Stay-at-home dads count blessings and stresses
David Phippard has been a teacher. Brian Umbaugh managed a plasma donation center. Curt Cheever studied music in college and was a carpenter. Vince Brown was in construction management. And Skeet Couper was in project management and has a master's degree in business.
Now, they all stay home with their children. Their wives earn the families' incomes. And as any parent who has stayed home with young children can attest, what these dads do is as demanding as any career that brings a paycheck.
"It's stressful, but it's also a blessing," said Brown, whose wife Heather works at Everett Community College. "Not a lot of dads have the opportunity to get to know their children like this. I know my kids so much better than most dads who work." Brown's daughter Madilynn is almost 1, and his son Hadden is 4.
He and the other fathers are part of a group called SnoCo Stay at Home Dads vs. Little Monsters. "You haven't met my kids," Umbaugh joked about the name he picked for the group he started through the website Meetup.com.
Now with 16 members, the group plans get-togethers taking dads and their children to parks, indoor play venues, the Imagine Children's Museum, even coffee shops.
"It is reassuring to know you're not the only one out there. It's definitely not the norm," said Cheever, who stays home with 2-year-old Eleanor and Elizabeth, 3 months old, while his wife Emily teaches music at Penny Creek Elementary School.
"I really enjoy staying at home," Cheever said. He gets out of the house regularly as a musician with the Cascade Symphony Orchestra and the Cascade Percussion Ensemble.
Phippard's wife Christine teaches science at Everett's North Middle School. He stays home with their 2-year-old son Hollis, and daughter Rayleigh, 5 months.
"Having a dads' group is nice," said Phippard, who has checked out other parent groups and found them to be mostly moms. When talk turns to breast feeding or "labor terrors," it's awkward to be the only father in a group.
Umbaugh likes the social interaction of joining dads and their children for an outing. With his 9-year-old son Christian in school, he said it can feel odd being the only dad when he takes daughter Cali, 3, to the park. He worries that mothers he encounters see any attempt at conversation as flirting.
In the fathers' group, Cheever said, "we talk about everything -- our kids, or pointers about meals. Everybody is happy to be there. It's just terrific."
He first got involved with other dads after reading in a 2010 Herald article about Skeet Couper organizing a play group at the Evergreen Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Marysville.
Couper, whose wife Rebekah Couper-Noles is an executive with the Providence Physicians Group, has been a stay-home dad for years.
The couple have five children, the eldest a 12-year-old daughter, the youngest 5-year-old twin boys.
"We value having a parent home to watch the kids grow up and supervise them," Couper said. With just one child, it was practical to pay for day care. As his wife's career progressed and their family grew, Couper said, it made sense for him to stay home.
"It's nice to have a group of people in the same boat, who understand the shared experiences," he said. Stay-home parents can feel isolated, and Couper believes moms have more opportunities for networking with each other.
Umbaugh, who organizes most outings, said the fathers are planning a day off from their kids in July. "We're going bowling, and the moms will have the kids that day," he said.
Couper said he has grown into his role as a full-time parent. He thinks the rest of the world is catching up.
"The first few years, I felt self-conscious about it. More and more, people say 'That's cool.' There's a lot more respect for it now," Couper said.
It's Father's Day, but every mom knows what these dads have on their hands -- diapers and dishes, laundry and lunch time, and oh those kids.
"Funny, every parent thinks their kids are the sweetest kids on earth and the worst kids on earth, depending on the day," Umbaugh said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meetup group for stay-at-home dads
Find out more about the Meetup group SnoCo Stay at Home Dads vs. Little Monsters at tinyurl.com/MeetUpDadsVsMonsters.
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