Beaches, and Tree Forts: A stay-at-home father and
his son build a familys foundation together
Im putting the finishing
touches on a grilled turkey and cheese sandwich
for my four-year-old son, Aaron, when the phone
rings. Before I can pick it up, my newborn daughter
Cyndi, cries out. Its time for her to eat,
too. Aaron makes a mad dash for the freezer, the
ringing phone triggering his conditioned response.
While Dads distracted, popsicles are fair
I pick up the phone, approve the
popsicle acquisition, and fix Cyndis bottle.
Before the five-minute conversation about a writing
assignment ends, Ive fed Aaron his sandwich,
given Cyndi her bottle, and changed her diaper.
And I thought my work as director
of the Greater Wabash Foundation required multi-tasking!
In the past four years, Ive
found a vocation more demanding, and rewarding,
than any I could have imagined then. Since 1998,
Ive been a full-time stay-at-home dad, or
SAHD, as were sometimes called.
The transition began when my wife,
Carrie, was pregnant with Aaron. I was working feverishly
at Wabash, trying to do my part as the staff and
alumni prepared for the kickoff of the $100 million
Campaign for Leadership. Carrie was working diligently
to complete her doctoral thesis before Aarons
My work brought me into contact
with many alumni of the College, and they all expressed
genuine excitement about the upcoming addition to
the Amidon family. This meant a great deal to me,
but I began to notice a trend in their comments,
which often ended with, Enjoy it, Frank, because
they certainly grow up fast, or, I sure
wish I had more time to spend with my children.
Their admonitions hit a nerve during this whirlwind
time in my life.
Aaron joined our family less than
three weeks prior to the big Campaign Kickoff
Celebration. The stresses in my life were
nearly unbearable, but the moment I met my son,
my world changed.
As I launched the new Greater
Wabash Foundation and the Brick Campaign for the
Alumni Terrace, our goal was to broaden and strengthen
the annual financial base of support for the College.
But at home, I saw that my familys foundation
also needed support, strength, and stability. I
began thinking about the possibility of becoming
a full time stay-at-home dad.
A few months later, Carrie accepted
a lucrative job offer in Tallahassee, Florida. With
that move came a surprisingly quick decision. I
was to become full-time caregiver for a screaming
bundle of joy, not to mention a supportive husband,
play group member, cook, handyman, whiffle ball
pitcher, preschool room parent, shopper, storyteller,
accountant, investor, planner, maid, photographer,
chauffeur, and at times, counselor and listener
for a few moms in the neighborhood playgroup.
In the next few weeks, my respect
for my own mother grew tremend-ously. A former school
teacher, she worked tirelessly raising four high-energy
boys while my father traveled to meet the demands
of his profession. She had given me the confidence
to pursue all of my other dreams, but would I be
able to pull this off without going nuts?
During the first two years, Aaron
and I had a blast. We ventured out to learn about
the exciting history and interesting places in the
Tallahassee area. We spent days traveling south
to explore the beautiful beaches and marshlands
along the Big Bend area of the Gulf of Mexico. Hunting
for shells and spotting dolphins became a favorite
activity for my growing son.
Our journeys eventually led us
to a natural treasure in the Wakulla Springs State
Park. Witnessing the excitement in Aarons
eyes each time we spotted an alligator or exotic
bird along this bountiful river evoked emotions
in me that are difficult to explain. Was our time
together bringing out the child in me, or was it
merely reminding me of the pure joy and innocence
of childhood? How had my previously hectic existence
sapped so much of the beauty and happiness I was
rediscovering in this simpler, child-paced life?
Numerous times over the next year
or so we returned to the Wakulla River, sharing
our special place with family and friends. Our frequent
visits enabled us to identify the birds and taught
us to recognize the best sunning spots for gators
and snakes along the river. We even learned the
corny jokes told by the park rangers who captained
the tour boats.
As Aaron grew older, our shared
learning experiences became more complex. In addition
to learning to finger paint, manipulate play dough,
and grow sunflowers in the back yard, we began tackling
home improvement projects together. With his Grandpas
help, Aaron and I built a tree fort and swing set
nestled at the base of an ancient live oak tree.
Next we remodeled a bathroom, and even installed
hardwood flooring throughout our house. Aaron and
I tackled projects together, taking pride in our
teamwork and accomplishments.
Its no wonder that upon
returning home from one of his first days of preschool
a few months ago, Aaron informed me that his teacher
referred to him as all-boy. I had fun
explaining that one to him.
One of the most surprising, challenging,
and rewarding roles Ive taken over the last
four years hasnt had anything to do with my
children. Ive become a support person for
my family and friends. Since Ive become an
SAHD, my father has undergone heart surgery, and
my brother, father in-law, and a close friend have
all battled, and for the time being, beaten cancer.
I have planned a family reunion, set up Florida
vacations for family and friends, assisted my parents
during their move to Tallahassee, and helped a few
others, including my wifes parents, purchase
real estate in the surrounding area.
I have also made a conscious effort
to be as supportive as possible for Carrie as she
experiences the ups and downs of launching and establishing
her professional career. It has been emotionally
taxing at times, but my heart tells me that I made
the right decision.
I dont know how many Wabash
men share my current vocation, but it is estimated
that nearly 2.5 million men have chosen to become
SAHDs in the United States. A quick Internet search
reveals local and national support organizations,
magazines, online chat groups, and a variety of
other services for this growing group. A national
organization has even formed which sponsors an annual
meeting so SAHDs from across the country can come
together and share their experiences.
Why is this happening? The reasons
are as diverse as the men who have chosen to make
such a life- altering change. Some have made their
money and want to enjoy the good life
with their family. Some are on a crusade to provide
a significant positive male role model for their
children. Others have burned out from the business
world. Rapidly advancing women in financially lucrative
careers have also shifted the breadwinner role from
many men who may or may not be enjoying their respective
careers. Some men have chosen to start a home business
and feel that they can care for the children at
the same time.
In my case, it is a combination
of a few mentioned above. I mean, who really wants
to wear a tie for 12 hours a day?
Being a SAHD is not glamorous.
There are no performance bonuses, pats on the back,
promotions, or power lunch invitations with the
boss. One cant escape the office and head
for the house at the end of the day. My reprieve
happens to be gardening, reading, planning my next
home improvement project, or occasionally playing
soccer with a group of old guys who, like me, need
to blow off a little steam at the end of the day.
Given the long hours required
of my wifes profession, I value her knowing
how important just a few minutes or hours of free
time can be for me. Even though she may be mentally
and physically spent at the end of the day, she
goes out of her way to be a great mother, often
bathing the children and reading books to them at
bedtime. She is committed to being an active participant
in their lives, and values our sacred family breakfast
each morning before going to work. I believe that
this balance is the key to our successful partnership
in parenting thus far.
How much my life has changed since
the day I became a stay-at-home dad was made even
clearer to me when I returned to Wabash this fall
for my classs 10th reunion. It was great to
see old classmates and the many staff, faculty,
and alumni friends that I made during my time at
I enjoyed walking along the track,
joining the ever-present stroller parade
during the football game. In fact, I spent most
of the game behind the end zone playing catch with
In the past, Homecoming for me
revolved around the football game. But life is about
so much more than the game. We have to step back
now and then, maybe even stand behind the end zone,
to get the proper view.
So this time, I simply enjoyed
sharing the beautiful fall day with family and friends,
celebrating the dedication of the new Trippet Hall,
checking out the completed Allen Center and Malcolm
X Institute, and feeling proud of my alma mater.
But the highlight of my weekend
was watching my son celebrate when he located his
name on our family brick in front of Hovey Cottage.
He was so proud as he ran his fingers across the
letters, saying out loud, A-A-R-O-N, Aaron,
I couldnt help but recall
that it was during my work on this very project
that I began thinking of becoming a stay-at-home
dad. The Alumni Terrace represents the foundation
of this College, linking the past, present, and
future generations of this special place, and Im
pleased to have been a part of it. But others have
taken my place, and have done well.
Maybe thats the difference
between my job as GWF director and my vocation as
a stay-at-home father. As his father, helping to
build the foundation for Aarons life is unquestionably
my responsibility, my job to do. When I watched
him celebrate as he read his name on the Alumni
Terrace last fall, I felt a joy of my own, knowing
our time together has at least laid a foundation
for a lifetime of learning and happiness.
And were just getting started.