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Real Life Stay-at-Home Husbands

Men pick up the slack as women for the first time make up a majority of American's workforce.

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Diane Sollee, director of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education and smartmarriages.com, a website that acts as a clearinghouse for information on strengthening relationships, says that as women work more, the qualities we value in a partner can shift greatly. "In a way, it’s almost like bragging for a woman to say she has a stay-at-home husband," she observes. "Not only is she the breadwinner with a great job, but she’s also got this highly evolved male person — a feminist, father, and husband who doesn’t care what the gender roles are. It’s really an elevated life-form." For the hard-driving careerist mother, a husband who’s willing to take up the lion’s share at home is a godsend.

Still, the transition from breadwinner to househusband can be rough on a guy’s ego. Despite all the enlightened views about hands-on dads, all the reflexive "That’s great!" comments from hip and politically correct peers, the professional dad lives a life filled with big existential questions (What is my true worth as a person if I don’t get a paycheck?) and tiny daily indignities, like having to buy presents for his wife with her money, or shrugging off incredulous looks at dinner parties after revealing he’s a stay-at-home dad. "At times it’s been emasculating," admits PJ, who has been home full time since his son, CJ, was born two years ago. When people see him pushing a stroller at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, they jump to conclusions: Guys assume he’s been laid off, and little old ladies figure he’s dabbling in childcare. "Are you babysitting today? Giving Mommy a break?" they coo. "Babysitting?! I’m his father," seethes PJ.

He recalls one recent evening after the baby had been a pill the whole day — nothing seemed to make him happy. By the time PJ’s wife, Michelle, came home from work, he was exhausted and miserable. "I need to leave," he told her and walked out the door. He didn’t go far, just sat on the deck and listened to his iPod. After about an hour, he went back inside. "I don’t know if I’m man enough to be a woman," he said to his wife.

It’s a doubt that plagues many men in his situation, who usually find themselves there for pragmatic reasons. PJ grew to hate his job, while his wife not only loved hers, she was making enough money to support them both. Joe and Jodi Schatz were pulling down similar salaries before they had the first of their three children 10 years ago. "She had benefits. I didn’t," explains Joe, a former supervisor for a construction company in Baltimore. It was simple as that.

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