Stay-at-home fathers have a tough job but with great benefits

Staying power



A North Huntingdon regional pilot quit his job to stay at home with his twin daughters. A dad in Mt. Lebanon cares for his two children -- or tries to -- as he works as an artist in his home studio. After losing his job twice, a Dormont father decided to make parenting his full-time gig. And a Penn Hills dad is teacher by school year and full-time dad by summer to his five children.

Whatever the shape, size and circumstance, more and more dads are staying home with their children, according to a new Pew Research study released shortly before Father’s Day.  

The number of fathers who do not work outside the home has risen markedly in recent years, up to 2 million in 2012 -- nearly double since 1989 when 1.1 million were at home. High unemployment rates at that time contributed to the increase, but the biggest reason for long-term growth in these “stay-at-home fathers” is the rising number of men who are home primarily to care for their family, according to the study. 

Figures from the U.S. Census Bureau also show an increase, although its numbers are smaller mainly because it has a different definition of stay-at-home fathers. According to Pew, a stay-at-home father is any dad of a child younger than 18 who has not worked for pay in the prior year, regardless of the reason. The Census Bureau defines stay-at-home dads as those living with children under the age of 15 who state that they are home for the entire year to care for home and family. The Census Bureau estimates that number in the U.S. at 214,000, but that’s up from 154,000 in 2010.

“It’s very difficult to define stay-at-home fathers,” said Gretchen Livingston, senior researcher for the Pew Research study. “Certainly there are fathers who are working some number of hours who are still providing primary childcare to their kids.”

Several fathers interviewed who stay at home with their children in the Pittsburgh area may not fit exactly in either of these definitions, but they all said that they underestimated the energy and skill required to care for a baby or young child and they were all grateful to have the chance to spend time with their children.

Chris Rohrbach, 41, an artist living in Mt. Lebanon, remembers calling his wife, Stacie, at work to tell her when their daughters said a first word and took a first step. The couple moved to Mt. Lebanon from eastern Pennsylvania 12 years ago. They have no local relatives here and his art studio is in their home, so the logical choice when his wife got pregnant was for him to become the primary caregiver.

Stacie is an associate professor of design at Carnegie Mellon University. Mr. Rohrbach admits that his expectations were somewhat unrealistic.

“I thought that I could paint while my daughter was in the playpen and I could listen to NPR. That didn’t happen” he said. He adjusted his schedule and painted in the evening while his daughters were little, and now that they are 8 and 10, he works while they are in school. One of their favorite activities was story time at the local library, where he recalls being surrounded by stay-at-home moms.

Their interest in children’s books has spilled over into a project of their own called Happy the Crab (www.HappyTheCrab.com). Happy was sparked by the need for important conversations with his daughters. His daughters are excited to play a role in Happy’s creation and adventures.

“Excitement” is a word that 38-year-old Jason Jablon of Churchill used to  describe his experience as a stay-at-home dad. His daughter recently graduated from kindergarten, and he remembered how excited they were on her first day.

“I was literally sick to my stomach on her first day, and now she’s graduating” he said.  He is very grateful to his wife for giving him the opportunity to stay at home with their two children, ages 3 and 6. Their family is not wealthy, and they have made sacrifices so he can be the primary caregiver, but they support each other and realize that this time is temporary. Mr. Jablon also works some evenings as an event coordinator but said his day job a caregiver reaps the greatest rewards for now.

Pittsburgh native Daniel Casciato and his wife took advantage of his flexible schedule when he became the primary caregiver to their daughter 11 months ago. He is a freelance writer, and she is a professor at University of Notre Dame near South Bend, Ind. They maintain two residences -- the one here is in South Hills -- but his travel back and forth has declined significantly since their daughter’s birth. Like the other dads, he quickly discovered that he had to change his routine. 

“To be honest, at first I thought it would be a piece of cake. I initially thought I would have the same amount of time to work on projects. But that proved to be unrealistic,” he said. The family has evenings and summers to spend time together, and Mr. Casciato was there for many of the baby’s firsts, like her first word, which was “baby.”

He included this advice for other stay-at-home dads: “Make sure you establish a routine that allows you to stay organized and on schedule. And, also don’t be shy about asking for help. Turn to your parents, siblings or friends if you need something, whether it’s a little break during the day or running to the store for you.”

Now that it’s summer, Benjamin Keller of Penn Hills is home full time with his five children, ages 1 to 10. During the school year he teaches full time, as does his wife year-round.

He tries to keep the children’s summers busy but not too structured. Flexibility again seems to be the rule for success. He likes to take advantage of free activities. They often plan trips with the youngest children pulled behind him in their bike trailer as they visit different parks But sometimes they just like to hang out on lazy days and watch movies. 

Many families choose to adjust their schedules and live around the birth of their children, but sometimes life makes that choice for them. Douglas Derda, 38, has two sons, ages 3 and 5. He moved from Erie to Pittsburgh in 1998. He worked for a global telecom company for 11 years until it closed in 2009.

 “Less than a week later my oldest son was born 2 months early and spent the next month in the NICU. Working in the company’s IT department we always joked about “baptism by fire” when being put in an unfamiliar situation you had to deal with and succeed. I didn’t have time to prepare. I just had to do it and figure it out,” he said.

Just last year another layoff left him figuring it out once again with no time to prepare. He has chosen to serve as a resource for other stay-at-home dads through his blog www.douglasderda.com/sahd. He also describes the past six months as “the most rewarding time of my life.”

As his wife, Heather, works as a physician office manager, he has had time to share sports, cooking and computer expertise, including how to make a podcast, with his sons. At their Dormont home, he has made a collection of them talking to each other, singing Bruno Mars covers and leaving messages for their mom that he plans to give to them some day as a reminder of this time. “I know that I will go back to work some day, and when I do I will be a better and stronger person than I was in December,” he said.

Amy Nassif had high praises for her brother Frank Beresnyak, 43, of North Huntingdon, who does an amazing job handling what is affectionately known by the family as the “triple threat” -- third-grade twins (Anna and Bella) and first-grader (Gabby). 

Mr. Beresnyak was a regional pilot when the twins were born. Because his wife, a pharmacist, didn’t have to travel and had better benefits, he decided to stay home with the girls. He agrees with the other fathers that caring for his daughters has been eye-opening. He loved being a pilot and is president of the Pittsburgh Flying Club Inc. 

“We never realize what being a parent is really like. I find myself calling my mom and apologizing often for my behavior,” he said, referring to the way he acted when he was growing up. He feels very strongly that it’s important to know your father, having lost his own father when he was in sixth grade.

He describes his family’s choice as a trade off. He says that he could have continued working to achieve stacks of money and a huge house, but he wouldn’t trade that for having the chance to be there for the first steps and the first words.

“I’m a pilot,” he said, “but I’m more of a dad than a pilot.” 

Lorri Drumm: ldrumm@post-gazette.com, 412-263-3771


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