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When I started writing about stay-at-home dads in the military, I half expected tales of lonely fathers — shunned by playgroup moms — pushing strollers and enduring pitying glances from camo-clad he-men.

Instead, I found dads who rise above the stereotype, not because they’re worried much about what people think, but because they’re focused on their families’ well-being.

Jeff Pizanti, a Navy husband and former spouses club president in Long Beach, Calif., said he was “too busy” to hear negative comments.

“As a stay-at-home dad, there is a fifty-fifty chance that people expect me to be either antisocial in general or specifically not want to participate in events that are traditionally for women or mothers: helping out with school functions, meeting with a group for coffee, having play dates,” Jeff said via e-mail. “I generally enjoy those activities … especially ones involving baking or food.”

Far from being discouraged by others’ preconceived ideas, Navy husband John Avelis said he enjoys being with his toddler son and providing an example of full-time fatherhood to those who are unaware of such a thing.

“I like being able to educate,” said John by phone from his home in Virginia. “I like it when people see that I have this cute, happy, laughing kid, obviously doing very well and loving life.”

Mike Clark, an Air Force husband in Germany, said family concerns are paramount. He said he and his wife always wanted one parent to be home with their children. Right now, Mike is that parent.

“We’ve always had that value throughout her career,” he said. “If I worked, and when I worked it was when she got home — anything to avoid daycare. It’s always been more beneficial physically, mentally and emotionally.”

The decision for dad to stay home might depend on whose career provided the best support for the family or which parent is more career-oriented.

“Her career was a lot more important to her than mine was to me,” said John.

“I enjoyed doing what I did, but it wasn’t that much a part of who I was. So it was a pretty easy choice to make.”

“Every few years you’ve got to re-evaluate what you’re doing,” Mike said, “and whoever’s turn it is to do whatever is necessary for the family, that’s what you do.”

Thomas Litchford, a Navy dad in Rhode Island, said some of the pressure men feel could be self-imposed.

“They think they’re supposed to be the ones out in the workforce making money and bringing home the big paycheck every week,” he said.

“My actual experience is that people tell me they think it’s really cool that I’m a stay-at-home dad,” Thomas said. “I’ve had friends who have told me that they wish they had my life.”

John hypothesized why he and other military dads are content at home:

“I think it’s because we are flexible. (Military families) know that our life isn’t one hundred percent ours,” he said. “We understand that circumstances will be beyond our control.

“If you’re talking to men whose families have accepted that, you’re going to find they’re happy and contented … You can either be flexible or go crazy.”

Full-time parenting is challenging. The hours are long, laundry never ends, and personal time can be limited.

“It’s a lot like any job,” Jeff said. “Sometimes it’s a lot of work, but the rewards are great.”

“Think about the average person you know who’s out there in the work force. It’s not the most fulfilling thing,” Thomas said.

“To have the opposite alternative, the opportunity to stay at home and raise your kids — that’s pretty fulfilling.”

Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany. Spouse Calls appears weekly in Stars and Stripes. Contact Terri at spousecalls@stripes.com and see the Spouse Calls blog here.


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