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Dad Keeps His Ambitions at Home

If Bob Flannery were a woman, his story might be a bit more tricky to tell.

His occupation, probably the oldest on record, has been under fire as of late. Women mostly fill its ranks. Those who talk about it--please, careful with your tone--risk being labeled politically incorrect. People are at odds about what to call it, about its status, about its comparable worth.

Bob is a housewife. The description is his own. He says he is the happiest man on earth.

My opinion, after sizing him up the other day at his home in Corona del Mar, is this. Bob Flannery, 35 years old, law school graduate, ex-Marine, recovering alcoholic, an environmentalist who swears that cloth diapers are definitely the way to go, seems a man fulfilled.

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This is somebody who looks as if he must whistle while he works.

“It was like a 30-second discussion,” Bob says of that fateful talk with his wife, attorney Paula Bruzaga, about their firstborn child.

“We knew Elisabeth was coming. Paula said, ‘What are we going to do about the baby?’ I said, ‘We’ll just put it in day care.’ And she said, ‘No, one of us has to stay home.’ So I said, ‘Well, you make three times as much money as I do; I’ll stay home.’ And that was that.”

Bob has been a stay-at-home dad for almost three years now. The job he gave up was managing a warehouse at an Irvine company where his wife still works. He’d only been there for six months after four years in the Marines.

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The Marines, after stints to hell and back, finally sobered him up. He says he hasn’t touched alcohol since Feb. 23, 1986. Before he met his wife, he was planning on getting his law career back on track.

“I feel much more fulfilled here than I did on the job,” Bob says after putting Elisabeth, 2 1/2, and Mara, 15 months, down for their afternoon naps. “I am my own boss. The only ones I’m responsible to are my wife and my children. No, really, I’ve got three bosses, but they’re all nice guys.”

I am finding it hard not to gush. This is what choice--among those who can afford it--is all about. The women’s movement has been saying this from Day 1. Women, Bob says, tend to say that a lot. Men, for the most part, are a bit taken aback.

Bob echoes the housewife’s lament.

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“There’s a guy who lives across the street, a roofer, a real big guy, macho, burly, with a mustache,” Bob says. “When he first moved in, I went over to introduce myself. I make it a point to go over and introduce myself when new people move in. So we were talking and he asked me what I did for a living. I said, ‘I’m a housewife.’ Well, his jaw literally dropped. I could just see it in his eyes. He was no longer interested in what I had to say.”

“One thing I do get from the outside attorneys I work with is no reaction at all,” adds Paula, Bob’s wife, whom I called on the job. Paula usually puts in 10 1/2-hour days. Within a few hours, she is leaving for Brussels, where she’ll be working a week.

“They’ll ask me what my husband does and I say that he stays home with our children,” Paula says. “Then they just don’t react. It closes off the subject of conversation right there.”

Which is a shame. Bob and Paula have plenty to say about what makes their family life great. The way they see it, they are putting their children first. The girls pay them back by being wonderful kids. Paula would love to stay home too, except the money just wouldn’t be there.

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One day they hope to move to a small town--maybe in the Midwest--where the pace is slower, expenses are fewer and life doesn’t seem so cheap. They want to have more kids; three others is the goal. (Bob had originally lobbied for a total of eight.)

Bob’s planning on staying home with them all. Or maybe he and Paula will both work part time. She has a fantasy about opening an ice cream shop.

So this is just a traditional family, in a society where tradition has long since been stood on its head.

“My father was an absentee father,” Bob says. “He thought his only responsibility was to bring home money for the family. We lived a comfortable, middle-class existence. He would go out drinking with his friends, or else he’d be playing golf. He never played catch with me. We never went fishing. . . .

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“I grew up in fear of my father. He never had anything to say to me unless he was disciplining me. . . . I laugh at the traditional male view that says I should be able to relate to all that. Men who live like that are doing something that I can’t understand. This is my job, to keep my wife and my kids happy. I don’t feel that I have to wear a business suit and have a paycheck to prove my worth.”

Bob’s father had a stroke before he could explain all that to him himself. He calls his mother, a housewife, to keep her up to date on the kids.

In the meantime, Bob changes diapers, makes frequent trips to the park, reads and points at books, gives airplane rides, makes meals, does the grocery shopping, the laundry, and anything else that needs to be done.

And it is working. Bob and his family say they sleep very well at night, after good-night stories all around.

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