"Big Four" Highlights


All-Trades Men

Dads who stay home have much to share

By Rachel Lu

More and more fathers are staying at home with their children while their wives go out to earn a paycheck. Pew Research has revealed that this trend has been accelerating, reflecting changes in the labor market. Employment is harder to secure nowadays, and families can often increase their financial security by staying flexible about who works. Clearly, the majority of fathers go off to work, but today at-home dads make up 16 percent of parents who work at home. Traditional Christian families may have good reasons to consider this arrangement.

Approached from the proper perspective, this decision can be a positive thing for the whole family. All kinds of blessings can follow from having a constant paternal presence in the home. This should be obvious, but many at-home dads seem to feel that it’s not. They regularly field questions from acquaintances who see their home situation as strange, and mothers who work outside the home may wonder whether they are spending enough time with their children.

Americans often associate “tradition” with a 1950s tableau wherein Dad, properly attired in suit and fedora, returns from the office just in time to be greeted by his smiling children and served dinner by his aproned wife. Set against such a backdrop, it’s hard to know what to make of men who don’t wake up and head out to the office. There’s a temptation to view these fathers as “housewives with beards,” to envision them as hapless, fish-out-of-water victims of unfortunate circumstance. Many modern comedies have centered on the incompetence of the bumbling domestic dad.

This is short-sighted and unfair. Certainly, men and women are different. But there is nothing intrinsically feminine about working at home, nor do the domestic arts belong exclusively to women. It’s actually quite ironic that at-home dads feel a need to defend their masculinity, when they may well be spending their days shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, smoking meat or building furniture, while office-bound men answer phones and send emails. Which one sounds closer to the rugged pioneer spirit that is so prized in our culture?

Perhaps we could shift our perspective by changing the language by which we refer to at-home dads. Let’s not call them “house husbands” or “domestic dads.” Instead, we might try a term like “all-trades men,” giving due credit to the many areas of competence that these men are able to develop. At-home fathers can be true generalists, mastering the many practical skills that others may not ever learn.

One of the interesting facts about modern life is that we are able to make choices about which types of work we want to “outsource” by hiring specialists or purchasing commercial products and which ones we want to learn for ourselves. Sometimes we do call the plumber or settle for the frozen dinner. But there are all kinds of benefits to doing things for ourselves. We save money, of course. But the benefits are not merely financial. Quite often, do-it-yourselfing improves quality and diminishes waste. And, of course, we enjoy the satisfaction of serving our families.

Fathers can take charge of their households in a manly way by building, fixing, fishing, hunting, composing, inventing and organizing. They can become family barbers and accomplished chefs. Some might learn the fundamentals of carpentry and home repair. Nature-lovers might landscape family property, or contribute to the family food supply by fishing, hunting or gardening. The artistically-inclined can enrich their family’s lives by painting, poetry or playing musical instruments.

All-trades men should be regarded as wonderful resources for our families and communities. Children, of course, will thrive with the blessing of consistent paternal attention. But neighbors and friends will also benefit from the regular presence of competent, knowledgeable men. Everyone appreciates a friend who can offer practical help and advice. And people in the neighborhood are likely to feel safer if they know that there are trusted men who are regularly at home. Good men make the people around them feel protected, and that’s something we especially appreciate in a detached and atomized world.

Good fathers will always be a blessing to their families, whether they are earning a paycheck, or giving themselves to their children in a more direct way. But we should be particularly grateful for all-trades men, guys who exemplify the goods of manhood and of fatherhood in a unique and admirable way.

Rachel Lu is a senior contributor at The Federalist and a weekly columnist at Aleteia. She teaches philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.