A veteran journalist told me: “When you schedule an interview, don’t ask ‘When are you free?’ Ask, ‘When are you doing what you do?’” With that in mind, I spent a morning in Richard Reinhart’s living room while his 2-year-old son, Henry, ran around keeping us both busy.
Richard is a stay-at-home dad. Though still not common, stay-at-home fatherhood is an occupation growing in popularity. It is a subject near and dear to my heart because of two family episodes that took place 20 years apart.
First — when our children were ages 1, 3, 3 and 5, my husband, the physician, offered to pause his career for a year in order to allow me to return to school. He became a full-time dad. Despite some irksome interactions with people who just did not get it, he loved that year at home.
The second event took place quite recently, when I was discussing the “big picture” future with my 22-year-old, college graduate son. In the midst of mulling over future family life and the many fields of employment he is considering, he said to me, “I can imagine being the parent who stays home with kids.”
It was both startling and heartwarming. To me, the open-minded consideration of parenthood as a worthy full-time occupation for a man is an enormous boon to society. Still, it remains unexpected and might raise a few eyebrows. I was interested to hear from one dad who has decided that sometimes a man’s place is in the home, and that’s a good thing.
Richard came out of college with a marketing degree, a bit of cooking expertise and a lot of travel experience. Those things combined with a generously adaptable nature allowed him to feel comfortable almost anywhere in a variety of jobs. Richard and Sarah met when they were both working in Washington, D.C., shortly before Sarah decided to pursue a law career.
When Sarah got into Tulane’s law school, Richard moved with her to New Orleans and went from telecommunications to restaurant management. Between a gunpoint hold-up that left Richard bound and blindfolded with duct tape and the destruction of his restaurant by Hurricane Katrina, Richard was left with a dim view of the restaurant business.
After Katrina, Tulane’s law students all transferred around the country, so Richard and Sarah moved back to the Washington, D.C., area. While Sarah completed her degree, Richard got a job selling jet fuel.
After Sarah’s graduation, she and Richard took a trip to New England. One of their stops was Bangor, and they loved the area. Sarah found a job and they moved to Maine. They married not long afterwards. Richard worked in sales, then began studying to become a surveyor. That’s when Henry came along.
“I grew up with a stay-at-home mom, and I liked the idea. Sarah’s job was less flexible, and I thought, ‘Well, who do I want raising my kids?’”
In fact, Richard seems particularly suited to the job. He is easy-going and has many interests that adapt well to including Henry. Carpentry, home repair, yard work and cooking are all things Richard liked already.
“He has slowed me down, but he hasn’t stopped me from doing what I want to do. I arrange my life to make it kid friendly.”
In warm weather, Richard and Henry do a lot of kayaking and fishing, sometimes with another at-home dad that Richard knows. At home, they keep busy. When I arrived, Henry was “cooking” at the wooden train table that his dad built. Then Henry showed me his toy truck; “Ton o’ pehts!” he cried, pointing to the truck bed. “That’s right, Henry, we just picked up a ton of pellets,” Richard said. Later Henry let me know it was time to shovel the driveway. He is a happy, busy little man.
For fun, Richard sometimes brings Henry to watch the construction site for the new Bangor arena.
“I used to love stuff like that when I was a kid.”
It is lovely to see someone so devoted and fulfilled in the job of parenthood. Richard doesn’t know if he will stay home for good, but for the foreseeable future, it works for his family. He recognizes that not every family can manage on one income, and he is grateful that he and Sarah can.
Staying home is a tough job, and I asked Richard how he copes when he needs a break. Of course Sarah steps in when she’s home, and occasionally nearby family members help out, he said, “but a lot of times you just work through it. You can’t just stop.” Mostly, though, he doesn’t want to stop. He found a great job and plans to stick with it.
“I’m kind of happy being here, and I kind of want to raise Henry.”
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.