The number of at-home dads who are primary caregivers for their children reached nearly 2 million in 2010, or one in 15 fathers, according to one estimate. Al Watts, president of the National At-Home Dad Network, believes a more accurate count is about 7 million, using broader definitions that include part-time workers. That amounts to one-third of married fathers in the U.S.
Most, he said, want to be there, as opposed to the kind who never thought about it until the ax fell on their careers. And more often than women, they do earn a bit of income at the same time, he said.
COULD THEY DO IT?
Watts, in Omaha, has been home with kids for a decade, since the oldest of his four was a baby. He sees a subtle shift in attitudes emanating from working dads.
"Eight years ago, one of my wife's customers, when he found out that I was an at-home dad he said, 'Oh you know, I'd really love to do that.' I knew what he really meant was that he assumed he could then just hang out at home and play video games and watch TV and not have to go to work anymore," Watts said.
"Now when I have those conversations, they're generally like, 'You know, I really wish I could do that. But then they find out I have four kids and they're like, 'Well, I couldn't do that!'"
The raised eyebrows, pregnant pauses and need to hide their real interests — shopping, crossing guard duty, laundry — for more generic work-dad friendly fare is tedious sometimes for Trey Parker, 32, in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta.
With a full-time working wife and two boys, ages 2 and 9 months to care for, a trip to Costco holds more allure than last night's game or chatter about sales quotas.
"It's a little harder to speak with guys who are corporate dads," Parker said. "At Christmas parties and stuff like that, there's absolutely nothing in common with them. They're either talking about sports or whatever sales or whatnot they have going on at the office, and you can't comment on any of that stuff. You're naturally drawn to the women because they're talking about the kids and the family."
Weckerlein wasn't used to the idea that wanting to stay home with the kids was something other than perfectly natural: "It's kind of surprising that this is really a big deal because in the 21st century I thought we could think a little bit different. But yes, I get that 'Mr. Mom.'"
There won't be any of that from 41-year-old Marty Guise in St. Louis, but he does feel the distance.
He has a full-time job and a part-time one to pay the bills. The consultant for nonprofit organizations has two kids, ages 13 and 11. His wife quit her teaching job to be home but now works as a substitute.
"'What do you do for a living?' is a pretty common ice breaker," he said. "When a man tells me that he stays at home, it's usually preceded by or followed quickly with a justification, like 'I lost my job.' I receive that as a defense for staying at home. Right or wrong, men like to be the breadwinners."
He quickly adds: "I think it's devaluing of men or women to say that staying at home is any less important than working 40-plus hours a week."
WHAT'S IT LIKE CHANGING ALL THOSE DIAPERS?
Do you miss having a real job?
Tony Reynolds, 47 and at-home dad for 11 years, has heard it all since a downsize at a large insurance company solidified his decision to be home in suburban Columbus, Ohio, with his two youngest boys from a second marriage.
"The other dads make snide comments or ask bizarre questions sometimes," he said. "I say it IS a real job and I bet you couldn't do it."
Once pretty much by himself with the moms all day, the economy has driven some of his former dad doubters his way.
"One used to say 'I wish my wife made so much money so I could stay home,' then he lost his job and started taking care of the kids and was like, 'Wow, this is a lot of work,'" Reynolds said.