I'm a Stay-at-Home Dad Trying To Get Back Into the Workforce and I See Why Moms Say It's So Hard

I decided to look for a job after five years of being at home with my son. Six months later, I'm still looking.

I had never even considered being a stay-at-home dad. I worked as a broadcaster for 20 years, and to an extent, I felt defined by my job. I was also never close with my own father. My parents divorced and after a few ugly blow-ups, Dad and I stopped speaking when I was 15, and we would never speak again. I found out he died almost by chance: my brother came across his obituary in the local paper and called me with the news.

Yet here I was, with no real roadmap on how to be a father, leaving the workforce, giving my two weeks notice to my boss. His response: "Really?" This backwards attitude toward a man choosing to be a SAHD was surprising to me, but fatherhood was full of surprises.

We read all the books, talked to friends with kids, but mostly my wife and I thought we'd figure parenting out as we went along. Then our son Finn arrived, and not to be dramatic, but from the moment we saw him, we both finally knew what love was. We loved each other of course, but this was the real, step-in-front-of-a-train-for-you love that only parents know. With parental leave being what it is in the U.S., we were back at work before we knew it. Lots of parents do it, we just didn't grasp how much we'd hate it.

We tried daycare. Our son was constantly sick from exposure to germs from the other kiddos, and we were sick inside from being apart from him. My wife cried every day when she dropped him off, and I felt crushing guilt for leaving our boy with strangers. We decided that one of us would have to stay at home with him.

I know this was a decision we were extremely privileged to get to make because for many it would be financially impossible. Fortunately, we had high-paying jobs and lived modestly enough that, with some sacrifice and side-hustling, we could scrape by on one full-time paycheck for a while. My wife had the more stable gig, better insurance, and since that's how decisions like this get made in America, I quit working. I am grateful every day that I did.

Guy Patton
The author and his son. Courtesy of Guy Patton

Staying at home with my son was transformative for me. It takes patience to be with a child all day, and I found I had more of it than I thought. His excitement at each new discovery was contagious. Inspired by his openness and creativity, I found myself having adventures and building LEGO spaceships alongside him. Instead of imposing my interests on him, I helped him explore his own. Despite not having much of a role model myself, I've tried to be a good one for him, and my wife is very proud of the ways in which fatherhood has changed me. He's made me better, and I came to realize that being a parent was also going to make me better at my job.

With Finn starting school and our savings depleted to a terrifying, retirement-postponing level, it was time to go back to full-time work. Now I'd learn what women have known for years—going back to work after being out of the workforce is often struggle. While it seems to have become more acceptable for women to have a "baby gap" on their resume, it's less so for men.

While I was on the playground, my peers were moving up in their careers. The company I had worked for changed hands, and the industry itself underwent massive contraction. Last time I was looking for a job, online job boards like Indeed were not a thing. How could I put a positive spin on my transition from Operations Manager at New York City Media Company to Diaper Change Specialist at My House?

I embraced my situation. In my cover letters, I detailed how I left full-time work to raise my son, and that I've been freelancing and sharpening my skills. But in this age of self-populating application forms on company websites, I wondered just how much of my story made it past the algorithms to an actual human. In five months of applying, I landed only one job interview.

The position was not in my field exactly, but in a career I'd love to break into: TV writing. The showrunner for a new series on a major streaming platform was looking for writer's assistants. This is an entry-level job, and the commute would have been two hours each way, but I was willing to do whatever it took to get in the door. The showrunner even commended me on my choice to be a SAHD. I immediately accepted his offer.

I looked into after-school care, and began preparing Finn for my absence. I actually started to feel pretty good about myself and my prospects. Two weeks went by, and then I got the word: the budget was cut, and my offer rescinded. The showrunner was very apologetic about it, and I certainly understood the awkward position he was put in, but I was devastated. I had to start all over again.

Even though I once never thought I'd be a stay-at-home-dad, now I know I was born to do it. Being a father is the great privilege of my life. Finn and I are deeply close, and I feel sad for fathers like my own, who never get to know this kind of intimacy. I had to leave work to build this relationship, and it was worth it, but I'm anxious about what the future holds for me, career-wise. I remain optimistic that I will find a company that can see that the gap in my resume has been filled with wisdom, patience, and empathy, and that the experience of staying home has increased my value as an employee and a person.

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