Husband & Wife Articles


Hands-On Fatherhood

‘Am I really doing this?’ marvels a stay-at-home dad

By Kevin Di Camillo

My father has worked hard all his life as a baker, and I would happily put in equally long hours in my chosen field. Yet illness and changes in the publishing industry have made me into something I never planned to be—a stay-at-home dad.

As the old joke goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

Within a year of getting married to my wife, Alicia, in 2002, I was diagnosed with stage II testicular cancer. This illness not only ruined any plans of ever being able to have children, but ruined our family financially, since we paid out of pocket what insurance would not cover of the surgery, radiation and continuing treatments.

The author with his wife, Alicia, and their two children, Giovanni Paolo and Agnes.

Yet after five childless years, God blessed us—through the New Jersey state adoption process—with 6-day-old twins whom we named Agnes (after the early Roman martyr and my maternal grandmother) and Giovanni Paolo (after St. John Paul II.)

Soon after this happy event, I lost my job after nearly a decade as an editor. My wife, a registered respiratory therapist, became the family’s breadwinner, working extra hospital shifts to make up for the loss of my income. Thus I became the primary care giver to our twins.

It’s said that one of the hardest things in life is to learn something new. This was very true for me in my sudden transition to a “hands-on” father. It was one thing to change an occasional diaper, do a middle-of-the-night feeding, and rush to the ER with an ill or injured infant. But it was another thing entirely for me to adapt to cooking every day (and cooking around food-allergies), and cleaning (and using hypoallergenic cleansers), and laundry—with hypoallergenic detergent; then doing the bills, taking the kids to and from school, doing homework, baths, prayers, stories and then, mercifully, bedtime.

Surely this could not be what God intended when he granted me a full scholarship to Notre Dame and then a doctoral research fellowship to St. John’s — or was it? There are graces and blessings in my work at home. But I must admit that although I’m getting better at it, I’m still not used to the daily routine. I’ve learned to make a Bolognese sauce and answer second-grade questions on math and the parts of speech at the same time. Yet as I’m stirring the sauce and explaining to the twins the difference between an adjective and an adverb, I’m wondering, “Am I really actually doing this?”

If it’s a state of disbelief, it’s also a state of God-given grace, for there’s no other way I could possibly do it. I know also that there’s absolutely no way I could do it without Alicia working full-time as a registered respiratory therapist and night supervisor for respiratory therapists and helping as much as she does at home. But it’s a blessing because, long after I’ve sloughed off this mortal coil and the fever of life is hushed, and I return to the God who brought me into existence, my children will remember (I hope!) these many small moments—cooking their dinner or helping with their homework or giving them baths or reading bedtime stories.

I still remember my dad reading to me—but I mainly remember him working, working, working, six days a week, 12-hours a day, as the third-generation baker at our family’s DiCamillo Bakery in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A job he is still doing well into his 70s. Perhaps because it seemed that my siblings and I saw him so rarely that I remember him so clearly.

And I see a lot of my father in my wife, who now works 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., and rushes to get home to see Agnes and Giovanni Paolo before I take them to school—and then wakes up to help me with dinner and homework, before she heads back to the hospital.

“My days are faster than a weaver’s shuttle,” says the beleaguered Job (7:6). I know what he means. But as my brother-in-law, who has twins and two other children, noted: “These are short years, but long days.”

Kevin DiCamillo is a freelance writer and editor based in northern New Jersey. He is a member of Knights of Columbus Don Bosco Council 4960.