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REAL LIFE

'90s FAMILY : Some Househusbands Feel the Sting of Embarrassment

August 17, 1994|LYNN SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Get a job and contribute to the household income, or stay at home with the kids? It's a tough call--for the guys.

Increasing numbers of men are opting to stay home to provide child care. They say that what causes them the most frustration is the isolation, the lack of money and the embarrassment of it all.

Not necessarily in that order.

"It's almost humiliating," said Peter Baylies, 37, a Massachusetts software engineer who decided to stay home with his infant son, now 2, after he was laid off more than a year ago. His wife is a teacher. "At work when you do something good, you get a pat on the back, a promotion and a raise. When you're working at home, you don't get any of that."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 20% of children under 5 were cared for by dads at home in 1991, up from 15% in 1988. Statisticians are uncertain whether the jump represents a triumph of women's liberation or simply an economic slump that has left fathers with more time on their hands during the day.

In any case, the dads are finding that it's not easy to break into the "old girls' club" of stay-at-home moms. "It's intimidating," said Steven Amaya, 37, of Thousand Oaks, who once found he was the only man doing the hokeypokey in a mommy-and-me class.

"They were a little standoffish at first," he said. "They felt as if they couldn't gossip as much as they would like to."

Amaya has cared full time for his daughter Avery, 3, since she was born. His wife works as a film distributor.

He said he also contends with assumptions that he is only baby-sitting or suspicions that he might harm other children if they come to play at his home. "There's this lurking cloud of molestation out there that is really unfortunate and it hurts."

Baylies said that at-home dads, unlike the moms, don't reach out for support or admit they have problems with parenting.

In an effort to help at-home dads connect, Baylies has begun a quarterly newsletter, At-Home Dad. The second issue contains tips on starting a play group, recipes for tuna melt and Play-Doh and "One Dad's Diary." Dads can also share their E-mail addresses.

(Subscriptions are $12 a year and can be obtained by writing Baylies at 61 Brightwood Ave., North Andover, Mass., 01845-1702.)

So far, Baylies has about 150 subscribers, most of them from California. Most, he said, are either disabled, have been laid off from work or are wary of day care. Some are tired of the dual-income rat race. For some, the deciding factor to stay home was that their wives were earning more money.

While some have no problem with untraditional sex roles, others are so ashamed they try to cover it up.

A father of four from Fontana confessed in At-Home Dad that he used to let people think he was working at home, earning money with his computer, when actually he was a full-time homemaker living on a "generous allowance" from his wife. "I have slowly evolved to a point where I don't care what people think," he wrote.

Baylies said the pressures for some men are so great, they eventually put their children in day care and go back to work. But others say the rewards far outweigh the problems.

Amaya said, "I get a hands-on experience of working on the future."

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