by Stephen Carter
Stephen Carter is the editor of Sunstone and author of What of the Night? a collection of award-winning personal essays from Zarahemla Books. He is stay-at-home dad to two almost-teenage sons and the world’s most beautiful toddler daughter.
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Hi, I’m Stephen, and I’m a stay-at-home dad.
I never thought I’d be in this position. My father set a good example for me, working outside the home to support his family of nine children. My mother dutifully—happily even—stayed at home to raise them. But now look at me: home all day while my wife goes to her job. Who’s changing my daughter’s diaper? I am. Who’s singing along to Bear in the Big Blue House? That would be me. Who dances the Funky Chicken with Baby? Her very own stay-at-home father.
Every day, the ghost of Spencer W. Kimball stops by the house to give me his trademark compassionately withering stare. “Only in an emergency,” he in tones. Then Ezra Taft Benson stops by and calls through the window: “Adam, not Eve, was instructed to earn the bread by the sweat of his brow.”
How did I get here? How did I wander so far down the path of darkness? It started like this: I got a degree in English.
A small enough sin, it seems. But I’m here to tell you, brothers and sisters, computer science, business, and accounting are the only paths to righteousness. All else is vanity. Pursue the love of literature at your own risk, for you will likely find yourself quoting the Bard as you stock shelves at Wal-Mart to support your new baby.
A few months after our first baby was born, both my wife and I were working. However, hers was a technical writing gig that could be done from home. This point seemed very important; one that I repeated to myself whenever I listened to General Conference. Besides, I was still working outside the home. And that’s what counts, right?
I did manage to be the (mostly) sole provider for my family for one year—the year I held down three jobs. I never saw my children. Or my wife. Just the mortgage and credit card bills. But I was a real man then, and a prime candidate for an ulcer the size of Mt. Saint Helens—an ulcer that spewed righteousness.
But I still felt guilty because now I was hearing Conference talks about how fathers need to spend quality time with their families. President Uchtdorf once said, “Do you think [God] will care how packed our schedule was or how many important meetings we attended? Do you suppose that our success in filling our days with appointments will serve as an excuse for failure to spend time with our wife and family?”
A few paragraphs later, he follows up with an example of a righteous husband and father: John Rowe Moyle, who worked for years as a stonecutter on the Salt Lake Temple.
“Every Monday John left home at two o’clock in the morning and walked six hours in order to be at his post on time. On Friday he would leave his work at five o’clock in the evening and walk almost until midnight before arriving home. He did this year after year.” I was confused. Moyle, a good father, was home only two days a week—most of that probably spent in bed catching up on his sleep and recovering from his marathon walks.
But finally I figured it out. The reason I worked so much was because my jobs paid next to nothing. It was time to go to graduate school. People with higher degrees earn more money and therefore work less. So I signed up for a master’s program in . . . creative writing.
Yes, brothers and sisters. Weep for me. Mourn my blindness. Pray for me, because it gets worse. My wife also signed on for graduate school, and somehow we both got into the same program and both got assistantships. Further, we managed to make our schedules work around each other. One of us was always home to take care of the kids (two sons now) while the other was off learning the elements of plot, character, dialogue, and postmodern queer interpretations of Pilgrim’s Progress.
I admit that during these years, I got used to taking care of my children. I made them breakfast in the morning. I read to them. I brushed their teeth at night and fought off the toilet monster. I even . . . enjoyed it. For five years, I lived this strange lifestyle until I could no longer see its strangeness.
After we graduated, I swung back toward righteousness for two years. Both our boys were in school, so it seemed all right for both of us to work as schoolteachers. But during this time, strange thoughts began shuffling through my head. I started getting the feeling that some misguided spirit was filling out the paperwork to come into our family. The thought was frightening because we knew that if we had a baby, one of us would have to stay home to take care of her, effectively cutting our income in half. We weren’t sure we could live on that.
I started going a little crazy, sometimes blurting out things like, “Tell you what. If you get me a decent publishing contract for my novel about polygamist ghosts so that I can work at home, you can send someone else to our family.”
Who was I speaking to? I don’t know. But the summer of 2008, I was hired as the editor of Sunstone, and almost immediately, my wife and I unwittingly initiated the reproductive process. True, I didn’t have a publishing contract, but the Sunstone gig was likely more lucrative. And, by gum, I could work from home.
So, here I am, a stay-at-home dad. I play with my baby by day while my wife works outside the home, and I edit Sunstone by night.
What would President Benson think of this arrangement? Would he have any encouraging words for me and other stay-at-home dads? For inspiration, I looked through his famous speech “To the Mothers in Zion,” and this quote from President Kimball jumped out at me. With a simple switch of the gendered nouns and pronouns, it seemed very applicable:
“No career approaches in importance that of [husband], homemaker, [father]—cooking meals, washing dishes, making beds for one’s precious [wife] and children. Come home, [husbands], to your [wives]. Make home a heaven for them. Come home, [husbands], to your children, born and unborn. Wrap the [fatherly] cloak about you and, unembarrassed, help in a major role to create the bodies for the immortal souls who anxiously await.”
Can I be unembarrassed about being a stay-at-home dad? Might my inherent abilities as a male actually help in the raising of my children? What would I have to do to be successful? Though I really didn’t expect to find much help from the Church with these questions (go ahead, type “stay-at-home dad” in the lds.org search engine), lo and behold, President Benson came to my rescue again! Look at this list for successful child-rearing he gave to mothers:
• Be at the Crossroads [of your children’s lives].
• Be a Real Friend.
• Read to Your Children.
• Pray with Your Children.
• Have Weekly Home Evenings.
• Be Together at Mealtimes.
• Read Scriptures Daily.
• Do Things as a Family.
• Teach Your Children.
• Truly Love Your Children.
That’s the whole kit and caboodle. I didn’t leave one thing out. That list contains everything President Benson thinks parents need to do in order to raise children well. Did you notice that not one of those requirements is gender-specific, that a male is entirely capable of carrying out every one of them? (As long as no one minds if I read Mad Magazine to my children.)
I hold out one more bit of hope to any man finding himself in the shoes of a stay-at-home dad. Benson makes much of Hannah giving birth to the baby Samuel. “For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: therefore also I have lent him to the Lord: as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:27–28). “Isn’t that beautiful?” Benson asks, “A mother praying to bear a child and then giving him to the Lord.”
And to whom was she inspired to give her young son? Eli—a man. Admittedly, Eli hadn’t done a really great job raising his own sons, but he did all right with Samuel, who turned out to be one of the Old Testament’s most vigorous and interesting prophets.
Who knows, maybe one bright and glorious day, we will hear a general authority wax eloquent in General Conference about the incomparable influence his stay-at-home dad had on his spiritual and temporal well being. Maybe a new song will be added to the Primary Songbook: “I’m So Glad When Daddy Stays Home.”
But I’m not holding my breath. The other day, our home teacher came over. This guy is so dedicated he visited us for the first time even before he had officially been called. This time, he asked me how my job was going, and I said I was working on a collection of articles about stay-at-home dads. “Welllllllllllllllll!” he crowed as if I had just told him that Democrats aren’t all communists. My elders’ quorum president worries because I spend more time in nursery with my baby than I do in priesthood meeting.
It’s a lonely business staying at home to care for your children—no matter what your gender. But hey, when was the last time you built a fort with your clients, or buried plastic dinosaurs in the sand during lunch break, or chased a co-worker through the halls while waving a diaper?
One day, a few months after our family moved back to Utah, a friend emailed to see if I wanted to join him and some others for lunch. I wanted to so bad, it hurt. But there was no way my beautiful, energetic toddler would have let me carry on a conversation with them, much less eat. It would have been a wrestling match, and I would have lost. So I asked my wife if she would be willing to come home during her lunch break that day to tend.
She kindly arranged it, and I skipped off to the first social activity I’d attended in weeks. I ate a hamburger and sweet potato french fries. I talked with grownups. I didn’t have to jump up to save a toddler thirteen times. I also didn’t notice my cell phone vibrating again and again in my pocket.
I had overstayed my allotted time, even though I thought I had kept track of it. When I realized this, I jumped into the car and sped home. I reached the house to see my wife waiting at the door. She strode toward the car, got in, and took off—late for a design meeting.
I looked back through the text messages on my phone. “Coming soon?” “It’s almost time.” “Where are you?” Each message made my gut clench because, as I initially thought, I regretted making my wife late. But then I realized that I was feeling something else, too: anger and humiliation.
Where did these feelings come from? My wife had gone out of her way to accommodate me. I was the one who had messed up our arrangement. I should have felt grateful to her. Instead, I was raging. It took some thought, but soon I understood. The very fact that I had to ask my wife to rearrange her work so I could do anything other than be at home with the family meant that my time wasn’t as important as hers. It had become my job to arrange my life and my work around hers simply because I was the stay-at-home parent. Because I was the one attached to the children.
I understand that this time I have with my kids is priceless, that when I’m old, I’ll remember these years as being the most nourishing of my life. But for the next several years, my life comes in second because I am the stay-at-home parent.
Years ago, when I had three jobs, there was no way for me to take time off so my wife could do anything other than take care of our children—and she had no car. I came home very late sometimes. I was always doing important, money-making things. Her life came second.
I blithely expected that sacrifice of her.
I shouldn’t have.
 Spencer W. Kimball, fireside address given in San Antonio, Texas. Quoted in Ezra Taft Benson, “To the Mothers in Zion,” fireside for parents 22 February 1987, http://fc.byu.edu/jpages/ee/w_etb87.htm (accessed 21 April 2011).
 Ezra Taft Benson, “To the Mothers in Zion.”
 Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Lift Where You Stand,” Ensign, November 2008, 55.
 Kimball, fireside address, in Benson, “To the Mothers in Zion.”
 Benson, “To the Mothers in Zion.”