Every popular television show in the last two decades perpetuated the dorky dad motif — the bumbling, goofy husband who means well but seems essentially incapable of overcoming the shadow of his uber-capable wife. King of Queens, Home Improvement, Everybody Loves Raymond — they all feature the same dad. Not surprisingly, my wife says that the clumsy boy she married tries really hard at being a homeschool dad but is probably making things up as he goes. It’s a circus, she says.
And she’s absolutely right. Maybe pop culture has a point?
If COVID-19 has a sunny-side, it’s that families are slowly re-acquainting themselves with the home and what it means to be home. As an August without school looms, families across the country are confronting this critical question: is homeschooling for me? Compounding the issue, dads are increasingly factoring into the equation both by necessity and choice. How will dads fit in the equation? Do dads fit in a homeschool world?
Last week, my 14 year old daughter sat down to ask me some questions about what it’s like being a dad in a world dominated by women. This felt like the perfect way to kick off the Circus Dad project. Here we go!
How does this happen? How do you make a homeschool dad?
I love that you put it that way. We started our family when most people were just wrapping up and sending kids to high school and college! Being older has given me a lot of perspective … and patience.
I think you start by being OK with who you are. Honestly, I struggle with this — like I should be doing more. Your mom, however, has a saying that pulls me back: I do what I do, so that your mom can do what she does, so that we can do what we do. In other words, we all have a place. And just because your mom is successful and brilliant at what she does, I can be that way, too, in relative ways. Your grandma is a very eclectic person. I wasn’t raised with strict roles — you know, that men do something and women do something. I was allowed to make mistakes and experiment with who I wanted to be. This gave me some flexibility that I think parents need to simply practice. Be a great parent. If that’s all you do, and you do nothing else, God will be ecstatic!
“Homeschool dad” (she air quotes) … At our co-ops, you’ve been the only dad. Is that weird?
Sort of. Definitely. It’s important to remember that men are there. They just aren’t present because the family dynamic in our culture isn’t really constructed that way. Strangely, not having men factor into the daily mix, I think, was the easiest part for me. I spent years as a wedding and portrait photographer. Of course, grooms are in the wedding-day equation, but, honestly, they are present in name only. The wedding day is all bride. Every, single, time. When I was teaching, I noticed the same thing. More men taught than homeschool but not by much.
The weird part for me isn’t so much how women treat my role but how men view it. As early into stay-at-home parenting as I can remember, the most uncomfortable conversation I have had with other men is the introduction when I meet someone new. It goes something like this :
“What do you do?”
“I’m a stay-home-dad and we homeschool. I have four kids and we … ” In the beginning, I’m stoked to tell my story.
He interjects. “Oh, no, I meant what do you do for a living?” It’s awkward now because we just had the conversation about what I do.
“I mean, what do you do you actually do? What do you do to contribute?”
I’ve learned how to hesitate politely by now. I’ve been a homeschooling, stay-at-home-dad for ten years, so this conversation comes naturally.
“It’s a full time job … teaching four kids between 5 and 14. It’s a lot.”
I’m in full justification mode by the third exchange. Typically, these conversations fizzle into a sort of nexus — a protracted silence that stagnates between curious introduction and graceful exit. Purposeful silence. Men lose common ground at this point because our worldview is so vastly different — the worker and the homemaker. I would be lying if I didn’t feel an occassional emptiness, but I’ve learned to accept it. Our conviction to homeschool is worth it.
Accept it? Did you just accept it?
Being a stay at home dad was hard for me. That sounds odd because homeschooling is that plus educating you all. But there were a lot of days that I felt like I wasn’t living up to my potential. You know, like I was supposed to be curing cancer or inventing something cool. One day, I woke you all up early to go to the store. I remember being in a haze that day and feeling a lot of self pity. I pushed you all into the grocery store and found myself walking out with a box of pop tarts and four bottles of chocolate milk. Everyone sat in the van and ate breakfast. Then we drove home. It was as pointless as any day could be.
I think God was challenging me in the same way that I try to challenge you. I want you to accept challenges — any challenge — and then destroy it with how awesome you can be. It can be as mundane as sweeping a floor. Make it the shiniest floor in the history of floors. God doesn’t care about the work you do. He cares about how you glorify Him while you do it. He cares about you. He cares that you “work willingly at whatever you do” Colossians 3:23
I’m not perfect. I don’t accept it … I revel in it.
Four kids is a lot. We joke about how we’re like a traveling circus. Does that make homeschool hard?
Not really. Lots of jobs are busy. When I had 30 kids in a classroom, they were all different. You’re just four students with four sets of needs. If anything, that makes it easier.
I wish someone would have told me in the beginning that I would look back on the chaotic days when you all were tiny with this crazy nostalgia … I remember how frustrated I would get before Delaney was born and you three were like little cats — being herded in one direction or another. One day I was trying to get you ready for gymnastics — you were probably 6. I was running around getting you all out to the van, and when I went to put on my shoes, I realized that Cooper had pooped in them … straight up pooped. Like, this is where I’m going to do it … you can’t stop me kind of poop. I had to go in bare feet. I was furious inside. You know what I remember most of all?
I remember now how beautiful that day was … how we all rolled down the van windows and sang that silly song (Brody is a baby and Abby is, too). We screamed that song out the windows so people could hear the extent of our weird circus. That’s what I remember. Is it hard? Not in the least.
So, what is the hardest part about being a stay at home dad?
For me, it’s the anonymity. Social media helps, but, ironically, it also emphasizes how alone you can be. I follow guys like Stark Raving Dad to stay sane.
A few years ago, I walked up to a homeschool mom I knew from Facebook. We were at the grocery store and the three of you were tagging along. Keep in mind, I knew her the way we know people on Facebook — a cursory and superficial relationship full of heated conversations about language arts curriculum and socialization. She looked a lot like her profile picture, but I hesitated to say hello because it seemed sketchy to just say hello despite being great friends on social media. I picked up a cucumber and tossed it into a bag. Then I repeated the same procedure. Now I knew I was being sketchy. Nobody bags a single cucumber, twice.
It occurred to me that this was probably unknown anxiety to moms. You see, moms say hi. Moms drink coffee together. Moms hang out. Moms host play dates. Dads kind of linger around on the periphery looking sketchy. And, I get it. Husbands loathe the idea of the renaissance dad who doesn’t work but is the lone male at play dates … It’s weird. I fully accept that. I’m not sure I would feel any differently.
Anyway, I finally said hi, and she kept looking at me with this weird, puzzled look. I said something like nice to meet you — two years after actually meeting. “Me, too.” She said. “Sorry, all this time I thought you were a woman … it’s just that usually when I see a man’s name on a Facebook homeschool group, it’s because the wife shares an account with the husband.”
That’s what it is to be a homeschool dad …
When you were my age, where did you think you would be at your age?
I think I probably thought I would have retired from being in a big rock band. No, I always wanted a big family. Your grandma will tell you that I talked about being a stay at home dad as far back as high school. It was absolutely unheard of back then.
Do you feel like you gave up on some dreams to be a stay at home parent?
Maybe. Probably. But so what? Dreams come in different packages when you have a family. Roll with it …
Most important life lesson you never taught us … but want to?
There’s an old saying my dad taught me when I was learning to shoot: “Aim small, miss small. If you aim at the whole buck, you miss the buck. If you aim at the flea on the buck, you hit the buck.” Now, what does this have to do with you?
I spent my 20’s bouncing from one experience to the other. My eyes were closed. My heart was equally closed to God.
What I didn’t understand was that living an aimless life is really no life at all. Paul pleaded that we “not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5:17). Your mom and I have tried to open your eyes to that relationship, so that you don’t feel the need to live your life as a mere passerby. God knows why you’re here. He wants you to understand your purpose and pursue it with a passion. That’s how you honor Him. That’s how you honor yourself. Be intentional in everything you do. If you can live with His word and do that? You’ve learned the most important lesson I have to teach you.
So here we are. It’s true that this life is chaotic and weird nearly every day. Some days I want to quit. Some days I wonder why I was blessed like this. All days, I am reminded that men can fill this role with their own spin on parenting. For most men, this isn’t a natural disposition. In a world without gender, I know this is controversial. For most men, this seems like a role reversal. Historically speaking, it is.
So I ask you. So what? Do what you were called to do. And do it like you are curing cancer … every, single day!