'Coolest Stay-at-Home Dad Ever' Talks Trading His Full-Time Job to Care for His Son

brian reda, angela, livingstonWhat family life in America looks like is always evolving, but it's wild to think that only 25 years ago, only 5 percent of dads acted as the primary caregiver, staying at home with their little one. Today, that number has jumped significantly and continues to rise: 21 percent of dads are staying at home, according to the Pew Research Center. It's a major cultural, socioeconomic shift. But it also just makes sense for more and more couples.

Case in point: Brian Reda, 30, and his wife, Angela, 32, who reside in St. Paul, Minnesota, and are parents to 10-month-old son Livingston. Reda, who is a photographer and former high school teacher, was hailed "the coolest stay-at-home dad ever" after his "Dad's Life" series of images, featuring Livingston and Reda holding out a "metal" hand gesture, went viral.

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Brian spoke with The Stir today about how he became a stay-at-home dad, how he feels about his wife being the "breadwinner," and the pros and cons of being the one who's bearing witness to teething tantrums and first steps ...

How did you end up becoming a stay-at-home dad? How long before/after your son was born was it decided?
It happened as the 2012-2013 school year was coming to an end. We had our son due in August, my MFA thesis to complete, my professional portfolio to focus on, and my teaching job at North High School in North St. Paul, Minnesota. We knew something had to give. If I had tried to do all of it, I would have been sacrificing somewhere along the line, and that's certainly not good with a graduate degree or a profession, let alone being a parent. We were fortunate enough that my wife's [position in eCommerce at 3M] and income allowed us to make the decision.

Would you consider your wife the "breadwinner"? How do you feel about that?
There's no question that Angela's the "breadwinner." She has a great position that she enjoys at a Fortune 100 company, so it's no wonder she's gotten as far as she has. I don't mind at all. It's always been that way. I think the roles were pretty well defined from the start of our relationship.

How does your wife feel about you being the one at home? Has she ever expressed dismay that she's not spending as much time with your son?
She's only ever been supportive of the choice. Like many parents, I think she'd love the opportunity to be at home, but we both realized that I'd have an opportunity to pursue the next step of my career while being a stay-at-home dad, whereas it could be a bit of a setback in her career had she chosen to stay home.

How do you fit your work as a pro photographer into the mix?
My work is just now taking off so the answer to that question is going to be changing quickly in the next few months. I graduated with my MFA from Academy of Art University back in May and am starting to get exposure, interested galleries, interested buyers, etc. I [currently] do my work on nights and weekends mostly.

Do you think your bond with your son is different than it would be if you weren't at home? How so?
Absolutely, it would be different. We see each other constantly and that's a wonderful thing, but it can also put a strain on our relationship. We sometimes get sick of each other! Doesn't that sound terrible?! Everyone craves variety in some way. Think of it this way -- if absence makes the heart grow fonder, what does constant interaction do? I'd say after a long, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. day, we're both relieved at the changing of the guard. I think he gets tired of me telling him he can't pull the plugs out of the outlet or stick his hand in the toilet. He gets tired of my trying to feed him stinky broccoli or wiping the lunch crust off his face.

What pros would you say there are to being a SAHD? How about cons?
I am there for almost every milestone. I see the firsts. I also get to work with him toward those goals on a daily basis. Like right now, he's probably a couple weeks away from walking, and each day he gets a little better. And there I am, taking it in firsthand. The only con I think there would be is the potential for halting a career. I went out on a limb and am now working toward being an artist and finding that college-level teaching job. It was a good fit for me, but I think sometimes people leave a profession thinking it will all be the same if they want to go back in the future.

Do you think the arrangement could change in the future? How?
Anything is possible. I would never rule out any arrangement. My ultimate goal has always been to teach at the post-secondary level, so if I were fortunate enough to get such a position, I think we'd probably rely on daycare. 

Have you had to deal with any criticism, backlash, or just odd reactions from family or friends? How did you handle that?
I do remember some people basically telling me it was a bad idea to leave my job. I was well-established and having some great success with my students, but it was just time to move on. Most of the naysayers were seeing it as a bad career move, and a few more or less said that my expectation to stay at home during the day and work at night wasn't feasible. I took it all with a grain of a salt. I know most of them had good intentions and were speaking from experience, but I'm happy to report that it's all working quite smoothly for us.

How about positive reactions, pats on the back?
Some of the most satisfying moments are when I'm in public, and the elderly couple will smile in recognition. They've seen it all. They've experienced so much, and there they are giving their nod of approval to this stay-at-home dad. I also have gotten so many emails or Facebook tags with people doing their own "metal hand" in different situations. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

What do you think about the fact that there are more stay-at-home dads than ever, but more than half of the public still believe traditional views -- that kids are better off if mom is at home? Why do you think people still feel that way?
Part of it is anatomy, but a larger part is cultural. From the moment of birth, a mother's relationship with her child is very different from the father. The pregnancy, the labor, the nursing -- these are all things that the father has to sit and watch happen. No wonder the mother has always been seen as the caretaker. This also has an undercurrent that implies a father isn't equipped or capable of such care, which nowadays just isn't true. I also think there's a growing number of people who are suspicious of gender roles and are questioning and challenging their validity.

What advice would you give fellow dads who are considering a situation like yours? How about moms?
I'd toss out two bits of newly acquired knowledge. 1. Take the long view. There are moments that you may think will last forever -- and they can be frustrating, even maddening. Take a second and consider looking back at yourself in five years. It's a funny quirk I have, but it removes me from the current moment and makes me realize the absurdity of my stress. There was a day that was pretty rough about a month ago. In fact, it's the 'Dad's Life' photo of him crying on the couch. He had just gotten over the worst of a virus, and he was starting to teethe. He was just generally a very uncomfortable little boy, and he verbalized that, as you would imagine a child to do, by crying and whining for what seemed like an entire day. I poked fun at the situation with that dad life photo. Surely, it helped my sanity as well. And 2. Just wing it. You can't prepare for this job so just dive in and give it your best go. No parent in this world has it all figured out, and any that say they do are full of it.

 

How do you feel about dads becoming the primary caregiver?


Image via Brian Reda

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