- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 4, 2001

At 12:25 a.m. Oct. 14, I walked out of The Washington Times newsroom and out of my 15-year career in newspapers (for now). My decision was firm, unrelenting. I gulped in the cool night air as I walked to my car make that strode to my car with a horizon of infinite possibilities stretching out before me. My life as a free-lance writer and stay-at-home dad finally was under way.

Two days later, as I scrubbed Sean's vomit off the den floor for the third time that day, I began to ask myself if my decision was, indeed, worth it. I had to admit to myself: Wow, that didn't take long.

But I digress. Allow me to back up a few months to when this decision began to take shape.

From the standpoint of money and financial security, I didn't pick my career particularly well, but I did pick my spouse well. Lisa is a veteran federal worker for the Census Bureau, and from the day she went from full-time employee to part-timer five years ago, when our son Sean was born many of her friends there told her she should work and I, her husband, the carefree Bohemian writer, should stay home, watch the children and work on my various writing projects.

While I simply snorted at the notion of such a sitcom life, Lisa bristled. "Call me too old-fashioned," she would say, "but I don't want to be the breadwinner in the family. I want to be the one to stay home."

And so it went for the next five years, intensifying a bit when Jeremy came along two years ago. The work sirens called, but Lisa resisted them as best she could, and I plugged along in my career, which took a pleasant turn for both of us a couple of years ago, when my reporting position allowed me more versatility and freedom to work from home.

Then, in the spring, I wrote an article on stay-at-home dads, interviewing a number of them in the Northern Virginia area and even hanging out with them for an afternoon at Springfield Mall. I was struck by how at peace they were with their decisions, how natural they made it look, how matter-of-factly they handled the various oddities and raised eyebrows they encountered in their fish-out-of-water lifestyles. Part of me began to envy them; the rest of me began thinking, "Could I ?"

Then, a few months later, budget cutbacks at The Times eliminated my reporting position. Luckily, the paper was kind enough to find a position for me on the news desk and copy desk, where I eventually began learning layout and computer pagination, which I enjoyed.

The nighttime and weekend hours quickly began to take their toll, however. Lisa and I never saw each other it was as if Sean and Jeremy had two single parents. I began coming home two or three nights a week muttering to myself, "I should just quit." Lisa said nothing. One day, though, when I half-jokingly asked her if she thought her life would be easier if she worked full time and I quit altogether, there was a long pause on the other end of the phone.

"Uh-oh," I thought.

"I think it would," she said.

That was early in the summer. We decided to ride out the summer and see if things changed for either of us. They didn't. By the beginning of August, I knew what I wanted to do. I only had to conquer my fear of never getting hired anywhere again and living the entire rest of my life as a stay-at-home dad.

By the time we took our family vacation to Ocean City at the beginning of August, my mind was pretty much made up. I eventually had to realize that God would take care of us, and me personally, just as He had been doing for years without the benefit of our direction or guidance or "what-ifs." I would work again when God decided it was time, and not before.

I walked into the office on Sept. 10 fully prepared to give my notice. The news editor was busy all that day. That's OK, I said, I'll just do it tomorrow.

Earth-shattering events like those on September 11 have a way of clarifying priorities in life in a way no amount of personal meditation or reflection can. Six thousand people walked out their front doors that morning on their way to the airport for a business meeting across the country or to their jobs at the World Trade Center, the fire station or the Port Authority. Some of them probably left without even kissing their wives, husbands or children goodbye.

Creedence Clearwater Revival once sang a song titled "Someday Never Comes." It didn't for those almost 5,000 victims, but it would for me. It already had for me. I gave my notice Sept. 14 and walked out the door for the last time a month later.

That's why I wasn't complaining, even at the end of the hideous Day 2 of my new life. By the end of Day 4, normalcy, whatever that word will mean from now on, had started to take hold. Sean's vomiting had dwindled to a case or two of the dry heaves. I already had begun work on a free-lance writing assignment.

As I dropped off to sleep that night watching the baseball playoffs, with Lisa folding clothes and doing some work downstairs, Sean crept into our bedroom, unable to sleep, and we began to talk. The baseball game unfolded without me until he dropped off to sleep about 10:30. I covered him with a blanket, and he stirred enough to ask me for the fourth or fifth time that week, "Do you have to go to work tomorrow?"

"No," I answered. "My work is right here."

"OK. Good night, Daddy."

Daddy. That's really what I'm doing this for a kind of near-selfishness, I guess. When I walk through the front door, whether I have been away all day or just down to the corner to get the mail, Sean and Jeremy race across the living room and fling themselves at one of my legs, both of them screaming, "Daddy."

That phase of their childhood will be over quickly. Before long, I'll walk through the front door, and they'll just nod in my direction. They'll politely ask me to walk a few paces behind them in public so no one will know we're related. Then that phase will give way to the teen years, when they'll dispense with "hello" and move right into "Can I have $10 bucks? We're going to the mall to see a movie."

At that point, I'll be an ATM, for all intents and purposes, and then I can go back to work in an office someplace and act the part.

Until then, I'll have stories to hear and vomit to clean up.

Mark Stewart, a stay-at-home dad of two sons, is also a free-lance writer.


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