Originally published in 2011 on AtHomeDad.org
In nine years as an at-home dad, I have taken my kids to countless grocery stores, hardware stores, doctor’s appointments (mine and theirs), banks, playgrounds, museums and post offices all during normal working hours. I often hear, “so it’s daddy’s day! How sweet,” or “it looks like you have a few helpers with you today,” or, “WOW! They are so well-behaved,” shocked that a dad is capable of competently corralling four kids, or the worst, “looks like you’re babysitting the kids today.”
I have never asked, but I doubt many moms, working or at home ever hear these things.
Earlier this week, though, I heard one person’s assumptions about the reasons I would have 4 kids with me at 3:30 on a cold Tuesday afternoon. The words this clerk at a local grocery store said to me topped all other assumptions anyone else had ever made about me.
After picking up our two older ones from school, I headed over to the grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner and flowers for my wife. She had been having a challenging time at work and I thought the flowers would help. Yes, I’ll accept the “Husband of the Year” award now.
Anyway, we picked out a dozen roses and brought the bunch to the florist’s counter to pay for them. The lady behind the counter wondered if it was my wife’s birthday.
“No,” Miles our 7 year old said, “she’s traveling.” (My wife actually was in town that day but because of her travel schedule they never remember when she’s in town and when she isn’t).
“Oh, so she’s in sales,” the woman said.
“Yes,” Miles replied, “She works at ConAgra.”
“Well, it’s sure great that your dad gets to stay home with you,” the florist said.
I was floored.
For the first time in 9 years, a stranger seeing me, a dad, with 4 kids in the middle of the workday assumed I was an at-home dad!
Those of you who are not at-home dads are probably thinking, “who cares?”
It’s validation for one thing. Hearing a stranger correctly understand who you are gives you a sense of belonging to the larger community. When people assume you’re only babysitting the kids, you feel like you’re doing something wrong; something that a man is not supposed to do. By identifying me as an at-home dad, this cashier made me feel like being an at-home dad was the most normal thing in the world. While I already feel that way about myself, it is reassuring when someone else gets it too.
It also confirms society is changing its views of parenthood. Trends have been changing. Fathers are becoming more actively involved with their children according to many studies including the latest Census report showing an increase in fathers as primary caregivers. Despite these facts, many people have held on to “traditional” views on parenting. Assuming I am an at-home dad proves that perceptions of fathers are inching closer to reality.
Finally, it is such a relief to not have to explain myself. It is tiring, even irritating at times, to continually feel like you have to explain, “yes, I am really taking care of all these kids and I chose to do this.” If you’ve ever done something outside of the norm, you understand what I mean. Having a conversation with someone without them being utterly confused about who I am is awesome!
I am sure I will still run into people who can’t imagine a father can be more than a babysitter for a few hours but I now know there are people who don’t think that way. I now know there are people who assume a dad in the grocery store with 4 kids on a workday afternoon is an at-home parent and that it is the most normal thing in the world.
If you believe, as I do, that Dads Don't Babysit, wear that statement with pride and help support stay-at-home dads by purchasing the Dads Don't Babyst t-shirt in the above graphic.
For the fourth year in a row my son Miles is shaving his head.
This is one brave kid.
Every year, it makes me cringe. He’s going to look very different. People are going to stare. His head is going to get cold. These are the worries of an overprotective parent.
Despite my worries, I am extremely proud of him. It takes guts to stand up for something you believe and to help others by sacrificing something of yourself. But he does it, every year. I am humbled. I couldn’t do it.
He shaves his head to raise awareness and money for childhood cancer research. It is astonishing that only a mere 4% of the National Cancer Institute’s budget is dedicated towards treating and finding a cure for cancer in kids. How on earth does this make sense?! Cancer treatment for kids are very different than for adults and yet little is being done about it.
When Miles learned of this four years ago, he was saddened. He had never met a kid with cancer but he couldn’t understand how so little is done for these kids. When he learned there was something he could about it, he jumped at the chance.
His mom and I weren’t so excited about it at first but our then 11 year-old was quite determined. He always has been that way. Once he makes up his mind, he is determined to move forward. While he was asking for permission, we realized he was really just letting us know what he was going to do.
The experience was transformative for all of us. He was so excited to do it and we were so proud to watch him do something he felt passionate about. He raised several thousand dollars that year and has raised a couple thousand each year after that, nearly $10,000 in total. It’s a pretty good chunk of change for a little hair.
This Saturday, March 14, he will be shaving his hair. He would be grateful if you can donate here. If you can’t donate, leave a message of encouragement or support in the comments. He loves to hear it!
As always, other kids will look at him funny or tease him for his bald head after this weekend. He doesn’t mind. It gives him a chance to tell them about the lack of research funds for kids with cancer.
Like I said, this is one brave kid.
The sign taped to the door read, “Please keep this door closed!”
I knocked. There was no answer. Taking a deep breath, I cautiously pushed open the door.
All the lights in the room were off but there was plenty of daylight coming through the window to see him. He was propped up in the bed, sleeping comfortably. I considered whether or not to wake me but I was given this responsibility so I had to try. Several feet inside the door, I quietly spoke his name. He didn’t stir, so I started to back out of the room. Suddenly his eyes shot open and he frantically searched for the sound that had awakened him.
I caught his eyes and said, “Hi. I am Al Watts from St. Patrick’s. I have communion if you’d like to receive.”
He stared at me for a second trying to comprehend the words I spoke. A smile then formed on his face as he nodded and said, “Oh, please.”
I squirted hand sanitizer on my hands from the bottle on the wall and rubbed them together as I approached him. He felt around in his sheets and pulled out a rosary which he held firmly in his hands.
I said the prayers and then placed the communion host in his hand. He took the host into his mouth and closed his eyes, likely saying a private prayer to himself.
As I went back to the hand sanitizer on the wall, he said to me, beaming, “You made my day. God be with you.” Rubbing hand sanitizer on my hands I replied, “God bless you,” and left his room, remembering to close the door behind me.
I never know why the people I visit in the hospital are there. They certainly need healing of some kind or another. Once a month I bring communion to them, part of a team of parishioners who come each day to visit patients in the hospital. It is among the most joyous things I do. I get to see God work.
Before I began this ministry, I always pray that the Lord give me the words to say and that He bring healing. I believe whatever I say to the patients is what God wants them to hear. Then, when I give communion, I see a weight seem fall off of them and a brightness come to their eyes, no matter their ailment. It is an incredible experience to witness.
Catholics believe that the host, the unleavened bread consecrated by a priest, is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. We believe that when we receive communion, we are consuming Christ and that He is coming into our body. Most other Christian denominations believe the unleavened bread is only a symbol of Christ’s body, not Christ himself.
It’s a hard concept to wrap your brain around and one I did not fully understand until I began bringing communion to patients at a nearby hospital. Seeing the transformation patients undergo gives me no doubt Christ is truly in the communion host.
But their joy of receiving the Lord is not the only joy in that moment. I feel fulfilled as well. In fact, I feel like I am maybe receiving more healing than the patient.
I have found that helping others helps me too, maybe more. For most of my adult life, I have served others as a stay at home father, a leader in a non-profit organization and in this ministry providing communion. In all of these experiences I have felt fulfilled in a way I never imagined when I was younger, imaging my life as a successful businessman.
It shouldn’t be surprising to any of us. Christ told us as much in Luke 6:38, “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down and overflowing…”
Service is healing to the receiver and the giver. It’s what makes the world a better place and I am grateful to do my part.