By Neil Kenworthy
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
For James Feeheley, strange looks and questions from moms are nothing new during his family’s daily trip to the park.
“All the women would glance over at me like, ‘What is this guy doing here,’” said Feeheley, a stay-at-home father of two from Aberdeen.
After a recent move, Feeheley began bringing his two children, 3-year-old Oliver Feeheley and 1-year-old Elliot Feeheley, to a new park.
As they walked to the playground, he could not help but notice a woman taking pictures of him while she pretended to send a text message.
“It is something that happened a lot more when I would just bring Oliver to the park,” Feeheley said.
This did not discourage him from socializing with the moms of the park. His wife, Emily Feeheley, always laughs when one of his stories begins with, “So, I was talking to the moms at the park today…”
Emily, who works for the Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground as a civilian member of the Department of Defense, helps James with waking the children up in the morning before she leaves for work. From there, James prepares breakfast before giving the kids cartoon time while he runs on the treadmill.
The Feeheley family is not unique.
According to a study by the Pew Research Center’s social and demographic trends in 2012, stay-at-home fathers make up 16 percent of the stay-at-home parent population. While the population is still mostly mothers, fathers represent a growing share.
The number of fathers who are at home to care for their children has nearly doubled since 1989, where 1.1 million fathers categorized themselves as a stay-at-home parent, according to Pew’s study.
“It’s a practice that opens a lot of doors and breaks a lot of myths,” said Cecilia Rio, an associate professor of women’s studies at Towson University. “That men can be very caring, very nurturing and just as nurturing, if not more nurturing, than a particular woman because there is not anything biologically essential to child caring other than maybe breast feeding.”
A significant part of this trend, Rio said, are the economic factors that now allow women to be the main breadwinner of a household. There are more women than ever before who can make more money than their husbands, Rio said.
In addition to the advancement of women over the past four decades, the rise in stay-at-home fathers also correlates to the male job market, writes Steven Farough, an associate professor of sociology at Assumption College in Worchester, Massachusetts.
The decision to become a stay-at-home father also depends on class. Wealthier fathers are found to be more likely to volunteer to stay home while lower-income fathers take on the role due to injury or lack of opportunity, according to his essay “Are Domestic Men Bucking Hegemonic Masculinity?”
While this is a growing trend, Rio believes we are still significantly far away from stay-at-dads being the norm.
“There is no guarantee, unfortunately, in a society that you are going to evolve in a certain trajectory,” Rio said.
This can be illustrated by the country’s most recent election, Rio said. President-elect Donald Trump’s slogan, “Make America great again,” portrays a time frame that wasn’t great for women or people of color, she said.
Rio highlights how one of Trump’s potential policies is already starting to set the stage for paid maternity leave.
She said paid leave is a great option to have compared to the current Family Medical Leave Act, which allows a father or mother to take 12 weeks off after the birth of their child but receive no compensation. The issue, however, is that the Family Medical Leave Act is written in gender neutral language while Trump is only proposing paid maternity leave. Policies such as this have the potential to push women back into that domestic, primary care-giving role, Rio said.
The good thing, Rio said, is that the dynamic flow of capitalism is very difficult to change.
“Where we are as a society, in terms of middle-class lifestyle, you are [more than likely] going to need two incomes,” Rio said. “So women working is more and more accepted by conservatives, which wasn’t always the case.”
However, Rio believes that we are in the right direction and these kinds of things are getting better all the time. Whether there are a few bumps down the road remain to be seen, she said.
The preferable choice, in terms of parenting, is part-time work, Rio said. Not only does this provide ample parenting time from both the mother and the father, but it also allows both parents to pursue their careers.
For James Feeheley, however, it is all about watching his two children grow.
“My favorite part of being a stay-at-home dad is definitely watching them experience new things and seeing their faces light up,” Feeheley said. “It’s a shame Emily has to punch the clock and miss out on some of it.”
Aside from parenting, Feeheley has a love for reading. He made a New Year’s resolution in 2015 to finish every book he picked up and has read well over 50 since then.
Before Elliot was born, Feeheley said he would read all the time to Oliver. Since then it’s become a lot to read to both of them at the same time simply due to their age gap, he said.
One downside to being the parent who is always around is that Feeheley finds himself in the disciplinarian role more often than not. The kids always act a little differently when both parents are home because Emily is the fun one, he said.
“Nonetheless, it’s so worth it to be able to experience things with them that I wouldn’t be able to if I punched the clock every day,” Feeheley said.