more.
Since he became a stay-at-home dad about two years ago, Mettam has learned that the days of punching a time clock or working toward a deadline are gone. He is now living by the time set by his son Owen, now 3 1/2.
Even before the baby was born, Mettam and his wife, Lisa, had decided they did not want to put their child in daycare. In the beginning, Lisa stayed home with Owen, and Dale worked a night-shift job in the printing industry. Soon it was clear that Lisa’s technology training would be more beneficial to the family’s budget. It was time to make some hard decisions.
“I had been so vocal about not wanting to put our baby in daycare that it became time for me to put up or shut up,” Mettam says with a laugh. “Really, it was not a difficult decision for us to switch roles. She could make more money in her field, and I was willing to stay home.”
It’s a decision that Mettam is glad the couple made.
“Most dads just get to experience their child growing up by hearing about what he did during the day,” he says. “I get to be here when he does these things. I am the one saying ‘Guess what he did today.”’
Mettam is the first to admit that he was terrified at the beginning. He recalls the first day his wife left their Creedmoor home and went to her job at N.C. State University. Every minute seemed like an hour, and Mettam realized then it was better to get rid of that watch. Now, life is much more relaxing with trips to the park, book reading time and just enjoying each other’s company.
“It has got to be the hardest job I have ever had,” he says of being a stay-at-home dad. “It is very demanding, but all Owen has to do is give me a hug and that makes its all OK. No salary in the world could make up for this time we have together.”
Mettam and his wife have always split the household chores such as cooking, cleaning and washing clothes. Mettam gets some of his own time during the weekends when his wife is home with Owen.
Mettam now is preparing to be a stay-at-home dad times two. Lisa is expecting a baby in late September, and Mettam then will be doing double duty.
Playgroups at Work
Chris Hoerter describes his first days as a stay-at-home dad like being lost at sea. That was three years ago, when he first started staying home with his son, Sam, who’s now 5. Today, Hoerter is a veteran at navigating the rough waters of parenthood.
“I remember I had no idea what to do with a 2-year-old all the time,” the Chapel Hill dad says. “It took me a while to realize that I had to be flexible and everything could not be so structured.” Hoerter and his wife, Laura, both worked as technical writers in Orlando, Florida. After moving to the Triangle, they decided that Laura would work outside the home and Hoerter would stay with Sam. She is now a technical writer with Cisco Systems.
Hoerter and Sam have been active in several playgroups.
“The first time I took Sam to the playground, it was difficult to strike up a conversation with the mothers that were there,” he recalls. “It was awkward for me, and I think the mothers weren’t quite sure what to think of a stay-at-home dad. Soon, we all felt more comfortable and it worked out well.”
They joined two playgroups, and Hoerter even met another stay-at-home dad. They also have been active in a playgroup for stay-at-home dads organized by a father in Durham. About 20 fathers are active in the group that meets weekly. They meet at local playgrounds, go to museums and take other outings.
“The playgroup with other fathers has been good,” Hoerter says. “Everyone understands each other, and we get to trade a lot of information about our children.” Now, Sam attends preschool three mornings a week. He’ll start kindergarten in the fall. Hoerter hopes to get a part-time job so he can be home when Sam gets there in the afternoons.
“There are a lot of intangibles in the payoff of being a stay-at-home dad,” Hoerter says. “I have really enjoyed it.”
Both Sides of Fatherhood
Ed Remen knows both sides of being a working father. When his older son was young, Remen owned and operated a fitness and racquetball club in Reston, Virginia. Now, he’s a stay-at-home dad with his younger son, Nicholas, who is 2.
Remen, who is “50-something,” moved to Cary six years ago. His wife, Holly, works for Glaxo. Before their son was born, the couple decided that Remen would stay home. He admits he had no experience caring for a baby, but wanted to give the experience a try. “My attitude had always been ‘just bring the kid around when he can swing a racquet,'” Remen says with a laugh. “Nothing I read or imagined could have prepared me for staying home. It has certainly been more work than I ever bargained for.”
Many of his friends from his fitness club days in Virginia are retired and playing golf all the time. Remen says they just figured he was crazy when he decided to stay home with a baby.
“They call me up and tease me about changing diapers instead of playing golf,” he says. “I got a lot of teasing about it, especially in the beginning.”
Remen and Nicholas are a regular twosome at the Cary Family YMCA, where Remen is the racquetball professional and teaches tennis lessons. He still plays competitive racquetball and holds 37 national titles. Holly also competes nationally in the sport. Before Nicholas could even walk, he was carrying a miniature racquet. The family travels nationally to competitions.
Now that Nicholas is a bit older, the father-son duo have a regular outing schedule around town. Monday is storytime at the local library, Tuesday is storytime at a bookstore and Wednesday is a visit to a children’s gym. Remen keeps his hand in the adult world through his lessons at the Y and competitions. But Nicholas is his first priority.
“I have no place I really have to be but with him,” Remen says. “It is too bad that more fathers don’t have this opportunity. It is challenging, but I really enjoy seeing him grow and develop.” And, yes, Nicholas already can hit a ball with his racquet.