“Daddy, you will be so proud of me,” announced my three-year-old son, from the darkness of his room, at 5:30 a.m.

“Yeah, I bet, so proud,” I muttered, wondering what this Saturday morning wake up call could possibly be about.

“PRANKED YOU,” he shouted, as he launched a soggy diaper into my chest and bolted out the door, naked.

This summer, I dutifully took on the responsibility of stay-at-home dad. My wife was due in August with our third child. As a teacher I usually pick up some type of part-time work when school is closed, but during this juncture, comfort would be prioritized over meager fiscal gain. The goal: try to do the things my wife does on a daily basis with no deterioration in the quality of our home or the happiness of our children. The results varied.

Although I am very active in the lives of my children and the maintenance of our house, there are certain things you don’t really gain an appreciation for until you do them yourself. For example, I thought it was quite noble to try to vacuum the accumulating beach sand in our living room as my wife rested upstairs. About a year ago, I was proud of the fact that I “okayed” the purchase of a rather expensive water filter based, cleaning contraption. Being as my employment afforded us to buy it, clearly I was exonerated from the formality of actually using it; which to my chagrin was not nearly as simple as I anticipated.

I felt like Robert Downey Jr. playing the role of Sherlock Holmes as I skillfully managed to narrow down the suspect closets where the vacuum could be stored, without having to interrupt her nap to ask where it was. Once retrieved, I searched for the On/Off button I assumed all standard domestic equipment was designed with. Sadly, I was met with a series of buttons and levers that appeared to have the necessary technology to control a Mars rover. “Don’t panic,” I said aloud, for encouragement. “You got this.”

My next logical move . . . “Siri, how do you turn on fancy water jug vacuum?”

“Hi Brian, here’s what I found about water on the moon.”  

“WHAT!?” (Expletive! Expletive! Expletive!).

You get the picture, I ended up having to read the instruction manual. It was more confusing than the time a student tried to explain to me why Post Malone is a good musician. An hour later, when you factor in the lunch I made and minor disputes I resolved, I was finally able to clean the living room. As I vacuumed, I began to ponder: what other “easy” stuff gets done around here that I don’t know how to do?

What do you know about sword fights? I’m not talking about the decadent violence of the Roman Colosseum. I’m talking about when you’re trying to use the bathroom and your kid runs up next to you, then begins to shake his hips back and forth as he attempts to cross streams with you over the toilet. It’s a habit of his we’re working on reducing, but what’s the big deal? It’s not like all that excess splashing of pee actually goes anywhere. It just kind of forms a mist and evaporates into the air, right? Wrong! It literally sticks to the side of the toilet, and the floor, and even the wall if you’re really good (or bad, I guess). Magically, someone cleans that up . . . like, every single day.

Who knew my daughter eats 76 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches throughout the course of a week, none of which make themselves. I’ve never gone into ACME for anything other than beer, steaks, and charcoal. I figured grocery shopping took 5-10 minutes, if you knew exactly what you wanted. I now know, negotiating with two small children in a food store is like going back in time to try to ease foreign relations with Mongolian warlords; much respect if you’re done in an hour and stick to 80 percent of the stuff on your list.

I’m far from the Homer Simpson, clueless buffoon, father figure often portrayed on television. My wife and I have an outstanding relationship filled with love and happiness. Compassion and mutual respect are cornerstones of any lasting marriage. However, it’s certainly accurate to say I viewed our partnership as me having to go to work and her getting to stay at home. A role I happily fulfilled because I always felt as if I was doing us both a massive favor.

The truth is, the job of stay at home parent is mentally and physically taxing, as well as immeasurably rewarding. However, it is a job, with dire consequences. You just might not realize that until you’re the one cleaning pizza cheese off an overdue library book, because someone thought it would make a cool plate.

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Brian Halsey

Brian Halsey is a Literature teacher, novelist, freelance writer, husband, father, and legendary body surfer from the shores of New Jersey.

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