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I Can't Believe I Miss Being a Stay-at-Home Dad

Photograph by Twenty20

Things seem to happen fast in my life, after long periods of the status quo. For many years, I was single. Then, after one winter weekend at the Jersey Shore, I got engaged to my now-wife Rachel while we were watching the Food Network.

And for the longest time, Rachel and I were prospective adoptive parents, filling out paperwork, taking pictures for our profile and doing lots of waiting. Then, in the space of two weeks (some of which was spent at that same shore spot), we were the parents of a tiny, 2.5 pound preemie in the NICU.

So it figures that, after a decade as a freelance writer, I now have a full-time job, and it all happened in the span of a week and a half. It's enough to make your head spin.

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What happened? Well, it's not rocket science: an editor at a company where I had been doing contract work left. So I asked people I know there if they were looking for help. A couple of phone interviews and e-mails later, I had the job. Just like that.

Last month at this time I was a stay-at-home dad twice per week to our daughter Evy. I carted her to her grandmother's house the other three days so I could work on my writing. Now I'm a guy who takes trains and subways and drops my daughter off at daycare. I commute into New York from our home in New Jersey two days a week. The rest of the time I'm at home but pretty much working all day.

And, while I'm happy to have the job and have been enjoying it so far, I actually miss being that stay-at-home dad. That's something the childless version of me would have never imagined.

From the first time I saw that tiny peanut laying in her Isolette, I knew I wanted to take care of her.

I became a SAHD by default. Rachel's job wasn't just our primary source of income and the source of our health insurance—it was part of a career that she wanted to continue after becoming a mother. My freelance writing business kept me home most of the time and, because I could make my own schedule, I had a lot of flexibility. This included times when I had Evy all day.

When Rachel and I were in the waiting phase of our adoption odyssey, we both knew that I was going to be the one to stay home with our child on the days Evy's grandmother couldn't, and neither of us were all that comfortable with that. For her part, Rachel wasn't happy giving up the primary caregiver job to a person whom she had no idea how he'd handle things. And I was unsure about my ability to not only be able to do the job but keep myself sane in the sea of noisy toys and Elmo clips and crappy kids music that I thought I'd have to endure while caring for our kid.

I've never been the most nurturing type. When visiting friends who had babies, I'd rarely hold them and, when I did, I tended to look like I was holding a ticking bomb rather than a small human. When the kids got older, I tended to not interact them much, seeing them as an impediment to having a fun conversations with my friends about sports, politics or what's on TV.

The only kids I'd have any interaction with were my nieces and nephew, whom I'd see when I'd go visit my brother's family. He and his wife have five kids, bless his heart, all of whom are smart, funny and well-behaved. But every time I visited, I'd leave exhausted with a ringing in my ears after spending only a few hours with them. How was I going to handle being with a kid all day long for weeks and months on end, knowing that I can't just get in my car and go home?

Evy changed all that and not only because of the adage, "When it's your kid it's different." From the first time I saw that tiny peanut laying in her Isolette, I knew I wanted to take care of her. I even jumped in and changed her diaper the first day, despite having changed one diaper in my life and never on a baby that small. I had fallen in love with how strong and how much of a fighter she was, and I wanted to do everything I could to give her a great environment in which to grow up.

But during that last Thursday I took care of Evy all day, I felt so sad. Every time I saw her little face or felt her cling to me, I felt that I was going to lose everything we built together since we took her home from the hospital more than a year ago.

As most stay-at-home parents find out, taking care of their kids is exhausting but rewarding as hell. It was a blast watching Evy grow and learn, seeing her go from not even being able to flip herself over to coming close to walking, to hear her sounds go from animal noises to "Da Da" to "Daddy." We had fun at her Tuesday music class, and I really enjoyed taking her to the library for storytime, where she interacted with other kids and crawled around the children's section like she owned the place. I loved cuddling her when she was tired and was fighting sleep.

Overall, I was proud of myself, that I became a dad that Evy had fun being with and that I came up with ways to adapt to sticky (sometimes literally) situations. When she drove me nuts crawling around the house and pulling things off the shelves, we got in the car and went somewhere, preferably somewhere where I could put her in a shopping cart so she could look around and hold court. When she wouldn't eat her veggies, I combined them with fun foods. I perfected my Grover and Elmo impressions and really loved watching her smile and laugh as we read together.

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There's a part of me that wanted to stay a SAHD, not only to see how well I could do raising a 2- and 3-year-old, but to see Evy grow and change from a prospective that's more than just a few hours per day and on the weekends. But it was time for a change. We can use the income, and stepping into this job was an opportunity I just couldn't pass up.

But during that last Thursday I took care of Evy all day, I felt so sad. Every time I saw her little face or felt her cling to me, I felt that I was going to lose everything we built together since we took her home from the hospital more than a year ago. But life changes, and I'm confident Evy will adapt to the new normal.

Still, I know that when Tuesday rolls around, I'm going to want to be in that music class with her rather than on the train into Penn Station. And I'll be honest: that just sucks.

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