Stay At Home Dad, Work From Home Dad

It was a long week. 7 days that felt like a month.

Running an Ohio digital marketing and web design agency. Building a leather goods business. Birthday shopping for Benjamin. Hanging out with Cohen. Helping Lily navigate the increasingly complex almost-middle-school politics of who said what to whom. Working on the house. Finding time to connect.

Alaina surprises me with tickets to the sold out Lucero and Ryan Bingham show in Cincinnati on Sunday, and arranges for my parents to watch the kids. Having a support system is pretty amazing.

Saturday morning, it’s pouring down rain. And, with all the snow finally melting, the dry creek in our front yard is officially/temporarily a wet creek. All the water from the pasture behind the barn flows down to this not-so-little bowl and becomes a pond. A pond that’s about 40′ wide, 60′ long, and 4′ deep. It’s just getting going here:

trampoline in water

And when it rains a lot– like it has the past couple winters– the water overflows, making a waterfall over the lip, and carves an ever deeper wash in the hill. Flows right over the septic leach field, too, which makes the system significantly less efficient than we need it to be. Let’s just say the septic pumping company and I are on a first-name basis. Anne Walker from The Metropreneur visits to take pictures of my leather shop for an occasional series they do called At Work, profiling local entrepreneurs and their spaces.

Rush to hotel and check in.

rush to get a quick dinner. mcgoo server is the kind of saccharine that gives your cavities cavities. but the food was good.

rush to the Taft Theater. Beautiful old thing.

Opening band had their gear stolen. Fuck you to the morons who steal band gear for drug money. Touring bands are some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. So Ryan Bingham is up first. Shit. We missed the first 15 minutes of his 45 minute set.

leather duffel bagcohen on the barn roof at sunsetleather duffel prototypesunset Sunset in our backyard Harley-Davidson FXDX behind a barn Street Art in CinciIMG_7608 IMG_7617 IMG_7644 IMG_7645 IMG_7642 IMG_7658 IMG_7716
I tend to obsess. Not, where it’s compulsive. More like, get really, really, ridiculously into something until I figure it out.

When we found this house, I scoured the intertubes for information– sale dates, tax history, nearby comps, schools. After we’d been to look at it and take measurements, I built a 3D model of it in SketchUp. Poured over Houzz and Pinterest for renovation inspiration. Worked out a new kitchen design. Then another. Then a different layout for the kids’ bathroom. Before we were even in contract, I lined up contractors to come through and give us rough estimates for some of the immediate projects so we knew what we were getting into. After the 5th time, I’m pretty sure the listing agent hated when I would call to set up another walkthrough with another contractor. Obsessed.

It was fairly easy to do all that because I was a stay at home dad, and Foster was just a cooing, stationary, little blob. We could hold him in our laps while he slept or plop him down with some toys and he was good for long enough to get stuff done. Then he started rolling over. Then crawling slowly. Then crawling at mach 3. Then walking. Now running at what I’m pretty sure is a meaningful percentage of the speed of light. See?

Foster running through the room

Oh, and talking. Always talking. It’s amazing to watch him develop. To become more confident in his ability to manipulate his surroundings. To become more adventurous. Last week I caught him on the kitchen table: he’d pulled a chair out, used it as a ladder, squirmed to the tabletop, and was sitting happily, eating a chocolate chip cookie from the cookie jar. He wanted a cookie, knew where they were, and got one for himself. And he did it in about 30 seconds while I was in the laundry room switching loads– one of my jobs as a stay at home dad.

Projects like wallpaper removal or leather goods production that I was able to do when he was awake now have to wait until he’s asleep. Which is at most three hours a day. So, in those three hours I have to prioritize the ever-expanding to-do list. Lately, I’ve been entirely focused on/obsessed with hand making leather goods. Get up at 5, go to the shop and work on a leather briefcases or make some leather wallets (have a new line of wallets launching soon, btw). Come down to the kitchen between 7 & 8, help with breakfast & school prep. Clean up after everyone’s gone. Play with Foster until his nap.

Then I can work again. Finally.

It got to the point that I treated everything (and everyone) else as an obstacle to making a wallet or a briefcase. Pretty shitty of me, right? Meanwhile, in addition to the leather goods orders, there are bathrooms to renovate. Trim to replace in the kitchen. A porch to re-screen. Rotting siding to replace.

Kids that need a dad. A wife that needs a husband. And, thankfully, Alaina called me out on it. I was defensive at first. Didn’t take it well at all. I’d given up so much of what I wanted out of life in my first, failed, marriage. I’d gotten lost, and promised myself I’d never do that again.

But in trying to protect the scar tissue from earlier hurts, I was overcorrecting. In my effort to build a business, I fell back into old–bad– habits. Leather is fantastic. I love working with it– the way it smells, the way it moves, the hollow sound a leather briefcase makes when it’s almost done. The smile on a customer’s face when they pick up an order. But I love my kids and my wife more. And Alaina wasn’t even suggesting I quit making leather goods. Just that I do my other jobs, too.

Finding balance as a stay at home dad is hard enough. There are no archetypes. No examples from which to draw inspiration. In fact, all our social pressure goes the opposite way: being a stay at home dad is still well outside the social norm. Working as a stay at home dad is even stranger. There are plenty of entrepreneurial archetypes. And focusing on your business, making decisions strategically is important. But there are no guidebooks on being a stay at home dad or a work from home dad.

We just have to make it up as we go, prioritizing and reprioritizing. Focusing on the important, not just the immediate. Like taking time to sit on the barn roof and enjoy a sunset with your family.

Cohen at sunset

Before we know it, they’ll be grown, and we’ll have all the time we want in a big, quiet, empty house. Enjoy it. Every moment.

6 Responses to Stay At Home Dad, Work From Home Dad
  1. jmitchem Reply

    Great post.

  2. Beau Regard Reply

    Nice, thinly veiled condemnation of mental illness. Because, God knows, you don’t want to have actual Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Oh, no, you’ve got your obsessions completely under control. You made it clear that you’re not one of those “crazy people.” On the contrary, you’re just narcissistic. You feel emasculated because you’re not the income-earner in your life, and you’re afraid that you’re losing all your masculinity. Your predilection for wearing rings on nearly every one of your feminine-looking fingers is blowing your cover, but you try to mask the obvious with facial hair and an oh-so-tough “biker” facade. But, it’s not working. You’re just a prematurely balding nobody with an effeminate voice and a complete lack of true grit. The “Allen’s Boots” cap is clearly not working. Be careful to use lotion regularly on those dishpan hands…and remove the rings before they tarnish like the mask behind which you hide.

  3. Rosa Reply

    To me these concerns seem pretty valid though? I believe every stay-at-home parent (man or woman) deserves their own time. Particularly if you’re helping with breakfasts, caring for a toddler, getting up at 5am, in charge of domestic tasks like cleaning and laundry, renovating the house, and making money from your business on top. Is a few hours of childcare out of the question? To me it doesn’t seem like you’re being shitty for not being present for everyone at all times. I’d feel resentful too. And if you feel like you gave up a lot in your previous marriage, then it’s an important issue that should be addressed properly in this one, no? Otherwise you’re just going to wind up feeling that way again. It doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me! I’d be saying the same had the post been written by a mom.

    • seth Reply

      Hi Rosa-

      Absolutely, the concerns are valid, and Alaina and I talked about all of them– hers and mine. Just like we do with everything else. And it’s not that I was trying to be present for everyone at all times. It’s that I was viewing everything as an obstacle to building the leather goods business… which meant I was going down the path of never being present for anyone except myself, which is pretty shitty, I think. In an attempt to avoid what I thought was pain (but was actually just fear– no real pain), I forgot the lessons I learned when I earned the scars in the first place: balance is the key.

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