Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are the author’s alone.
I am the man!
Women stay at home and care for the children. Men are the breadwinners.
Throughout history, that has been the societal norm. Women take care of home and men are the providers. From the hunter-gather period, until modern times — this is the expected perception.
Click here to read a recent New York Times article on the subject.
I used to ascribe to the same line of thinking, up until about five years ago — the day my first child was born. Feb. 28, 2015, my whole life changed.
Over the years, I’ve been very transparent about the impact fatherhood has made in my life. Most of my writings regarding fatherhood have been on the optimistic side. However, this time I want to share with you the not-so-happy side.
For the past 10 years, I have operated my own business and I have been fortunate to be able to work from home most of the years, but it is my wife who has the “stable job” with benefits. As some of you might know, when you are an entrepreneur and business owner, sometimes you are making enough money to start making it rain on anything walking … then there are times when your bank account is giving you the side-eye. I am grateful that my wife has been steadfast in her career.
When my first son came into this side of the world, I was lucky to be able to tend to my wife while she was healing and really be a helper during her maternity leave. She only had six weeks off. After birth, my wife suffered from postpartum depression. It was a challenging time for all of us, baby included, but we made it through.
We decided that instead of paying for expensive daycare with a stranger, seeing as I already worked from home, I would look after the baby until she got off work and once home we would switch.
At first it wasn’t bad, but eventually, it started to put a strain on our relationship. We were co-parenting like an estranged couple and not two loving parents together. Stress was building on all fronts.
There was a period when all I did was take care of the baby and house chores. I stopped working on my business as much because I was too exhausted in the evenings to put energy into it. I was getting a taste of what mothers have been dealing with for eons.
Look at me: this successful man, an entrepreneur who had the capacity to make more money in one project than some people made as a salary for an entire year. Now I was staying at home, doing chores, carrying diaper bags around, and rocking a baby to sleep. My wife was getting up going out to work every day, making sure we had food on the table.
When I would meet with some of my male colleagues and friends, I would do everything in my power to hide the fact that I was a stay-at-home dad. You see, there is nothing manly about taking care of babies. At least that is what society taught me.
I lived like this for several years … then my second son was born. With his birth, this time I was the one suffering from paternal postpartum depression.
I felt emasculated!
Thoughts ran through my head: “What kind of man am I? I should be the one making the money while she stays at home!”
For a while, I tried to deny it until one day I had a meltdown. I blew up at my wife and let out the past three years of bottled up feelings. Tears flowed alongside all the emotions. It was uncontrollable and eventually I locked myself in my home office.
My wife, not sure what to do, called my dad and he rushed over.
My dad picked my lock and let himself in.
“Son…what is wrong with you?” he asked.
After confiding how I felt — feeling depressed, ashamed, emasculated in every way — my dad put his hand on my shoulders and said, “Stop.”
My dad is a quintessential man — add on top of that the fact that he is black — he is full of pride, hyper-masculinity vibrato, and macho in every sense. I was sure his next line was going to be something tone-deaf like “Boy … Man up!”
But he didn’t.
In a calm, yet assertive tone, my dad said, “Son, stop. None of what you said about not being a man is true. In fact, you are the manliness man I know. Most men could not or would not do what you have been doing all these years. I don’t think I would have been able to do it myself. Watching you these past few years, I have never been more proud of you.”
To hear these words come from my father gave room for a huge pressure to be lifted from my chest. Moments later, my boys walked in. Looking at their tiny faces, I realized the sincerity of my dads’ words and how my sons look at me. I have been achieving something special.
Being a stay-at-home dad — or “Dadprenuer” as I call it — is truly a gift. My sons are now almost 5 and 3 years old, and we have a bond that is so special. Now that they are older — one in preschool and the other part-time in daycare — I have a little more time to focus on my business again, but I still run point on the daily interactions with the kids, like dropping them off and picking them up, being actively involved in the elementary school parent club — or like today — being Dr. Daddy because my oldest is sick. In fact, I have to wrap up this op-ed so I can start getting dinner together for tonight.
Unfortunately, being an involved Dadprenuer, I see how there are so many fathers not active or present in their kids’ day-to-day lives, whether it’s because they are at work, meetings, or if they are just not in the kid’s life. Too many of us men feel we have something to prove or have to be the status quo head of the house.
We are missing out on time that can be spent optimizing our most important role: being engaged fathers.
Everything in my mind is not perfect. There are still moments when I don’t feel enough caveman testosterone flowing through my body. When that happens, I take a moment and realize that the true measure of a man is the impact he leaves on people around him. I am blessed with time and the ability to have the greatest impact on the people dearest to my heart: my wife and children. That’s what makes me the man!
If you are an entrepreneur and parent, I would love to hear your thoughts on life balance. What have you done to make the transition better? If you are a father adjusting to parenthood, feel free to share your feelings and opinion as well.
Louis Byrd is chief visionary officer at Goodwim Design, a hybrid design studio developing technology solutions that positively impact culture and people.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.