Why Celebrities Can Be Stay-At-Home-Dads, But Most Men Can’t

Photo: Getty
stay at home dad with his son

Celebrity dads are all over the place these days. From Adam Levine to Ben Affleck, tons of famous father figures have taken over the primary care duties of their children.

Heartwarming images and stories of movie star poppas are widely shared, and the dads themselves are applauded for their life choices.

For a lot of regular dads out there, though, it’s a different story altogether.

Examining the reasons that we view the same situation differently can be complicated. Discussions about social mores, stigmas, and socio-economics all converge when we talk about why celebrity stay-at-home dads are publicly encouraged while their non-famous counterparts are often looked down upon or treated with suspicion.

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Professional athletes are often in the headlines for transitioning their retirement into stay-at-home dad status. David Beckham is a great example of this.

Just recently, Atlanta Braves outfielder Nick Markakis announced his retirement and plan to stay home with the kids.

And Lebron James moved back to Cleveland to once again play with the Cavaliers and raise his children in his hometown, at least, until he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers two seasons later.

Hollywood is full of equitable parenting, too, it seems. Ryan Reynolds, Chris Pratt, Dave Chapelle, and Hugh Jackman are just some of the examples of high-profile celebrity dads who’ve been in the spotlight for how good they are with their kids. Cary Grant is an old-school famous Hollywood dad who jumped into the role before it was cool.

Music has its share of these dads, too. John Lennon famously described himself as a “househusband.” Adam Levine can be seen pushing a stroller in various paparazzi pics. And Ricky Martin took a three-year break to help out when his twin sons were born.

You see it across all industries, actually. Photography, art, journalism — the list goes on.

But there’s a problem with the way this topic is presented.

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Part-Time Famous vs. Full-Time Dad

The main issue with the way that fatherhood is portrayed in celebrity fluff pieces is that mostly all of these men are actually employed. Not only that, they’re employed in roles that provide them with an obscene amount of money for seasonal and gig work.

Retired sports stars are, of course, retired. They have sponsorship deals, commercials, and hopefully a solid chunk of savings from multiple renewed contracts worth several million dollars apiece. These are not men who’ve walked away from their careers out of necessity.

These are men whose careers are over and suddenly have more money and time than they know what to do with.

Many of them suggest that they’re prepared to stay home with the kids while their wives become the primary breadwinners. But their bread has already been won.

Now, there are genuine cases where men have turned their backs on continued fame and fortune for their families.

In 1991, costume designer Ann Belsky passed away from liver cancer. For the next several years, her husband, actor Rick Moranis, pulled away from the spotlight until he was gone altogether.

In later interviews, Moranis would suggest that raising his kids was much more meaningful to him than the glitz and glamor ever was.

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Why is it so different for men who aren’t in the spotlight?

According to Pew Research, just 7% of dads stayed at home with the kids as of 2018. This comes in stark contrast to the 27% of moms who decided to do the same.

This will likely come as no surprise to anyone who’s paid attention to the social expectations of most of humanity since the dawn of time. As traditional ideas about gender are taking a backseat to more progressive social models and ideas, however, so too are outdated modes of home and childcare responsibilities.

Nowadays, Millennial dads are home with the kids twice as often as Gen X fathers. But there are still plenty of challenges for stay-at-home dads.

Income inequality has made it harder for dads to stay home, since men often make more money than women. All things being equal, half of all millennial dads would consider staying at home with the kids. However, since it’s often a financial decision, this doesn’t pan out in practice.

Then there are the challenges from outsiders. While progress is coming, not everyone is as enlightened as the Buddha when it comes to childcare. Whether conscious or not, many people are skeptical or even suspicious of men who become the primary provider for their children. Close to half of all stay-at-home dads surveyed in a study from 2010 reported that they’d experienced an event that reinforced the ongoing stigma.

Even if they aren’t immediately suspected of kidnapping or pedophilia, softer allegations of laziness and immasculation are often thrown at fathers who stay home.

This can be an isolating factor to an already isolating role.

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Being a stay-at-home parent is often a thankless and solitary experience. Stay-at-home dads run into the added problem of lacking the resources that are generally available to moms.

Faced with distrust or social awkwardness, these dads face a difficult time finding parenting groups that accept them or setting up playdates with neighborhood moms.

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So why do dads stay home if society isn't ready and they’re just going to take flak for it?

Sometimes they have to.

The same 2010 study from the University of Wisconsin found that many reasons fathers stayed home had to do with money.

If one parent was making more or earning enough to cover their needs, dad could make the decision to stay home and cut the costs of outside childcare, which can put an enormous financial strain on families. In other cases, family values are responsible for a father’s decision to stay home with the kids.

And as much as celebrity dads should have their glossy cover image representation of parenting scrutinized to reveal a more accurate picture of their real-life parenting roles, the idea that a father can be the primary childcare provider is growing with the number of celebrities who take on the role.

For those dads out there without limitless resources for outside help and curated Instagram posts to make every moment with their children look like a Disney movie, progress will be slower, despite the benefits.

For one thing, a stay-at-home dad opens up the possibility for further career advancement for their partner. It creates an environment where childcare is potentially more equitable.

And as the numbers increase, the public conversation is advanced while more and more people are forced to question ingrained gender biases.

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Kevin Lankes, MFA, is an editor and author whose fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Here Comes Everyone, Pigeon Pages, Owl Hollow Press, The Huffington Post, The Riverdale Press, and more.