A stay-at-home dad wonders why he gets the hairy eyeball on playgrounds

July 27, 2011 at 9:52 AM ET

Two years ago, with my daughter’s birth imminent, I (temporarily) quit my job to be a stay-at-home dad. Once my wife’s maternity leave was over it was just me and NJ, and I started a blog to chronicle my experiences as a SAHD. (Man, does that sound depressing: “Hey, Daddy, why so SAHD?”) Eventually I realized that dads caring for kids wasn’t a big deal where I live – in fact, the sidewalks in my Seattle neighborhood were positively lousy with men pushing strollers and wearing babies on their chests. And so my “Defender of the SAHD” website (there could have been t-shirts, mugs, onesies, even a bad sitcom with William Shatner in a supporting role!) morphed into a simpler, “Progress of the Child” blog for far-flung family and friends.

Still, though, people are looking at me. I think.

Now that NJ is one of the world’s foremost playground enthusiasts, I sometimes feel like I’m sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb. Did that woman by the slide shoot me a dirty look before she leaned over and whispered in her toddler’s ear?How come NJ and I are the only ones on the swings? Do I look like some sort of weirdo? Should I have gone to medical school to please my parents? OK, that last one has more to do with my own insecurities and issues than anything else – and perhaps the other questions do, too. But I’m not alone: This recently landed in my inbox:

Courtesy Bob Trott /
As a stay-at-home-dad, Bob Trott feels he gets extra scrutiny when he takes daughter NJ on outings.

“Of course, I’m a potential predator simply because I’m a guy. It must be inconceivable for a man to comfort his own child, so the obvious conclusion is I’m attempting to abduct a kid in broad daylight and pick up some half-price noodles and toothpaste at the same time. Slightly less offensive is the notion a woman can be automatically granted a free pass.”

And there’s this.  In an unscientific – but still interesting – survey, Jeremy Adam Smith of the Daddy Dialectic blog polled dad readers on the issue of “parenting while white”:  Fathers, Smith wrote:

“… are often made to feel like outsiders at parks, playgrounds, and situations where most of the other parents are moms or grandmoms—and that their participation in playgroups or classes is sometimes rejected.”

So, yeah. I’m not crazy. Or at least not alone with the craziness (which is important).

My friend Mark – who welcomed his third child into the world earlier this year and does a lot of the child-caring – says that when he’s “out with my girls at the playground surrounded by moms, I feel some pressure to appear wholesome. But it's probably because with all those responsible moms around I revert to being a kid who just doesn't want to get in trouble.” (Yeah, me too – but then again, I feel some pressure to appear wholesome all the time – as George Costanza says, “We’re living in a SOCIETY here!”)

 “It's a little weirder on play dates when my daughters have friends over,” Mark continues. “The kids are young and sometimes need someone to stir things up to keep the play date fun – a monster or pirate. The sort of thing I do all the time when it's just us. But you have these moments when you wonder if Daddy putting jammies over his head and chasing the girls around the bedroom will somehow seem inappropriate later when it gets re-told at someone else's dinner table.”

Play dates – thanks for reminding me! I held a couple with NJ and a friend or two of hers while I was a SAHD (“a SAHD” – shudder) among a circle of people we met on a birthing retreat. I knew one mom was joking when she ominously said “Now we’re going down into this man’s basement, honey, it’s OK.” But play dates were rare, and some of the other moms got together without us. Oh, great – NJ will never have any friends because she’s being squired around by her Dad, I thought.

So: I feel like I get extra scrutiny when I take I take NJ out by myself. Am I right? Is it nonsense? What do you think – are stay-at-home-dads scary?

Bob Trott blogs about his adventures in parenting at Dad Solo.

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