It’s the question I fear most. I never know exactly how to answer and it usually comes at an awkward moment, such as when I’m trying to break up a fight between my kids or I’m having my haircut. If I’m really unlucky, I get asked it when I’m trying to break up a fight between my kids while I’m having a haircut. This is obviously worse – difficult explanations are made so much harder when having to hiss threats at a nine-year-old as someone waves scissors around my ears. Normally, though, the question is just well-meaning small talk at the supermarket from an acquaintance or a stranger, designed to make me feel better as I extract a small child from an disastrous encounter with a cereal display.
“Actually, this is me at work,” I mutter, tipping Cheerios out of my daughter’s pockets. “I’m a housedad.”
“Oh!?” The amiable grin on my inquisitor’s face dissolves and they take an involuntary step backwards. Surprise, disbelief, pity and fear fight for control of their wildly-jiggling eyebrows as they realise they’ve blundered into a whole different conversation from the one they were expecting. Then they pull themselves together and remember that it’s rude to stare. They try to think of something encouraging to say.
They usually fail and resort to asking, “Do you enjoy that then?”
I mean, where to begin? I get to watch my kids grow and learn. I have opportunities to play with them, teach them and delight in them that most dads can barely dream of. Do I enjoy being a housedad? Of course I do.
Then again, it can be tough going sometimes. I’ve had to watch Finding Nemo 537 times, for instance. Being a housedad is a daily parenting adventure but it’s also a job.
Back in the day, when I had three children under the age of five, I was constantly busy. There wasn’t time for anything much beyond looking after the kids and trying to stay sane. I regularly had to choose between sleep and time to myself. Getting enough of both was a perpetual juggling act.
The last couple of years have seen a steady improvement. Aside from the occasional nightmare, they all sleep through the night. They all know how to get dressed without assistance. Very rarely, they can even all entertain themselves at the same time and leave me in peace. It’s a crazy new world of wonder I’ve entered. Better than that, my youngest started school this year and I have several hours to myself every day.
Unfortunately, when well-meaning acquaintances learn this, they immediately ask, “Are you thinking of going back to work then?”
Er… Did I say every day? I meant every weekday when school is on and none of my kids are sick. That’s something quite different. At best, I have twenty-seven hours a week with which to pursue another vocation and that’s if I leave shopping and cleaning until the weekend, don’t stop for lunch and ignore any travel time. Most weeks it’s more like twenty hours. Many weeks it’s none.
This limits my career options.
Explaining is more trouble than it’s worth, though. Everyone assumes that, as a man, I must be leaping at the chance to get out of the house and win some bread. It’s only natural, after all. Personally, however, I’d rather have a lie down. I’m due several years’ worth of lunch hours as it is…
I counter by mentioning that I run a parenting website but, sadly, by this point, I’m already irredeemably marked out as ‘slightly odd’.
My interrogator’s eyes narrow. “Does that make any money?”
“That’s not really the point. I get to pass on what I’ve learnt, encourage other parents, build my self-esteem and share a few laughs.”
“So, that would be a ‘no’ then.”
“I do get free computer games.”
For some reason, this always impresses people enough to cover my escape. I make my excuses and leave, mumbling something about having to find my children. Then I set off in the direction of the bickering, following a trail of little old ladies who’ve been barged into freezer units, their rubber-soled shoes waggling out from amongst the packets of frozen peas.
I wonder if mums who ‘only’ stay home and look after their kids face the same kind of thing?
Having all three at school has brought new possibilities. That said, they still need me around an awful lot for the time being. The website (DadsDinner.com) has been going well and is hopefully the beginning of a self-employed writing career but I’m not holding my breath. I’ve got plenty to keep myself occupied – not least with ten years of chores to catch up on. Realistically, my main task for this first year of freedom is to figure out what I’m doing in the second.
Got to start back into the world of paid employment somewhere, I suppose…
Running a successful business with children around is an impressive feat. Hats off to all of you who’re giving it a go.
Located in the UK, Edmund Farrow has been a housedad for nearly ten years and has three children, aged 9, 7 and 5. He vaguely remembers that he was once able to program computers. In 2007, however, he finally got fed up of being told how common housedads are these days by everyone he spoke to, despite the fact he was normally the only one they’d ever met. He decided to set up a website, DadsDinner.com, to share what being a primary carer with only one X chromosome is really like. Dadsdinner offers advice, encouragement and humour to parents, prospective parents and especially stay-at-home dads. It includes guidance on everything from potty training to surviving a zombie invasion, along with reviews of such housedad essentials as home delivery services and films with explosions. Don’t tell anyone, but mums enjoy DadsDinner, too. Sometimes it gives them scary ideas about getting their men more involved in childcare. (Well, scary for the men in question, anyway…)
My 3 year old is hysterical. Seriously. I’m not talking about the little “oh isn’t that cute” type of laughs that an infant elicits. Nor am I talking about the courtesy laughs you give to a joke told at a cocktail party or by the elderly…or your in-laws. No, I mean every day my 3 year old son says or does something that brings a genuine belly laugh out of me. I always thought I was a big shot because I wrote and performed a one man show a few years back. That’s nothing! My kid performs a one man show every night whether it’s on our living room floor or in the bathtub. And it’s all improv. You should see what he can do with a few finger puppets and plastic dolphins. He’s named every one of his toys and not your every day run of the mill names either. He calls his rubber shark, “Rusty”. Who names a shark Rusty? Brilliant! I’m dying over here! He’s tells funnier stories than Bill Cosby, he’s a better prop comic than Carrot Top and can make a bigger mess than Gallagher. He also works blue at times. His bathroom humor would make Howard Stern blush. I’m not all that fond of his potty mouth, but I understand that he has to work in front of all kinds of audiences. I don’t know, I guess some kids at day care go for that sort of stuff. And unlike every comedian who is just starting out, he never bombs. He goes out there and kills every night.
Is he funnier than your kid? Of course he is. To me. You wouldn’t find him funny though. Just like your kid is hilarious to you, but I probably wouldn’t get it. His or her musings and observations would be lost on me while you would be rolling on the floor laughing. Why? It’s all in the material. You’ve heard the question, “Where do they get this stuff?” The answer? Us, of course. Our kids are little Dictaphones. They just spew back to us what they hear. Good and bad. Their brilliance is spewing it back to us when we least expect it. Last weekend my toddler came in to our bedroom at 7AM looked at me in bed and said with extreme disgust and contempt, “Daddy, are you asleep? Oh, I don’t believe it” Not funny right? WRONG! It’s comedy gold. Tonight he looked at me and the trash bag in my hand and innocently said, “Oh! What have you got there?” SEE? That’s funny! It’s not just what he says, but the commitment behind it. I have no idea when I, my wife, or anyone else said those words, but we must have at some point. The fact that he chose these random moments to say them back to us just shows his penchant for comic timing. And he’s not the only funny preschooler in the family. My 4 year old niece makes me howl too. And the two of them together? Abbott and Costello only WISH they were that funny. I’m also excited because my 2 month old just learned to smile. I’m sure he’s starting to mentally jot some notes down that will soon turn into some real A material.
I’m writing this down here in this forum because it’s the kind of thing that only parents can understand. We are all dying to brag or joke about every single thing our kids say and do. We have to show some restraint though. Our friends who are single and married without kids would give us a smile or a courtesy laugh (see above), but they just don’t get it. Our friends with kids would genuinely laugh, but they would be thinking, “My kid said something much more cute and funny the other day”. Don’t believe me? When you update your Facebook status with an anecdote about your child, the only comments you get are from parents who will say. “That’s funny. It reminds me of the time my little Brittney said…”
Now if you’re like me and you have a toddler, enjoy these comedy sets because they will not last. As my kid grows he will always be funny, but he’ll be a different kind of funny. The innocence and complete lack of insecurity is what makes this stage of life so magical and uproarious. So do yourself a favor before it’s too late. Turn off the TV and take time to watch the show that your kid is performing right in front of you. I guarantee it’s better than any reality show or sitcom (except for the fine programming on ABC). And at times they’ll need a straight man so make sure you can keep up.
Chris is an actor/writer living in Los Angeles. He’s performed in movies, TV and on stage with the Groundlings Improvisation troupe, and the award winning Circle X Theatre Company. He recently performed his self penned critically acclaimed one man show “You’re From Philly, Charlie Brown” in several cities across the US. Chris currently works as an Associate Writer/Producer for ABC On-Air Promos for Reality and Comedy. He lives north of Los Angeles, in Santa Clarita, with his wife and two children.
The title is not an exaggeration. Last year, comedian Graham Elwood and I started comedyfilmnerds.com since we were so tired of trying to get work with web companies or any other company for that matter. So we thought we should just become competitors. Of course we were doing it all ourselves and on less than a shoestring. So everything took longer and the credit card balances went up for both of us. Our goals were ambitious. We wanted to feature movie reviews and columns written by professional comedians, interviews and comedy CDs, DVDs and books available for sale along with movie downloads. We’re a mix of Filmthreat, Amazon and ITunes. So our site was cobbled together with duct tape and off we went. And then it crashed and didn’t work. Many times. That has mostly been corrected. Audge was on maternity leave while we started everything. We were so excited. We moved my office into the garage and that was going to be the baby’s bedroom. At first I was disappointed but if anyone with children knows, to have a room detached from the rest of the house is much more awesome than either parent will let on to the other. So every Tuesday Graham comes over and we play “internet moguls” in the garage. We have a blast. We laugh, work, and strategize. And then we try to slowly learn how to get people to come to our website. But my wife’s maternity leave ended and she soon went back to work and I was suddenly a stay at home dad/comedian/author/filmmaker/web guy. It’s been tough, but we’re getting through it. We’re both working double shifts as we switch off from work and childcare duties and try and get a few hours of sleep in the process. Between working on the website, finishing the book and doing an occasional show there wasn’t been much time left. So Graham and I shifted our website schedule to later in the day and my son Griffin was now part of the mix. He would be present at the reading of the minutes and have voting rights during board meetings. So now Griffin is almost a year old, and it’s been about a year since we launched the site. But now Griffin is crawling and he won’t stay in the “bouncy chair” whileF Graham and I struggle and take an hour to try and add a jpeg image of a T-shirt to our online shopping cart. There are times when Graham holds the baby as I look up a purchase order or find out who Doug Benson is supposed to make a CD out to. The first time I asked him I just flat out said, “Is that weird, that I’m asking you to hold the baby?” He laughed and said no, he has many nieces and nephews and much practice. So I gave Griffin to Graham and he instantly took to him and tried to rip his necklace off. I think it was made of shark teeth or something because Graham’s a surfer and they… all fight sharks, right? Now you expect comedians to make you laugh, get drunk, hit on waitresses and pass out in a back alley of a club somewhere. OK, we’ve all done it. But it’s a weird picture to see two comedians taking care of a baby. It’s an especially weird picture for the actual comedians. But here’s the thing: I’ve never been happier. I’m doing my own thing. Taking care of my baby, running a business and there is no one to answer to. If I’m going to learn how to use a website content management system and learn how to use Microsoft Accounting (and I’m still learning, very slowly), I’m going to do it for me, and not anyone else. I’m sure our company would be making millions of dollars right now if we had things like a staff and a marketing budget. And maybe a new computer. But it is making a little money, thanks to the support of comedy and film fans, comedians, filmmakers, advertisers and other people supporting us along with one intern who is trying to figure out a nice way of telling us she’s too busy to help us anymore. And of course the support from OMM during my book release (PACIFY ME: A HANDBOOK FOR THE FREAKED OUT NEW DAD) has been amazing. We’re in the middle of rebuilding comedyfilmnerds.com (we originally called it comedyfilmnerdsdotcom.com but it was screwing up navigation and links) and my son is getting bigger. I can see the growth in every part of my life right now, and it feels good. Having children changes your perspective for the better. WAY better. And starting my own business has changed it even more. I’m not “industry obsessed” or constantly “waiting for someone to call me back” anymore. And even if I’m having a bad day, Griffin smiles at me and then it simply doesn’t matter anymore. Now about that million dollars…
Chris Mancini is a comedian and author. His first book “Pacify Me: A Handbook for the Freaked-Out New Dad” is now available for purchase. Enter to win the book for FREE!