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Father Goes From 16-Hour Days to 'Never-Ending Job'


"So what exactly is it you do?"

A familiar question for stay-at-home dad David Lambert.

He is, after all, the only driver in his children's car pool who is not a mom. And as far as the neighbors are concerned, it seems like he's always around: carrying bags of groceries into the house, watering the plants, playing with his two young children after school in the serene Irvine cul-de-sac where he lives and works.

"A lot of people come up to me and say, 'What do you do for a living? What do you do?'

"I do look a little different than the average working dad, I guess. I don't like to shave, so maybe I'll shave every other day," he said. "I like to wear shorts and a sweatshirt. I try to look presentable, but the mothers see me around a lot and I know what's on their minds. So I just tell them what I do and they say, 'Oh, OK.' "

Lambert, 47, has been a stay-at-home dad for about three years, balancing a full plate of domestic chores with a career as a computer software designer and consultant.

After his Stockton-based employer cut back on expenses to cope with the lingering effects of the last recession, Lambert cleaned out his Newport Beach office and went home to continue working for the company. He now designs software, solves computer problems for customers and even markets new products for the firm from his second-floor home office.

All that and dinner too.

"I do production cooking, which is what stay-at-home moms do. You do it no matter if you feel in the mood or not--you gotta have dinner. But I do enjoy it. It's kind of funny, but I swap recipes with a lot of the mothers that I know. I've got a great recipe for a Chinese chicken salad that I got from a mom," he said.

"This is real cooking; I don't do any of that microwave stuff."

His wife, Nancy, was ready to try a little role-reversal, Lambert said. She had already been a stay-at-home mom with their first two children, now 17 and 21. And her job would bring the family extra income without the expense of day care.

While the experiment made sense financially, he was more interested in the prospect of getting a second chance at fatherhood.

"I worked 16-hour days for years and I really missed a lot. I didn't get to go to a lot of the kids' activities at school; I missed a lot of opportunities to be with them.

"My wife would say, 'You're going to regret this,' and I did. So I felt that this time, I was not going to miss those special moments."

On a typical school day, Lambert is up before dawn to help Heather, 8, and Jason, 5, get ready for school.

"I make the kids' lunches, I'll fix them breakfast and I help them get dressed. My wife helps out too, but I'm the one who takes responsibility for this stuff, so she can get ready to go to work.

"You learn to appreciate what stay-at-home moms go through. It's a never-ending job. Instead of going to the coffee machine during the day and having a break, I'll go throw some clothes in the washing machine."

Frustrations aside, he sees the experiment as a success, aided by a home-friendly profession. As a trouble-shooter for his software company's clients, Lambert can connect his home computer directly to a customer's mainframe, diagnose and correct the problem without leaving home.

"I did have reservations at first. I wasn't sure how it was going to work out with the kids and all the interruptions. I have deadlines to meet, but I also have a flexible schedule. I can take half an hour to help with their homework, to take care of a problem or just be with them when I need to."

And being with his children has given Lambert a new appreciation for the little things in life, like ice cream cones, crayons and clouds.

"It's like yesterday, Jason was looking at the sky and he said, 'Come here, come here!' And I said, 'What?' And he said, 'That cloud, it looks like a dinosaur!' And it did look like a dinosaur. And so I got to look at the cloud dinosaur with my son."

Now that the California economy has strengthened, Lambert said he could earn more money by taking an in-office job with another company. But he doesn't want to give up his last chance to be a hands-on dad.

"They're just so cute to be around, when they come home from school and they're so excited about something and they want to talk to you about it. It kind of fills you up when you didn't know you were empty. Kids can be great teachers. If you let them, they can show you what's really important in life."



David Lambert

Age: 47

Hometown: Medford, Ore.

Residence: Irvine

Family: Married to Nancy; two adult and two school-age children

Education: Bachelor's degree in mathematics from UC Santa Barbara

Background: Worked on a highway construction crew after college graduation; data processing for Safeway Inc. for three years; computer software design, consulting and marketing for Stockton-based PAC Corp. since 1973, where he is now executive vice president

Kid stuff: Coaches softball and soccer at El Camino Real Elementary School

On homemaking: "It is a career. You put in more hours than you do at work. The combination and complexity of everything can be overwhelming."

Source: David Lambert

Researched by RUSS LOAR / For The Times

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