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I’m a stay-at-home dad. People say all kinds of dumb things to stay-at-home dads. This blog began as a way for me to record these comments and criticize the people who said them. However, it's evolved, and I now use it to express other random thoughts on parenting, children, gender, and society. Thanks for checking it out.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

“Did You Get Laid Off?”

Here it is. The big one. Do a Google search of “things not to say to a stay-at-home dad,” and it shows up on every list. It’s a sentiment that stay-at-home dads run into repeatedly. That’s why the words can be found in the URL of the very blog you are reading. Testify with me, my diaper-changing brothers—we’ve all heard it.
“Did you get laid off?”
I'll show you, Teri Garr. I'll be Batman someday.
You see, the logic behind it is simple. There’s no way a man would subject himself to the daily duties of child-rearing and household management unless he were forced into it after getting canned. It was the premise of the movie Mr. Mom, remember? Dad lost his job, Mom was pushed back into the working world, and Dad was stuck at home, where he hilariously confronted foreign objects like vacuums and crying toddlers. And, because that movie was made a mere 31 years ago—I mean, practically yesterday—that must be how it still works, right?
Now, in fairness, I think I’ve heard these exact words only once. Few people are bold enough (or clueless enough) to come right out and say it. Still, I’ve gotten several variations of it, and it’s clear what these people are trying to get at. For example, take a look at this very common scenario, featuring a hypothetical woman named Doreen, who has just discovered I’m a stay-at-home dad. Because I live in the Midwest, go ahead and give Doreen a Fargo accent if you’re so inclined:
Doreen: “So, whadya do before you stayed at home?”
Me: “I worked at an ad agency.”
Doreen (with a look of great concern and pity, assuming she already knows the answer): “Oh. What happened?”
Me: “Well, I quit.”
Doreen (taken aback): Oh! So...wait...huh?
Me: “I work part-time from home now.”
Doreen (relieved, as if it somehow affects her): Oh, OK!
And then the awkward small talk continues. I explain the situation my wife, Christine, and I were in: Christine was making more money at the time, we had our health insurance through her employer, she’d never find a similar position if she’d quit, I had always wanted to work from home. Then Doreen tells me her own story, which sounds awfully similar to mine, a fact that might—but probably won’t—occur to poor, backward-thinking Doreen.
Here’s another example. This was an actual conversation between my wife and our next-door neighbor. It occurred shortly after our first child was born and Christine was preparing to go back to work:
Neighbor: “Gettin’ ready to go back to work?”
Christine: “Yep, pretty soon.”
Neighbor: “Who’s gonna watch the baby, then? Daycare?
Christine: “No, Dave’s going to stay home.”
Neighbor (shocked and genuinely worried, with one hand now over her chest): “Oh no! What happened?”
Christine: “He quit his job. He’s going to work from home.”
Neighbor: “Oh. Oh my.”
Those are two of many examples, and they both illustrate the most common form that “Did you get laid off?” takes: the more diplomatic but still presumptuous “What happened?” Because, you know, something must have “happened” for this man to end up in a park, playing with his kid the middle of the damn day.
When a chit-chatty stay-at-home mom tells me what she once did for a living, I don’t ask what happened. I can see what happened. She left her job—under whatever circumstances—and now she takes care of her kids instead. So, as is often the case when people say dumb things to me, I wish that chit-chatty mom would just assume the same of my situation.
Get a load of this poor sucker.
Then again, maybe I can’t blame people for their assumptions. I know a bunch of stay-at-home dads, and getting fired/laid off/downsized is indeed how several of them landed at home with the kids. In contrast, I don’t know of any stay-at-home moms who didn’t leave their full-time jobs willingly. I’m sure such moms are out there; I just can’t say for sure I’ve ever met one. So maybe people figure I got kicked to the curb because that’s the plight of other dads they’ve met.
Also, I realize some of the moms I talk to are drawing conclusions based on their personal situations. “Oh, my husband could never do that,” they say when I tell them I stay at home. They can’t imagine their own spouses feeding babies or folding laundry, so they figure no man would do it unless he had to. I can’t say this with complete certainty, but I imagine many of their husbands would do just fine.
So, all things considered, is it worth my time to get bent out of shape when people think I got laid off? Probably not. They’re simply basing their reactions on what they’re familiar with—and that’s what we all do every day, isn’t it? I just hope that, in some small way, I’m able to change what it is they’re familiar with. Then, maybe the next time they run into one of my kind, they won’t be so quick to assume.


  1. Dave, I am really shocked (almost appalled) by the reaction your neighbor had in that conversation your wife. Isn't this the sort of mentality that causes women to remain under-represented in certain fields? I wonder if it is a little insecurity on the part of the people who react like this; does “Oh, my husband could never do that” partly mean "Oh, do we seem frumpish because my husband didn't do that"? Kudos to you for making the decision that is best for your family; don't let them grind you down.

    1. I agree, Loon. Just like we don't have a whole lot of stay-at-home dads, we don't have many women engineers. There are women who are working hard to change that by encouraging more girls to take an interest in engineering. But then you have people like my neighbor, who would rather just teach their daughters how to bake pies and iron shirts, because how else are they gonna hook themselves a man?

  2. Dave. This is your neighbor. I read your blog and stick to my "Oh. Oh My." A man's place is in the garage or at a sports bar or hosting a show with Al Borland.
    Also, can you move your grill away from the fence?

    1. Get over here, Bernice. I'll show you where a man's place is.

  3. totally agree. Father of 3, ages 4,2, 6 months. I get this crap all the time. I wrote a long response but it seemed to get deleted when I signed in. Oh well. I'll just tell about one experience yesterday. A waitress says to me " must be having a Daddy day today" as if all other days I am not their father or completely incapable or rather giving the mother a break?