I recently took a road trip up to East Lansing, MI to get fitted for a tuxedo for a wedding I was in.  I went to Michigan State University so I never mind a reason to go up and drive through campus.  It really is a beautiful campus.  And even though it’s been almost a decade since I graduated, it still feels like it was just last year.  Going back to campus feels like going home.  And I figured if I timed it right, I could catch a rehearsal and show Ellie the marching band.  Yes, I said marching band.  I’m a band nerd through and through.  I was in the marching band in high school, and I was in the drumline of the Spartan Marching Band for two years as well.  With Ellie loving and reacting to music so much lately, I thought it’d be a great idea for her to see the marching band.

I have to say, walking through campus with a stroller was a totally different experience.  Usually on a game day you’ll see all kinds of families and strollers, but this was a Wednesday.  Students were playing Frisbee, walking around with massive back packs, and laying on the grass sunning themselves.  And then along comes me with my kid in the middle of it all.  We were invisible to them though.  The baby factor sure doesn’t seem to work on a college campus.  I guess it’s all about context.

By the time I got fitted for my tux and got to the practice field, all the cool drumline stuff was done.  The band was working on drill for their first half-time show and was just repeating a few sets at a time.  But to my surprise, Ellie still loved it!  She sat down on the grass and watched intently.  Every time the band finished a set and the music stopped, she’d clap and then wait for more.  After about twenty minutes of quietly watching, the band took a water break and that was our cue to exit.

But before we left, I figured I should say hello to my old drum instructor.  It’s always extremely awkward for me when I have to explain to people what I do for a living.  Especially to other men.  It took me a long enough time to feel comfortable saying I was an interior designer.  It seems most people think about curtains and selecting decorative pillows (which is not what I did) when they hear “interior designer.”  So I would usually say, “I work at an architectural firm.”  Eventually I would come out and say interior designer.  But now, announcing you’re a stay-at-home dad, it just puts me face-to-face with all my insecurities.

So I took a deep breath and walked up to the drum instructor who was with some other staff and said hello.  And after not seen each other in ten years, the obvious first question he asked was, “So what do you do for a living?”  Ugh, I hate this part.  “I got laid-off and now this is my job,” I said as I pointed to Ellie.  After an awkward pause, “So what did you do?” he asked.  I skipped over the interior designer part and just focused on the keys words that I think make my former job sound cooler than it was.  Architecture, travel, and Vegas.

We all stretch our job descriptions don’t we?  We all embellish our “resumes” a bit right?  Even my “about me” section here on the blog I tried to make it sound cooler than reality.  I mention that I traveled a lot, which I did for about two years, but not at the time when I was laid-off.  And while I did travel to Vegas and New York a lot, I only went to Paris once.

After we got through that part, we started talking about common people we knew and how successful they were.  Who had doctorate degrees, who had Hollywood success, etc.  I felt like I was hanging out with a bunch of doctors and lawyers and I was just a lowly bag boy at a grocery store.  “Well it was good to see you guys again,” I said and walked on.  Nobody was rude or said anything negative.  They responded probably how I would have if I was in their position.  For the most part I’ve learned to be more secure in my role and be proud of it, but every once in awhile, a situation arises that bruises my ego.  I realize it’s not just men that have careers.  I imagine many women find themselves in the same situation after “giving up” a good career to stay home and raise their children.  But whether they’ve decided to stay-at-home, or to continue working, there is silent judgment all around us.  Sometimes it’s just hard to tell if it’s from the outside, or all internal.

I swallowed my pride, picked up Ellie and headed out.  I was anxious to get off campus as my spirit for my alma mater had faded.  Maybe next time we’ll come up on a game day when there is a more stroller friendly crowd.  Or maybe I need to embellish and make this job seem way cooler that it can be.  We’ll show up wearing our matching AC/DC shirts and red shoes next time.  That’ll be my stay-at-home version of saying I went to Vegas a lot.

10 thoughts on “BIG MAN ON CAMPUS

  1. That makes me so sad! You’re right, women feel judgement too, but I can imagine it would be even more potent for a man. Just know that there are a LOT of people that think of what you’re doing as boundary-breaking and admirable, not to mention what it means to Ellie and Aya. You’re fantastic!

  2. There are a lot of men that wish they were in your shoes but either can’t or won’t admit it. You have a gift of being a terrific parent and Ellie benefits from that. You will not regret this time with her.
    In the 80’s , I was judged for being a stay at home mom. I do not regret it one bit. I have two compassionate and loving sons who can even cook and call me regularly. How great is that !!

  3. One word to sum you up sir…. Fortunate. Don’t trade it for the world!!! Its important to believe in what your doing even though others are doing something different. Keep on keeping on!

  4. You should be proud of being a stay-at-home dad. You are doing what I consider to be the most difficult, and most important job on the planet.

  5. Matt – you are awesome! Being a stay at home parent is more difficult that I could have ever imagined and it sounds like you are doing all kinds of great things to make sure that Ellie grows up to be a well rounded individual…not all children are so lucky 🙂 Keep up the good work!

  6. I happen to agree that being a “stay at home” parent is the most important and difficult job. Too many parents these days are forced to place their children in daycare and allow for other people to raise them. Your daughter is blessed to be able to have dad be with her! Think of the important values you are teaching her for later in life. She will grow up seeing how men should be respectful, thoughtful and nurturing and not simply “bringing home the paycheck.” The role that you are playing in her life is even more monumental than you could ever imagine and you should be VERY proud of yourself. Your mother and wife must be VERY proud of you. I enjoy reading your articles….Rock on!!

  7. I too left my job at an architectural firm in Detroit to stay at home with my children. But, I am a woman so maybe it’s not quite the same thing although, through my ten years there, I did have quite a few “cultural” men tell me I should have babies as I am getting on up there in years. Ugh. Silly me, career first, then family…

  8. I know this is an old post but I just wanted to say that I appreciate that you put this in the open. I have a sister who is a stay at home mum and she had a friend respond with “Oh, I’m so sorry” when she told her that. WTF??? We all need to recognize that childcare is hard and important work, no matter who does it: mums need to be recognized, dads need to be recognized, and paid childcare providers need to be respected and paid more. But we also need to recognize that the work is enjoyable, valuable and sometimes very satisfying. My sister was so floored by that comment she couldn’t say a word; she said to me later, “I felt like she was going to judge me if I said this, but I ENJOY IT!!! Especially now they have fewer physical needs and more emotional and intellectual needs [her kids are 9, 6 and 3].” When my Dad stayed home to take care of my three older sisters in the 70s, it was considered so weird that there was an article about him in the paper!

    1. Thank you! Saying, “I’m so sorry,” after someone tells you what their job is shouldn’t be a good response no matter what your job is. Wow, I’m not sure I would have had a response ready after a comment like that either. That’s great your dad was able to do what he did back then. I imagine back then it really was considered “weird.” I’d like to think things have progressed a little bit.

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