Domestic Dads

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Networking has helped fathers make the transition. Peter Baylies, a SAHD in North Andover, Mass., started the national newsletter At-Home Dad, now part of an online networking site, after feeling like "the class nerd at the playground with the moms, who would sort of stop talking when I sat down." Baylies, who also attends the annual convention, says the camaraderie is key. "We're always outnumbered in play groups," he says. "So it's great to see all these other dads with diapers and snack bags, doing the same stuff you are."

But with or without societal approval, say these dads, the joy of being more intimately involved with their kids is a benefit that far outweighs any difficulties. "I know my son's and daughter's friends. I know everything they like and dislike. I have the chance to be there to help answer questions," says Frank. "It's hard for me to imagine that lots of dads never get to experience that." And many couples say the arrangement ultimately intensifies their own bond. "We [SAHDS] have a better understanding of what a wife goes through," says Simons, "so it does wonders for working as a team."

With two active parents and a broader view of gender roles, the children seem to benefit too. Frank conducted two studies of sahds, in 1996 and '98, and found that in a traditional household, kids would run to Mom 80% of the time if they were hurt or scared. In SAHD homes, he found, it was fifty-fifty. It has even been suggested that having a dad as the primary parent makes children smarter. Yale researcher Kyle Pruett, who followed a small group of SAHD homes over 10 years, found that children in these families had slightly above-average levels of intellectual, social and emotional development. But the undisputed advantage for these youngsters is the close relationships they develop with their fathers. "I can talk to him about pretty much anything, even girl stuff," says the Franks' 13-year-old daughter A.J.

Occasionally, there are unexpected perks. John Howard, the house parent of four girls, ages 3 to 9, was pulled over for speeding in May near his home in Arlington, Texas. As she was writing the ticket, the female police officer asked for his work number. When he told her that it was the same as his home number because he was a stay-at-home dad, she tore up the ticket and issued him a warning only.

Not that such incentives are necessary. Laut, for one, anticipates sending his triplets off to kindergarten this fall with a mixture of excitement and terror. "It'll be nice to have a couple of hours to myself," he says. "But they're gonna grow up and meet friends and have their lives. So, you know, I'm cherishing the moments."

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