How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

The Year My Father Stayed Home with Me

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This video was lost for about 15 years. I knew it existed but no matter how hard I searched, it seemed like I was imagining things.

My father and I appeared on a local news program when I was a very young boy. Dad decided to leave behind his role as a radio DJ on KSFX and KSAN in San Francisco to become a stay-at-home father so he could take care of me for a while. A news crew thought this idea was either insane or ridiculous enough to devote an entire segment to interviewing my dad, my mother, a few “experts” and follow us around for a day.

I want to share that video with you now.

Sensitive viewers beware: you might see my baby penis.

I have watched this video about a hundred times. Like that frozen mosquito in Jurassic Park, my father and I are stuck in a kind of video amber, locked into a series of moments together where he’s telling me about his life as a father. His struggles and his growth. He’s only four years older here than I am now. My mind wanders over the idea that we could’ve met, in some alternate universe, at a playground and watched our sons throw sand at each other.

It’s worth noting how much has changed since the early 1980s. Aside from the obvious fashion and hairstyle obscenities, did you catch the sign that said, “This (area) reserved for mothers and children only”? Or when the psychologist basically said that women who left their role as mother to work a job and felt okay with it had ‘serious emotional difficulties’? We still deal with echoes of these ideas in our lives today. Men are looked at askance when sitting by themselves at a park. Women are expected to lean in, opt out or otherwise balance their roles as caretakers and providers.

But I am something of a second generation at-home father. I spent eight gloriously tiring and remunerative months with Finn. Now that I have a full-time job, I have a better appreciation for what my wife contends with. I know there are quantum leaps he’s making that I am not around for. These are the transactions of a life as a parent. We debit from one side of the column of time or money to credit the other. My dad nailed it when he said that a man may question his decision about committing himself to becoming a caretaker but it’s worth it. Seeing him with me felt like a strange echo of my life with Finn. I’m grateful that I have this video, and that I’m able to share it.

There are so many more dads doing what my father decided to do back then. Men are writing about it. Television shows are centered around the idea, though most of them are tanking (Modern Dads might be an exception, I haven’t seen it yet). We’ve entered an era of parenting, not just motherhood and fatherhood as these distinct, opaque examples of how to be masculine and feminine. We’re self-defining what a family looks like and how it behaves. But I know this transition was probably very hard on my mom. Look how fiercely she stares at the interviewer when she talks about her role as a mother. Her environment was not set up to support her decision, whatsoever.

One of the main motivations behind co-creating this whole damn site, for me, was being able to chronicle moments like those in the video above and giving myself a place to answer rhetorical questions for my son in case I die before he has children. Blogging can seem so narcissistic, and I’m sure my father was bucking against the idea of a camera crew following us around all day. But I get it now.

And I hope my son gets it too.

Stephen Capen
2.28.46 – 9.12.05


35 Responses to “The Year My Father Stayed Home with Me”

  1. twobusy says:

    I love this. The video was fascinating — and, in concert with the post, a tremendously illuminating rationale for why you’re doing what you’re doing.

  2. Charlie, thank you for sharing this amazing video. Nearly 30 years later men and women are still contending with their roles. With all that’s written about the speed of information available to us now, change in perspectives about parenting roles remains at a glacier pace.

    Watching this video gave us all the privilege to get to know your Dad if just for a little while. Thank you for that Charlie. His words might as well have been spoken today. I see my own experience in the clips of you and your father at the playground and at a play gym.

    I don’t know if it’s better or not for one parent to be home all the time or for both parents to work with daycare assistance. I’ll leave that to the researchers. I do know being at home has meant the world to me and my children. As I’ve written often in my posts on my web site, one size does not fit all.

    – Vincent

  3. Oh, Charlie! What a treasure!

  4. Dude. What a treasure. Absolute treasure… just to see your dad share his heart… and especially in light of you on your own dad journey. A treasure indeed.

  5. Amanda S. says:

    I was deeply touched by this amazing gift you found. Would have been a shame if it was lost forever. There was something so warm and caring in his smile. I can tell that he was a good dad and truly enjoyed his time at home with you. It’s hard to imagine a time when stay at home dads were scarce enough that there was a segment on it, seems so normal now.

  6. I am stunned. So many things to say. First- I am sorry for the loss of your dad. Also- your parents were both exceptionally good looking….not hugely surprised there. What a gift to have this tape- and to have had the time with your dad. You likely don’t remember that year- but it probably effected his relationship with you forever positively. I ache a little when you mom has to defend her decision…to explain how this is okay and that you are a happy boy. I love that she calls you an ‘angel’…
    Just cool stuff Charlie. Really cool.

  7. Tottums says:

    What an amazing keepsake, and glimpse into your dad’s heart – so very glad you were able to find it, and share it.

  8. Claudia says:

    A gem. You struck gold with that video, to have such sweet moments with your dad frozen in time, that’s beautiful. My husband worked from home a lot for the first year of our sons life and I know he treasures that more than anything else in the world. I think we will always have someone opposing the very private decisions of a family. SAHD and SAHM are the same thing: Parents.

  9. Oren says:

    Amazing video.

    And I love your mom’s Princess Diana haircut.

  10. christieo says:

    I absolutely love this post. I just thanked my mom by the way for all those ways she dug her heels in in life, both working full time and staying home. Decisions as parents are heartwrenching. You can never really tell if you’re doing the right thing, you just sort of do what you think is right and hope for the best. I didn’t have a clue about any of it of course, until about oh 5 minutes ago. (Well, after kids anyway.) Which is why I thanked her. Also, I love the writing and the metaphors Charlie. If I could favorite it I would.

  11. Chris says:

    Amazing video, Charlie. You would swear that Finn is the kid in the video, too. I guess there’s no debating which parent he looks like.

  12. It’s interesting to see that even in the 80’s SAHD’s still had to contend with what some of us are dealing with today. Even though their’s might have been harder then what we have to fight for now.

    Charlie, it is good to see that you have learned from your dad to be the best SAHD that you can be.

  13. Thanks for sharing Charlie. Just awesome!

  14. Kim Rosas says:

    Precious, priceless, and amazing! I can’t help but be jealous of what it seems like you had. You are certainly a lucky guy to have the memory preserved here and to have had such a great family. I believe there is all of 1 minute of my childhood on video.

    And the resemblence to you and Finn, crazy!

  15. What a truely wonderful video! I found myself nodding and agreeing with much of what your dad said. Somehow the video felt current (even with the retro clothes). I guess many of the same issues exit. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Roxy Strickland says:

    What a special video! Thanks so much for sharing. I don’t have much to add that the other comments haven’t already said, but I wanted to express my appreciation for this post 🙂

  17. paddy says:

    Truly amazing..n one your son could share with his child..u the genes r strong in the men ur family..

  18. Adam says:

    Amazing video and story! As a stay at home dad, I appreciate these types of things. I love my job as a dad and a provider. Companies like DadsProvide should win awards for their kindness and generosity.

  19. Chris says:

    Charlie, This is an amazing video! Thanks for sharing. It’s incredible to see how staying at home was perceived by some as a crazy notion and to some degree still can be viewed as negative today. Obviously the time that he spent with you had the opposite effect that the so called expert claimed would happen. It was great to see how your dad put staying at home from a dad’s perspective plainly and succinctly and I totally identify now with what he was saying back then. A wonderful memory to have of you and your dad as well.

  20. Rebecca says:

    This is great! My husband stays at home and works part-time several evenings each week. The concept of the SAHF is still very taboo but reality is that more fathers are doing it everyday. My father also stayed home with me – over 30 years ago – but no one talked about it. And I wasn’t even told about it until after I became pregnant. It’s time we make it a norm. It is a blessing that some of us are able to have one parent at home with our children. Both parents are equally important. Thank you for shedding light on this. 🙂

  21. cormac says:

    Brilliant video and great of you to put it up. I find that it is still the case with some women, especially the yummy mummy type who look down on stay at home dads even in Thai day and age. The occasional comment about giving mum a lie in or a day off never seems to vanish.

    Only problem with this video is that i watched it before heading off to bed for the night and it reminded me that i had a wash in the machine that i need to get hung up. The work never stops does it.

  22. This is fascinating!
    My hubby watches our boys (1 1/2 & 3) 1 day a week while I’m at work and when I tell people where my kids are they look at me like I have three heads. Since I work Saturdays he also voluntarily takes them to all of the birthday parties. Men are just as capable! Why the drama!
    I think it’s wonderful that our Dads are getting more of a chance to bond.
    Thanks for sharing this amazing video.

  23. jennifer says:

    This is just so wonderful.

    xoxo Jen

    Barbara Fleming Nisbet

  24. Mimi says:

    I think the music is the best part of this video! Lol j/k
    What a tremendous gift this is for you to have! Thanks for sharing!

  25. Jo says:

    Amazing! I’m so glad you found this and that it wasn’t lost for good!! Finn looks so much like you did when you were little!!! And you look so much like your dad… 🙂

  26. Julienne says:

    Hey Charlie! I LOVE this! What a forward thinking dad you had. My dad was home with me a lot in this way, too. He was a firefighter & had all different sort of hours. (Also – I had that SAME kite on my wall as a kid. Still have it in my parents’ attic. LOL)

  27. Melissa says:

    What a cool way to reflect on your dad and your role as a dad! Just a quick thought in defense of that psychologist – while she may still sound antiquated, I don’t think she really said that any woman who feels ok about being at work instead of being a full-time mom has severe emotional problems – what she really said was that women, as a rule, are not as detached from all the parenting and household responsibilities, even when they are working, as men are able to be, at least she hadn’t seen any that were. I think even most women of this generation would agree that, at least in 2 parent working households, the cognitive burdens of parenting and home still fall predominantly to women, even if men are “doing their share” at home – who is remembering that you’re almost out of milk, or keeping track of when you’re going to need more diapers or how soon laundry needs to happen before everyone runs out of underwear. I think it’s the perspective of many women, including myself, that even if men are DOING some of these household tasks, oftentimes women somehow end up taking on the psychological role of running the household, whether they like it or not….and I think the psychologist was trying to get at this, in 80s language, that women struggle with detaching completely from societal responsibilities laid on them while men who work full-time have somewhat minimized stressing over house stuff or daily parenting grind stuff.

  28. your pop was a dad blogger before there were even dad bloggers! or a dad vlogger. either way, this is awesome.

  29. michelle says:

    This was one of the most beautiful life stories I’ve ever read. The fact that you have come full circle to see what your father (and mother) experienced with you… It is a privilege that I can truly appreciate as a (mostly) stay at home mother of a blended family of seven. May God continue to bless your family always. You have a terrific family 🙂

  30. Elissa says:

    My husband is a stay-at-home Dad and I am the full-time breadwinner. He recently reviewed the new Modern Dad’s show for a website I run and he came to the same conclusion about parenthood versus motherhood/fatherhood. You can read it here….

  31. Neeroc says:

    What a wonderful video! Great memory.

    It’s really sad to consider how little some things have changed. I stayed home with our daughter for the first year, and my husband stayed for most of the second year. He can definitely relate to the difficulties of breaking in to the ‘mommy’ world, the discussions are different, he was excluded from many events (specific outings for mothers, no exceptions), the perceived incompetence…and still, it’s an experience he wouldn’t trade for anything.

  32. Bryn says:

    I absolutely loved this video. While my husband does not stay home with our son, we both work because it makes us better parents. I love my son more than anything but my career is also important to me. My husband is an amazing father and we are both involved in raising our son to be the best man he can be!

    Interesting fact though. I was applying to be a large part of an organization within our company that supports LGBT employees. As the interviewer asked about my personal life I explained that I was straight, my husband worked at the company too, and we have a son who is 16 months. The next thing that came from the woman- “oh this role involves a lot of work. I am not sure you have the time to commit to this organization while also raising a child.” Why did she assume that I couldn’t take on the responsibility? Did she even ask me? Would she have asked the same question of my husband? All in all, we have come a long way from the early 80’s as to the way we think about fathers but I am not sure we have made it all the way yet.

    Again, great video. It was very touching, Charlie. Thank you for sharing. I am also greatly sorry for your loss of such a fantastic father.

  33. Andrew Norris says:

    Excellent video. Thank you Charlie. It got me thinking about growing up in the early eighties around the time the Mr. Mom movie came out. A lot has changed since then but what your father said back then is still true now. This video inspired me to do a similar one with my son Jonah.

  34. This is fantastic. I love your comments following. So well written and thought provoking.

    I grew up on KFRC…Dr. Don…fun memories.


  35. Andrew says:

    It is hard to believe that it has been almost 3 years since this video was posted. Time certainly does fly !!! I can still remember little bits of my Kindergarten although I don’t remember anything as far back at Charlie’s age in this video…

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