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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 01/20/2012

What should we call dads who stay home with the kids?

Fathers are increasingly the primary caregivers in their children’s lives. We all know that. But knowing it doesn’t mean we’ve accepted it culturally.

For instance, what do we call this emergent group of homemakers?
(Courtesy of HarperCollinsPublishers)

The options, so far, are limited. The obvious companion to the much-used stay-at-home-mom acronym, SAHM, is SAHD. Say that aloud. It’s clear this is a lame title.

Worse is the 1950s-era “househusband.” Worse still is the appalling-on-several-levels “Mr. Mom.” (We’ll go into depth on this later.)

New York writer and work-from-home father Greg Olear has had enough. He’s proposed a new term: fathermucker.

“People tend to intuitively know what it means,” he said. “It implies the mucking up of gender roles, which is what makes it so appropriate. It conveys the messiness, the blurriness, the sloppiness of SAHD-dom.”

In October Olear published a novel with the same name (Harper Collins) that follows a day in the life of a, uh, fathermucker as he navigates his problem-plagued kids, marriage and self-confidence.

He has also launched a blog (guess what the name is) that features essays from guest writers about the blurring of traditional gender roles in parenting.

In the novel the narrator, “fathermucker,” endures an episode that came from Olear’s own life. When an exterminator comes to his house and sees him at home with his kids, the worker chides: “A little Mr. Mom duty today, huh?”

For the narrator, this “subtle way of asserting a claim to alpha male-hood” triggers a silent fury:

“He derides my fatherhood duty, the implication being that I’m less of a man than he is, because his line of work is predicated on my primal fears ... but it’s more than that: he owns his own business, draws an income, makes a decent living — and I don’t. No matter how certain I am that stay-at-home-fatherhood will benefit my children more than an extra few dollars in the bank, no matter how evolved and twenty-first century my thinking, the fact remains that masculinity — and by extension virility — is inextricably linked to money.”

Olear, himself, finds “Mr. Mom” both offensive and ubiquitous. “Slowly, the notion [of fathers as caregivers] is attaining mainstream acceptance. But it’s almost impossible for a writer, myself included, to talk about without using the term Mr. Mom,” he said.

He’s right. Even the Census Report press release for Father’s Day 2010 had a section on fathers called “Mr. Mom.”

(Never mind that the report under-reported stay-at-home fathers as only about 150,000 because the Census counted only those who were legally married and had been home over a year.)

MGM, too, is apparently interested in re-making the blockbuster 1983 movie that introduced the term. This may not bode well for Olear’s push to coin fathermucker, which, he concedes, “some people are afraid to say out loud, for fear of a(n unlikely) malapropism.”

What do you think? Is it time for a new term to go with the changing responsibilities of fathers?

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By  |  07:00 AM ET, 01/20/2012

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