Some dads answer a call to duty at home
June 17, 2007
Pacific edition, Sunday, June 17, 2007
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan
Their numbers are few and their hours are long. Sleep-deprived, they expertly navigate one of the most demanding and least understood of professions.
They are stay-at-home dads.
The challenge of being one is, in the words of Yale Child Study Center psychiatrist Kyle Pruett, “The single most creative, complicated, fulfilling, frustrating, engrossing, enriching and depleting endeavor of a man’s adult life.”
Or, in the words of stay-at-home dad Jaime Coston, “It gets a little crazy sometimes.”
As if on cue, the sound of a large, green bouncy ball being kicked across the kitchen, followed by a fully-energized 3-year-old boy wearing a Scooby-Doo T-shirt and blue sunglasses, draws Coston’s attention.
Coston, while holding his 6-month-old daughter in his Yokosuka base home, redirects both the ball and his son just in time to feel warm, recently ingested infant formula dripping down his arm, punctuated by the sound of a baby’s burp.
Coston wipes down his daughter — and himself — and explains that managing the house and the children is a lot of work. But it all came surprisingly naturally for him, he says, considering how difficult the decision of whether to become a father had been.
Coston isn’t worried about staying home while his wife, Michelle, a petty officer first class at Commander, Naval Forces Japan, goes to work each day.
His soul searching, he says, was about if he could be a good dad when he never really had one himself.
The only memory Coston has of his own father is seeing him walk out the door.
“I was 6 years old, and I never saw him again,” the 32-year-old says.
These days, Coston no longer wonders about being a good dad, he says. In fact, he even teaches new fathers the ins and outs of child care at Yokosuka’s Daddy Boot Camp Program.
But outside the monthly class, Coston has a “limited social circle.”
Coston says he loves what he does, but he feels that stay-at-home dads aren’t really a part of the public’s notion of who or what a primary child-care provider should be.
“I get compliments from other moms who say that they think it is great that I do what I do,” Coston says. “But I think when it comes down to it, stay-at-home dads are kind of on their own.”
Coston smiles when recalling the time he tried to join a base organization where moms could ask questions and give advice to each other on-line.
“About one hour after I signed up, I got an e-mail from one of the administrators saying that my account was being shut down because I wasn’t a mom,” he says.
With that, the 6-foot, 4-inch, 320-pound Coston is off to change another diaper.
Welcome changeAcross town in Ikego Housing, recently retired Chief Petty Officer Don James has exchanged his sea bag for a diaper bag in what has become a very welcome change of pace.
After 18 years as a boatswain’s mate and another seven as a master-at-arms, James now applies years of expertise in reading other people to the care of 3-month-old daughter Rebecca.
“After all those years of having to figure out what makes different people tick, I learned a little of what to look for in other people,” James says. “Now I look to use those same skills to spot the little ‘tells’ to help understand Rebecca.”
James, who keeps his head shaved, also cuts an imposing profile. Rebecca looks tiny when he holds her in hands that just a few years ago were taught hand-to-hand combat.
Rocking his daughter in his arms, James says that even though the hours are long, being a stay-at-home dad isn’t a hard life. He says he wouldn’t trade anything in the world for the time he gets to spend with his daughter.
After a quiet moment, James offers an observation about his current occupation.
“I can’t help but notice when I go to the Child Development Centers, it seems like all the pictures on the walls are of children with their moms,” James said. “It just seems like stay-at-home dads are never really thought of.”
For James, his new retired life revolves around supporting his daughter and his wife, Laura, a chief petty officer at CNFJ.
“It was either going to be this, or to become a scuba diving instructor on an island somewhere,” James says, gently holding his daughter in his burly arms. “You can see which one I chose.”