American Dream

The Life of Stay-at-Home Dads: One Father’s Decision to Prioritize His Kids

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The number of men choosing to become stay-at-home dads is increasing: Pew Research Center data reveals that two million fathers stayed at home with their kids in 2012, which is nearly double 1989’s 1.1 million. Eric Wilfong, a licensed attorney, was one of them. His wife, Liz, was training to become a doctor. The couple took a hard look at their lives and ultimately did what was best for their kids.

Why Stay Home?

“It was a pragmatic decision,” Eric says. “Liz was in the middle of residency when she had Mateo, and I was attempting to work from home. Her schedule was so demanding that we were concerned our son would never see his parents if I started working outside the home again.”

After Liz finished her residency, she and Eric decided that he would continue to be a stay-at-home dad for three reasons:

“First, Liz’s earning power is significantly higher than mine,” says Eric. “Second, while it’s possible, though challenging, for attorneys to practice law intermittently, it’s difficult for physicians to practice medicine in the same manner. Finally, our oldest son was diagnosed with autism. Raising him has taken a tremendous amount of time and energy.”

A Day in the Life

Today, Eric and Liz have three children: seven-year-old Mateo, five-year-old Madeline, and four-year-old Lucas. A typical day for Eric includes balancing school, chores, and play.

“I pick up Madeline up from school around 3 p.m., and Mateo comes home on the bus at 4 p.m.,” he says. “So between about 8:30 and 2:30, I have only my youngest at home and can easily fill my time with domestic duties such as cleaning, cooking, shopping, home maintenance, and bills when I’m not playing with my son.”

For a while, the Wilfongs experimented with having Eric transition to working outside the home, but the results weren’t good.

“I went back to work, practicing law for a little more than a year,” Eric says. “I also taught business law as an adjunct for two years. We had a nanny during my year practicing law. Our kids, particularly Mateo, didn’t seem as happy during that time, so I came back home.”

Eric notes that being a stay-at-home dad comes with some downsides, such as missing out on career development. Because both Liz’s and Eric’s professions required expensive educations, they’ll have to contend with debt longer than some two-career couples. To them, the sacrifice is well worth it.

Views on Modern Fatherhood

The term “modern fatherhood” is a misnomer, according to Eric. No matter what role a dad plays in or outside the home, he’s still a dad.

“There’s the typical answer,” says Eric. “We’ve seen a cultural shift in the last 40 years that has propelled women into the working world, and more particularly into that world’s higher echelons, which has caused us to rethink traditional domestic roles. That’s certainly true, but a dad is still a dad, and a mom is still a mom. There are implications of being a father that do not (or should not) change just because the person making dinner is the husband.”

Eric also spends time engaging in outside activities, including volunteering at his church and at the local bar association. His advice to new stay-at-home dads is that it’s OK to let being a dad be your primary job.

“Find a way to keep tabs on the working world,” Eric suggests. “Take on small responsibilities outside your home, if you’re able. But don’t be afraid to be committed to being a dad as your primary vocation.”

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