No offense, moms, but Mike Wiser needed his own playgroup.
As a stay-at-home dad of two little girls, the Spokane resident wanted to get out of the house and socialize with other parents while watching the kids play.
Wiser met plenty of mothers at the park, at co-op preschool and at various playgroups. But he rarely encountered any fathers.
The moms were often nice and welcoming, but “I wasn’t comfortable being the only dad,” said Wiser.
He figured he wasn’t the only dad in town longing for male companionship while taking care of kids. After complaining to friends and relatives and waiting around for other fathers to show up at the park, Wiser decided to take action.
He started his own group called Spokane Dads. The organization’s mission is straightforward: to provide a regular opportunity for kids and dads to socialize.
“In addition to that, I’m sure we’ll share parenting tips, get to know other dads, become better parents, have fun, etc.,” Wiser wrote on the Web site, www.spokanedads.com. “Let’s get the kids together, keep it easy and low-key.”
Since he created the dads’ playgroup on Meetup.com in November 2007, nearly two dozen local fathers have joined him online. Although a few have never made it to the actual play dates, the group has enabled Wiser and several dads to meet each other so that they don’t feel all alone amid the proliferation of mommy groups.
“We talk about the kids – nap schedules, food, the usual issues,” Wiser said. “We also have conversations about fixing cabinets and countertops and other home projects.”
The discussions are probably no different than the ones the moms are having, he said. The big difference for the guys, however, is the fact that they’re among other men and feel more comfortable to share what’s on their mind.
“We don’t spill dirt on our wives,” said Greg Bruna, father of 2-year-old Zeb. “It’s really all about the kids.”
When Wiser first started the group, his intent was to bring together stay-at-home dads. Now, the group is open to all fathers – the ones who work from home, those who work part-time, as well as others who might be at home with their kids during weekdays.
Bruna, for instance, isn’t a stay-at-home dad, but his job as a chemical engineer requires him to spend two weeks at a time on the oil fields of Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay. During the two weeks a month he’s home in Spokane, Bruna makes a point to spend as much time with Zeb and hang out with the other fathers and their children.
“It’s been nice to get out and meet other dads in Spokane,” said Bruna. “We often swap ideas about where to go for swim lessons or what kinds of activities we can do with our kids. It’s great to talk to these guys because you learn a lot.”
Nationwide, a growing number of dads are starting their own playgroups. While some include fathers who have jobs outside the home, the vast majority involve stay-at-home dads.
Like the Spokane group, they often find each other through Meetup.com and other social networking sites. Several daddy bloggers and Web sites, including www.athomedad.org and www.RebelDad.com, also have helped link dads across the nation.
Some of these fathers meet regularly at the annual At-Home Dads Convention, which is happening in Omaha, Neb., this year on Oct. 10. It’s presented by the National At-Home Dad Network, Daddyshome Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to bringing at-home dads together.
More families are letting go of the traditional role of dad as the breadwinner, according to the convention’s organizers.
“Fathers choosing to be the primary caregivers of their children have grown from a rarity 13 years ago to the fastest growing trend in parenting today,” they wrote on the event’s Web site.
“At-home dads generally choose this role and therefore are hungry for knowledge on how to raise their kids better and manage their households more efficiently.”
According to 2008 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, about 140,000 married fathers with children under 15 have remained out of the labor force for more than a year so that they can care for their family while their wives work outside the home.
While some fathers stay home as a result of unemployment and the recession, many, including Wiser, have always made time with their children a priority.
“I want to spend quality time with them and see them grow up,” said Wiser, father to 5-year-old Olivia and 2-year-old Allie.
After the birth of his first child, the decision to stay at home was an easy one for Wiser.
He was tired of traveling four days a week, 40 weeks a year, as a business consultant. His wife, Deborah Wiser, was in medical school at the time. Now she sometimes works as many as 60 hours a week as a general practice physician.
So in 2004, the family moved from Chicago to Spokane, where Mike Wiser spent his childhood and where he could also count on the support of his parents and other relatives.
That first year, he worked part-time by continuing to do some consulting work for his former employer. He also helped start a small business, which he sold to his partner.
Last year, Wiser, 37, decided it would be best for his family to take a break from the professional world and devote all his time to the kids.
“It was an exciting decision,” he said. “Family support overall makes this whole thing work for me, and I’m very lucky to have it.”
While most people he encounters are curious and encouraging about his decision to stay at home with his daughters, Wiser still occasionally runs into people who assume he’s merely “baby-sitting” for the day.
He also meets people who wonder if his life is like a scene out of “Mr. Mom,” the 1983 comedy in which a stay-at-home dad muddles through life as he cares for three children.
“It’s a little bit less chaotic,” he said.
Wiser spends a lot of time playing with the kids, but he also has to do laundry, the dishes and other chores. Every day, he tries to organize at least one activity – whether it’s going to the preschool co-op, running errands, or meeting the other dads for a play date.
“To stay sane, I have to get us out of the house,” he said.
His challenges are perhaps no different than any other parent who chooses to be the primary caregiver. He cleans. He cares for the kids. When 5 p.m. rolls around, he thinks about making dinner.
“Dads that stay home tend to be more laid back,” he explained. “If you put your career and your own success first, you probably wouldn’t stay home in the first place.”
While he values the time he spends with his daughters, Wiser also can’t help but worry about his chances of finding a job once his children get a little older and start attending elementary school.
Whether you’re a mom or dad, it’s sometimes hard to return to the work force after taking a long break, he said. Staying at home with kids creates an inevitable gap in a resume and Wiser worries that employers might discount his talents and previous experience.
He also wishes he could contribute to his family’s income, so that his wife doesn’t have to work so much.
Despite these qualms and uncertainties about his career, Wiser said he has no regrets about his decision to quit his job and become the primary caregiver. He not only has bonded with the girls, he said, but he also has learned a lot about himself.
Every day he encounters new parenting challenges, but the work is also fun and rewarding.
“They’re good girls and they almost always try to do the right thing,” he said. “My patience is tested a lot, but I get to spend real quality time with my kids.”
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