Happy Father’s Day – Special Recession Edition

June 21, 2009

“I see you everyday taking your daughter and dog for a walk,” the eight-year-old girl said while running her tiny right hand along the back of my Shepherd-Rotty mix, Kona, before continuing, “You’re a good daddy.”

“Thank you, Stephanie. We like our walks. We go on two or three of them a day.”

“You don’t have a job, do you.”

And there it was… It was more of a statement than a question.

“I have a job. I’m a daddy.”

“No, I mean a real job.”

In some weird way, I felt the need to defend my situation to an eight-year-old girl. I didn’t quite know how to explain to Stephanie that being a stay-at-home dad IS a job, and a very hard one at that. I decided to keep it simple.

“Well Stephanie, my wife works and I stay home with the baby.”

Not looking up from petting Kona, she responded, “That’s weird.”

I have been home with my Isabel since she was two-months-old (she is now almost seven-months-old).  My wife and I didn’t plan that I was going to be the one to stay home and care for our daughter. We had other plans that all fell by the wayside, and we were left with few other options.

What tilted the scales? The economy. Or to be more precise, the lack thereof. Like a broken record, let’s all say it together – THE RECESSION.

I know, I know, at this point we’re all sick and tired of hearing about “THE RECESSION,” but there is no denying that we are all in it together.

My 9-to5 job in the construction trade of seismic retrofitting was greatly affected when banks got stricter about handing out loans back in August of 2008. Ever since then, a 40hr work week was a rarity cherished by all on the crew. When Isabel was born I took one day off to get my wife and new baby settled in before continuing to work while there was work to be had. The jobs were sporadic right up until December 31st, and then they stopped completely.

Lucky for us, my wife was able to arrange working from home for the next three months, so at least we knew we had some money coming in. Our situation is different than that of most people in the U.S.A. We are in the entertainment industry, a very fickle business even without factoring in the current economic situation. She’s a freelance producer/writer and I’m an actor/writer. On any given day, only 2% of actors are working. Unfortunately, I’m usually on the other side of that percentage scale. Since I couldn’t count on me suddenly booking something as an actor, I had to rely on one of my many other skills. Throughout the month of January I got odd jobs here and there doing handy-man work.

“I need you home, Honey,” my wife said to me from behind exhausted eyes a month into her stretch working from home. Between working and caring for our newborn, she wasn’t getting any sleep.

We did some number crunching and figured out that if I worked a 40hr week (which the number of times I had since August of 2008 could be counted on one hand) and paid for child care, by week’s end I would have made $100 for the household. Twenty years from now was I going to remember that $100 a week extra I made crawling under houses all over Los Angeles, or the time I spent with my daughter? The decision was easy. From that moment on, I became a stay-at-home dad.

Here we are, first time parents, living off of one income and counting every penny. And we have never been happier.

In a way, the recession has made everyone know what it’s like to live the life of an actor; forced to live on a budget, constantly looking for work and rethinking career decisions. I’ve been living in a “recession” since I moved to Los Angeles in 1992.

“I have to go home now,” Stephanie said as she kissed Kona on the muzzle.

“You live in that house there?” I asked, pointing across the street.

“Yup,” she said, this time hugging Kona.

Since I became a stay-at-home dad, or a S.A.H.D. (such a misleading acronym if there ever was one), I have been taking daily walks with Isabel and Kona. One of the benefits of these walks has been the privilege of meeting my neighbors. For example, I have noticed a lot of different people coming in and out of Stephanie’s house.

“How many people live with you Stephanie?”

“My mom, my dad, my brother, a few of my aunts and uncles and some cousins, a few friends of my dad…”

I interrupted her because one individual in particular stuck out to me. “What about the man in the truck out in front of your house?” I had been dying to ask someone about him because I had noticed that if the truck was there he was always inside it or on the porch of the house.

“He’s a friend of my dad’s. That’s where he lives. I have to go.” And with that she crossed the street, walking in front of the truck parked next to her house, while the man who lived in it downed a beer and listened to the radio.

He noticed me watching Stephanie run home and he raised his hand up giving me a wave. I waved back and continued with my walk.

“We’re very fortunate,” I thought to myself as I rounded the corner and took one last look at the true victims of this recession.

Before my daughter was born, I asked my friends who are parents for their best piece of advice. It was overwhelmingly the same piece of advice: Enjoy every moment. They grow up quickly.

And that is what I did – and continue to do – everyday.

This is a very special father’s day for me for a few reasons. First of all, because it’s my first one as someone’s dad. Secondly, I can honestly say that I have a newfound respect for my father and all his hard work over the years. Not only did he provide me with a roof over my head and food on the table, but along the way he also showed me how to extend both my arms and my heart to my children, as well as to those around me. He is the very definition of teaching by example.

Recently someone said to me, “You must be a great dad, Jason, because Isabel is such a happy baby. Don’t you ever forget the impact a father has on his children, and I’m talking right from the moment they are born. Know that whatever you’re doing, it must be working, so keep doing it.”

Stay-at-home dads are a rare breed, and it’s the toughest, most rewarding job that I have ever known. I was even fortunate enough to find a “Mommies’ Group” that has opened their elite club to Isabel and me. (I never realized that most mommy groups don’t allow men because of the whole “breastfeeding” thing.) I know that some dads get all “macho” and will refuse to stay home while their wives go out and work. I’ve never understood that mentality, and it’s their loss. My wife and I will do what has to be done for the benefit of our family. Believe me, she wanted nothing more than to be at home with our little one, but she knew that she had to do what was going to be best for our family.

This father’s day I want to celebrate more than to be celebrated. I am extremely lucky and grateful to be a stay-at-home dad, and I hope to make it last as long as I can. Through a true twist of irony, I have the current recession to thank for it.

During these unsure times when you think it’s tough, I want you to remember that at least you don’t have to live in your truck while you wait out the hard times.

Happy Father’s Day!
I am a Stay-At-Home Dad