Ben Rountree, 40
Ben Rountree, 40
Mission Hills, California
At-home dad for seven years
Wife: Maria, 39, legislative analyst for the city of Los Angeles
Daughter: Arianna, 7
To hear Ben Rountree tell it, that first year as Arianna's at-home parent was like taking a speed-reading course in a foreign language. Rountree, who in his former working life was an independent music producer and songwriter, immersed himself in What to Expect the First Year, treating the book like an instruction manual, and never missed an installment of Dr. Brazelton's show on the Learning Channel. He made frequent long-distance phone calls to both his mother and his mother-in-law with questions about things his baby daughter was -- or wasn't -- doing. And then there was Katie -- his wife's sister, who lived nearby and who had given birth to her first child the day before Maria did.
"Katie took an extra three months' leave, and we talked every day," Rountree recalls. "We were our own mutual support group." Still, he could be easily thrown by topics that neither the book, Brazelton, the grandmothers, nor Katie had discussed. For instance, "I didn't take Arianna out for months because none of my so-called experts happened to mention it," Rountree exclaims. "That's how literal and scared I was. I was sure she'd wriggle out of her carrier, fall, and crack her head."
Though he might not have known what he was getting into, he did volunteer for the job. "Maria had gotten her graduate degree in urban planning a few years before Arianna was born," he says. "If she had taken time off to stay home, it would have felt like she was bailing on her career." And once Arianna arrived, handing her off to a daycare provider was no longer an option for Rountree, who fully expected to be able to do his music on the side. ("Little did I realize I'd barely have time to breathe!")
Rocky start aside, for years now Rountree has flourished in his role -- both at home, where he is chief cook and bottle washer (but not launderer, since Maria doesn't appreciate his creativity with bleach), and in the community, where he is PTA president for the second year in a row. "I spend almost as much time at school as Arianna does," says Rountree, and it's no wonder. This year alone he started three extracurricular art classes as well as computer, chess, and journalism clubs. He also organizes all the PTA fundraisers and runs the after-school snack shop (another brainchild of his that helps pay for new software for the school).
Before his PTA "gig," he organized weekly playdates for his stay-at-home-dads group. "I definitely miss the camaraderie with the guys," he says, guessing that he's the only full-time dad at Arianna's school. "People still don't quite know what to make of me." Such anomaly status is why, several years ago, the group had T-shirts made that read, "I'm not a babysitter, I'm a father."
"That slogan is as much about pride as about letting people know -- in a subtle way -- that it's insulting to assume that only mothers can be nurturing," Rountree says. With Arianna in school now, he occasionally contemplates rejoining the gainfully employed: "It's confusing. Financially, we've made sacrifices for a long time, but I don't want to suddenly create a latchkey kid. Besides," he adds without missing a beat, "I could have a long and illustrious career ahead of me in the PTA."