Stay-at-Home Dads Forge New Identities, Roles

Bridget Trebon, 3, and Martin Vossler, 6, watch a video at a play group for stay-at-home fathers.
Bridget Trebon, 3, and Martin Vossler, 6, watch a video at a play group for stay-at-home fathers. (By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)
By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 17, 2007

It could have been any play group in the Washington area, except for the diaper bags. No Vera Bradley flowers, no pastel polka dots. The bags lying around Matt Vossler's Rockville living room Tuesday afternoon were dark Eddie Bauer canvas. One was red but, as its owner quickly pointed out, "very metrosexual."

"Potty training was a lot of angst for me," Vossler, 43, a onetime paralegal, told the group.

"Bottle feeding was my angst," said Matt Trebon, 36, a former Capitol Hill staffer, as his 3-year-old daughter nuzzled his side.

"And trying to get them to eat well," Vossler continued, bringing up his 6-year-old. "Martin is all carbs."

"Eight days -- no diapers!" Trebon suddenly announced, thrusting his fists into the air.

With their wives as breadwinners, the fathers are part of a small but growing group of men who are quitting or retooling their careers to stay home with their children.

On Fathers Day, an estimated 159,000 stay-at-home dads, or 2.7 percent of the country's stay-at-home parents -- almost triple the percentage from a decade ago -- will celebrate what has become a full-time job, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But experts say that number should be far higher because the census definition doesn't consider single fathers, those with children over 15 or those who work part-time or flexible hours to be home. Federal labor statistics show the number of fathers providing their young children's primary care is more like one in five.

Those fathers are changing the way many children are growing up and the calculations families make as they try to balance busy and often conflicting lives. "Men have started to join the struggle of how you juggle family and work," said sociology professor Andrea Doucet, who studies Canadian stay-at-home fathers at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Stay-at-home dads now have Web sites, blogs such as "A Man Among Mommies," support groups and an annual convention. They are showing up in "Mommy and Me" classes and PTA meetings. Many men's restrooms now have diaper-changing tables, and companies market souped-up strollers with brand names such as "the Bob."

Those in the Washington region who have lived elsewhere say they sense more of their kind here because of the prevalence of high-powered working women. DCMetroDads, a group started nine years ago, has 325 members.

Publishers and TV talk shows have made a cottage industry out of the "Mommy Wars" debate and the angst of motherhood. But stay-at-home dads are subject to relatively little study and, unlike their wives, generally don't care that their 6-year-old is still wearing pajama bottoms at 3 p.m.

Sometimes, society goes easy on them.

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