Stay-At-Home Dads

Bryan Syverson, 39

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Rebecca Stickler

Bryan Syverson, 39
Fresno, California
At-home dad for five years
Wife: Rebecca Stickler, 43, general surgeon
Children: Valerie, 15, and Joe, 4 1/2

Unlike most stay-at-home father/working mother couples, Bryan Syverson and Rebecca Stickler actually discussed this arrangement some 20 years ago -- before they were even married, let alone parents. "We both knew that medicine, and especially surgery, was a difficult mommy-track career," Syverson says. "Also, our personalities are well suited to our roles: Rebecca would be an unhappy at-home mom, and though I've always enjoyed professional work, it's not how I get my ego stroked."

As it was, he worked full-time to put his wife through medical school while studying part-time for his own undergraduate engineering degree. Valerie, born six weeks before Stickler started school, was cared for during the day by "a wonderful woman who was a master's student in early childhood education," he says.

After medical school, the family moved from Washington, DC, to Chicago, where Stickler began her surgical residency ("the equivalent of working 2 1/2 full-time jobs while getting paid for one minimum-wage one," Syverson says). For those five years, he juggled two jobs in order to be there when Valerie got home from school -- first doing computer-related consulting from home and then some variation of flex-time at a computer managerial job.

Seven years ago, they moved to Fresno, where his wife joined a small group practice. Syverson did some part-time consulting work from home until Joe was born, when he finally got the chance to focus exclusively on his domestic and paternal side. For four years, he did the laundry as well as the shopping and cooking -- which for his family can be quite a challenge, as his wife is a vegetarian and his daughter is allergic to dairy. As for cleaning the house, Syverson acknowledges that he has "a slightly higher threshold for dirt" than his wife, so the couple compromised by getting a cleaning woman. ("It was cheaper than marriage therapy," Syverson says.)

Then last fall, Joe started a Montessori preschool five mornings a week. Just as his dad was considering what to do with his newfound free time, an opportunity presented itself: a flex-time position writing for a small computer-book publisher. "My main concern was how I would find time to get the work done, since my kids took precedence," Syverson says. So, just like scores of new working mothers before him, he took the job and agonized over everything those first few months.

Now, six months into it, he's worked out a reasonable schedule: He's in the office every morning while his son is in school and has a babysitter two afternoons a week so he can work from home; he steals a few more hours at night after Joe's had a bath and gone to bed and Valerie is done with her homework.

"Rebecca has been extremely supportive," Syverson says -- for example, she tries to come home earlier to make dinner on the days the sitter is there so he can continue to work. Joe, however, had to make one adjustment: "He realized I wasn't sitting in the car outside school waiting for him after I dropped him off, as he'd always thought I did. That was a hard one."

Valerie thinks having a "dad for a mom" is pretty cool, although, Syverson says, she at times has the typical teenager's attitude toward any parent being at home. Joe doesn't seem to have noticed the difference yet. Public reaction to Syverson's role reversal has improved over the years, he says -- which he attributes more to Joe's being older now than to any seismic shift among the culture at large. "When Joe was an infant, I got very disapproving looks, as if to say small children should only be with their mothers," he says. "It was a clear prejudice, and I felt more isolated back then. Now, as a dad out with his son, I'm practically treated like a role model."

He still feels ambivalent about having one foot back in the work world, though: "The rules for success are very clear-cut, and getting feedback is nice. So is getting a salary," he says. "But it can't compare to the emotional payback of hearing, for no apparent reason, 'Dad, I always love you.'"

Copyright © 2001. Reprinted with permission from the June/July 2001 issue of Child magazine.

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