Stay-at-Home Dads (or “Guys the Church Would Like to Forget Exist”)


Just this last week, the following was posted to a few Christian blogs:

Probably if everyone in the United States circa 1960 had known that taking modest steps in the direction of feminism would, in fact, lead during their lifetimes to the legalization of sodomy, to gay men marrying each other, to a small but growing number of fathers staying home to take care of the kids, to legal abortions, etc., etc., etc. the public would have overwhelmingly rejected those early steps. But the poo-pooers won the day, the people did not believe, and now majorities support most of those developments….
—Matt Yglesias—“Slippery Slopes

Sodomy. Homosexual marriage. Legal abortion. Stay-at-home dads.

In the Church in America, it is not hard to see how many—particularly of the Evangelical persuasion— are up in arms about the moral slide of this country. But when I read something like this, it hurts me. A lot. Dad with kidsThat’s because I find myself lumped in with women who murder their unborn children, with men who lust after other men, with people who seek to mock God’s great gift of heterosexual marriage.

You see, I’m a stay-at-home dad.

In the four years that I have been in this role, the one thing I have learned is that Evangelicals find stay-at-home dads to be that chunk of indigestible gristle that wedges in the back of the throat. Now while I don’t need for them to come right out and say this to my face, the position taken by so many Evangelicals is the literal “death by a thousand cuts” when it comes to stay-at-home dads. If every stay-at-home dad would simply vanish overnight, I think most Evangelicals would breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Open up any Christian book that discusses the American family and you see this:

  • Dad works a high-paying job outside the home as the sole breadwinner. He continues this till the day he retires from the firm with the solid-gold pocketwatch.
  • Mom stays at home with the three to four children and homeschools them until the last one gets pushed out of the nest at age eighteen.

These are the two gold standards by which Evangelical families are judged for their conformity to a Scriptural mandate for the home. Any variance from this and the wrath of God is incurred.

I know this is the case because I read. Plus, any casual glance at the bestselling books on How to Have the Perfect Christian Family will tell us that this is the measure by which Christ judges us from His Bema Seat. Never have I seen an Evangelical Christian book or magazine that ascribes to this model even once consider stay-at-home dads except to brand them a breech of the natural order and anathema in the Church. As Mr. Yglesias points out (whether intended or not), a family with a stay-at-home dad can easily be equated to a household with two same-sex parents.

I also know the trouble caused by the existence of stay-at-home dads because I’ve been a Christian for almost thirty years. I’ve seen how families are treated when they don’t perfectly hew to the Evangelical family model. The judgment is passed (“As a family, you get an ‘F'”) and the arms come out to keep your perverted family at a safe distance.

This plays out in many ways. My son cannot come over to another house for playtime if the other child’s at-home parent is a woman. Wouldn’t be seemly for her to be seen with an “unknown man” coming into her home while her husband is away. I can understand that to a point, though it paints the at-home dad as a sex machine that will seduce any female he manages to get alone.

As an at-home dad, I’m not welcome into “parenting group” activities with at-home moms. In one such group that I was investigating, it was made all too clear that by my presence I was ruining the moms’ chance to catch up on daily gossip. How clear? One of the moms came up to me and told me that right to my face. Now she didn’t call it gossip (gossip is a sin, you know), but I’m not stupid. I recognized what I was hearing.

Whenever the Church devises mid-week events for parents, the at-home dad gets a sinking feeling because “parent” is not really the word they intend, unless the sole definition of “parent” is “mother of the children.” Simply showing up for such an event throws the organizers into chaos.

Now you would think that Evangelicals would be overjoyed that a family chooses to have one parent at home raising the children. You would think that they would celebrate the fact that some families have chosen to abandon the dual-income rat race that is afflicting so many families. You would think. But you would be wrong, dead wrong, if you think that the Church would be happy if the parent staying at home happens to have a penis.

One of my favorite foils here at Cerulean Sanctum is Focus on the Family. Seeing that I am a conservative Christian would make you think I hold Focus on the Family in high regard. Yet one of the reasons I find the whole organization to be less than stellar is their unwillingness to admit that the cultural forces that are tearing the family apart are not necessarily the ones they think are causing the problems. FotF’s blindered look at Christianity and culture finds them upholding many of the cultural anomalies that are responsible for the outcomes they decry.

Case in point: feminism is an easy target. A much harder target is the Industrial Revolution. In Stephen Prothero’s American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, he discusses how prior to the industrial revolution, almost EVERY dad was a stay-at-home dad. But then so was every mom. In fact, the economy revolved around the home. FotF, on the other hand, seems to lean to dad being locked up in a cubicle all day at Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe. Likewise, almost every book I’ve read about being a perfect Christian dad makes dad out to not only be the captain of his household, but a captain of industry as well—even if this means the family never sees dad because he’s slaving away for fifty hours a week or out being Steve, the Road Warrior. I’ve never heard an Evangelical organization similar to Focus on the Family question whether the work world we have created as a result of the Industrial Revolution is hurting our families.

Many men are stay-at-home dads because of mitigating business factors that Evangelicals refuse to address or address in totally anti-Christian ways. For instance, I was recently given some links to Christian businessmen networks. On one of the online forums I read a message by a Christian business leader talking about how “Christian excellence” requires him to fire all his IT people and move his IT operations offshore. He believed such a move was God’s will. However, nothing seemed to register in him that perhaps a little less profit could be had and that he could keep the employees he already has in an action that is far closer to the heart of the Gospel than what he’s claiming as God’s will. His downsizing move creates a hardship for the fired male employee who must come to grips that his career is drying up and that his family might be more stable if mom became the breadwinner (because she’s less likely to be fired in a downsizing move by her company in her field of college study.) The fallout of this is that the Christian business owner just created the very Evangelical headache—a stay-at-home dad— that every Christian family bestseller on the shelf of the local Christian bookstore insists must not exist lest the sky fall and dogs and cats start living together in violation of the created order.

In other words, if Evangelicals don’t like stay-at-home dads, then just what are they doing to ensure that work world issues are addressed that prevent families from having to consider that option? Truthfully, the answer is that they simply don’t care about preventing the “problem” of stay-at-home dads at all, preferring to attribute their blighted existence to evils of feminism rather than the natural fallout of the Industrial Revolution and the very worst aspects of capitalism gone to greedy selfishness. It is far easier to point a finger toward the at-home dad than to do something about ensuring work for all men who truly want to be the breadwinners in their family (even if that is not necessarily God’s perfect design.) Nor is anything being done to restore the work of fathers and mothers back to the home, just like in the days when this country was founded. As much as parachurch Christian organizations like Focus on the Family idolize America of that day, they make no mad rush to take on that particular aspect of the economy of that day and bring it into today’s homes.

So yes, I am a stay-at-home dad. To all the Christians out there who express concern about the fact that I exist in that role, I say, put your money where your mouth is and stop crucifying me on the cross of your righteous indignation.

Or is that a little too harsh?