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Commentary : Rewards of a Homemaker-Father

<i> Rusty Kennedy is the executive director of the Orange County Human Relations Commission--and a new father. </i>

It was a special joy to see my baby’s smile each time she awoke. She enjoyed having her diapers changed so much that I never thought of it as a chore, it seemed more like a joint project that brought us closer together.

Her anxious fussing that signaled her nap time was easily distinguished from her frantic fussing when she was hungry. I learned quickly that recognizing these little things was less a result of the gender of the parent than a product of hours spent together.

You see, things are a little different in my house. Nurturing, intuition, the day-to-day tasks of homemaking and child rearing are shared experiences in our home. A new kind of fatherhood is being explored and it is a breathtaking experience.

I recently returned to work from a two-month paternity leave after staying home as a full-time homemaker and care-giver to my new daughter Ariana. (My wife, Anita, was with the baby for the first few months.)

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My routine consisted of getting up early to cook my wife breakfast before she left for work, relaxing with coffee and the newspaper, washing the dishes, feeding, bathing and playing with the baby, cleaning the house and catching a little of the “Donahue” show as I fed her the afternoon bottle.

Then I rushed to get dinner together, make some phone calls or wash clothes or shop, and then, the highlight of the day, family dinner together. My wife would recount the day’s events at the office, I would point out all of the things I had done (because they weren’t always obvious) and we would both talk to our cooing baby, who was the centerpiece on our table.

The traditional parenting roles are blurred in our house. We’ve broken with the tradition that our parents demonstrated: father: breadwinner, disciplinarian; mother: nurturing homemaker. I don’t reject these roles. In fact, I love and respect them. But in our house the world is changing. Alternatives are being explored. My wife and I have options. We are both career-oriented professionals. We are both totally devoted to being involved parents.

As primary care-giver to Ariana and homemaker to our young family, I developed a special feeling that is hard to describe. My life was focused on making our house a home and our relationships a family. I felt so lucky to have a supportive wife who recognized my need to get out on my own in the evening from time to time; who didn’t consider my homemaking less important than her moneymaking.

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I am a father who is learning from my experience that the joy of child rearing is sharing responsibilities--every day, not just occasionally.

I am a father who is blessed with a wife who is a loving mother as well as an educator with a critical role in the lives of thousands of children at her school.

I am a father who is learning to conscientiously share in the trials and tribulations of child rearing, not just its joys.

My wife and I would prefer to stay home full time with our child. But we both have jobs that are important and each of us feels a strong commitment to our co-workers. Leaving my daughter with someone other than my wife is a heart-wrenching experience.

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It is hard to juggle our careers and our family and make adequate time for both. We cherish the precious few hours each working day that we can be with Ariana. We look forward to weekends when we can spend unregulated hours playing together. It is easy to feel guilty for not staying home with our infant. After all, our mothers both stayed home to raise the kids. It’s still possible that one of us may do so, too. Our family is a top priority in both of our lives, a central value that we share. My wife and I both come from wonderful nuclear, traditional families. We are determined to help create a family model that will survive the uncertainties of our world.

Fatherhood has many faces. It can include homemaking, child rearing, house cleaning, and breadwinning. It is not a preset role with an established inflexible mold for men only.

In my family, mutual respect, communication and negotiation will help us define our roles and responsibilities. I know that we have many options as a family in an age of change. Together, Anita, Ariana and I will enjoy the challenge of trying a new path in our lives.


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