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Are There Any Historic Stay At Home Dads?

June 7, 2013 in general history

Looking back on the recent history of the last thirty years there are no notable stay at home dads, with the exception of prominent celebrities.  When I was in kindergarten  I remember watching the movie Mr. Mom, which poked fun a Jack  (Michael Keaton) trying to fill the role of a stay at home mom Caroline when she needed to go back to work so the family would not starve. Jack blanches when having to buy his wife feminine protection at the supermarket, he does not understand how to properly drop his kids off at school when it is raining, and tries to overcompensate with his wife’s boss by bragging about home repair, even though it is apparent he is not exactly an expert on the subject.  This movie was very indicative of 1980’s attitudes towards stay at home dads when this was still considered an exception to the rule, and a man would only stay at home if he forced to because of a situation like being laid off.

About twenty years later by the year 2006 not much had changed with stay at home dads being portrayed as reluctant participants in movies such as the Little Children, where the character Brad (Patrick Wilson feels trapped by his wive’s restrictive budget, and only comes to life when he decides to have an affair with the neighbor Sarah (Kate Winslet).  Instead of trying to pass the bar, he begins to obsess about skateboarding with the local teens, and you begin to wonder if someone should have ever got married and had kids.  Even movies that portray stay at home dads in a more egalitarian way, such as Daddy Day Care, are primarily situated around the premise that men are a bit clueless when it comes to staying home with the kids at the beginning, or until they realize they have a talent for it.

Traditionally men have men considered the bread winners, whereas women were regarded as the ones who must stay home, and some feel there can be no messing with these “rules”.  Honestly, this just seems like a rigid way of viewing things, especially considering a couple of hundred years ago most people did not live past the age of fifty, and electricity and cell phones would have been things out of science fiction novels.  Times do change, and gender roles sometimes change along with these.  No one is saying that men have to stay at home if they do not want to, but through out the ages there have always been men who prefer to be more domestic, such as transgender men in Tahiti, and women who are inclined to be adventurers, like Annie Oakley and Amelia Earhart.

Whereas some men might be reluctant to stay at home with the kids, and are only doing so because of the economy.  However, there are actually men who probably would have preferred being in years past, but society told them this was wrong.  Whereas some say it is emasculating to force men to take on my traditional female roles, conversely it is also a bit facile to dictate what traditional male and female gender roles must be.  I remember putting together a couple of book cases by myself, and I probably managed this task better than some men in the world.  The truth is there are men prefer reading books to their kids and baking cookies, whereas some wives would rather repair a leaky faucet and and be high power lawyers.  Why do people have to be defined by their traditional gender roles?  We need to give people more latitude to be who they feel most comfortable evolving into.

So are there any historic stay at home dads?  Truthfully, Google brings up sparse results on this subject because we are at transition period in history when some men are finally stepping out and admitting that it is okay if you want to stay at home with the kids.  Many experts praise the notion of having a stay at home parent, and daycare centers have been known to have safety issues, but some still blanch at the idea of stay at home dad.  So whereas we do not have any famous ones per se, but there were a few cases where middle income families in imperial Russia that had something akin to what we consider stay at home dads today, such with the case of Andrei Chikhachev.  He seems to be one few historical persons that would be considered a stay at home dad, but that is probably because we are in a transitory period.

My online research indicated that stay at home dads are on the rise in the western world, and even in more traditional societies such as China and India.  There are many online communities devoted to stay at home dads supporting each other in the US and the UK, and Australia even has a network devoted to men who are strong enough to reveal that they  actually prefer stay at home with the kids.  So we do not have many stay at home dads who are famous through out history, but do we have lots of stay at home moms that people read about in text books for solely doing that?  Let us be honest: the drudgery of house work, helping kids with home work, and making dinner do not exactly make the highlights of historical chronicles.  Nevertheless, these mundane,are exceedingly vital tasks is what makes to world go round.  So there is certainly a dearth when it comes to pointing out historic SAHDs (stay at home dads) beyond notable celebrities, but who knows how people will view this subject fifty years from now.  Perhaps many men will be thankful they can finally do what they have always dreamed of: staying at home with the kids, and finally admitting that they have no problems with their wives being the bread winners.

2 responses to Are There Any Historic Stay At Home Dads?

  1. I would love to read more about Andrei Chikhachev and his unique family situation.

    I think there is a very big misconception about “stay-at-home” parenting that stems from the idea that work and home are now separate places for most people, but historically that was not the case. In agrarian communities, both parents worked on the homestead and both parents were traditionally there to oversee the children. Neither the mother nor the father was considered to be the stay at home parent, and people worked in the fields while toddlers ran around them and babies were strapped to someone’s back. Traditionally, it was the mother who carried the helpless babies, because only women could nurse, but as soon as a child was weaned, then there was no reason why both parents could not equally supervise.

    In Sparta, while women cared for children up to the age of seven, after age seven the boys were given over to the care of men.

    In some sense, it depends on what sorts of work — ways to earn a living — are available to men and women in a society as to who ends up staying with small children. Sailors and fishermen may go away, leaving the children and women at a home base, but farmers, artisans and storekeepers often stay home and women and men can be seen working side by side in those situations, with the children co-existing with both parents.

    So I think that before we go look for “stay-at-home” dads in various historical periods, we should also investigate whether work in that period required a separation between “home” and “work” and what the roles of men and women were with regard to work in that society.

    It is a very modern concept that “work” is something that one of the parents is entirely exempt from. Throughout history, both men and women worked together to support their families.

    • Interesting points, Aya. Everyone definitely should read your articles on the subject. I have worked in daycare centers and have watched my niece and nephew for long stretches of the day, and I will say even if someone is not working outside the home, I do not consider those people exempt from work. I think they are actually working in that they are engaging their children, and often feel isolated and lonely because they do not have adults to interact with. I have to say I was impressed with how some men are handling this, and a few seem more involved with their kids than women who get together for play dates. I see the men out playing with the kids and getting dirty, whereas some stay at home moms use such get togethers just to socialize. Also, even if one spouse is not contributing monetarily, in some cases they can do better financially as often two family incomes are tinged in the tax code over one earning. That tends to be the case with state taxes here in California anyway. It sounds like a great idea to own a small farm and maybe work it as a family, if they are able to.

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