End Notes



Alligators, Beaches, and Tree Forts: A stay-at-home father and his son build a family’s foundation together

I’m 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. It’s time for her to eat, too. Aaron makes a mad dash for the freezer, the ringing phone triggering his conditioned response. While Dad’s distracted, popsicles are fair game.

I pick up the phone, approve the popsicle acquisition, and fix Cyndi’s bottle. Before the five-minute conversation about a writing assignment ends, I’ve 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, I’ve found a vocation more demanding, and rewarding, than any I could have imagined then. Since 1998, I’ve been a full-time stay-at-home dad, or SAHD, as we’re 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 Aaron’s arrival.

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 family’s 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 Aaron’s 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 Grandpa’s 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.

It’s 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 I’ve taken over the last four years hasn’t had anything to do with my children. I’ve become a support person for my family and friends. Since I’ve 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 wife’s 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 don’t 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 can’t 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 wife’s 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 class’s 10th reunion. It was great to see old classmates and the many staff, faculty, and alumni friends that I made during my time at the College.

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 Aaron.

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, that’s me.”

I couldn’t 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 I’m pleased to have been a part of it. But others have taken my place, and have done well.

Maybe that’s 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 Aaron’s 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 we’re just getting started.