When his son (pictured right) was born four years ago, Lance Somerfeld co-founded NYC Dads Group. The goal: a venue for at-home dads to socialize and share parenting tips. Today, the group has 700 members who share their desire to become more involved caregivers to their kids. Working Mother recently spoke with Lance about what his life is like.
How did you become an at-home dad?
I was a public school teacher. My wife and I made the decision that was the most practical for our family—that I would take a child-care leave of absence from the Department of Education in New York City, and she would continue working full-time.
In what ways is being an at-home dad challenging?
The role can be very isolating. Also, I look back on the first few months, and I was having so much fun caring for my child that I often neglected myself. I’d also have those moments when I’d be driven to the point where my child wouldn’t stop crying or I couldn’t figure out what he needed, and I would need to just put him down.
What are some misconceptions about at-home dads?
We all too often see Dad in a TV show, movie or commercial as an idiot. But seeing the media portraying fathers as what they truly can be—capable, confident, nurturing—that would certainly assist. Also, there’s the stereotype that if dad is a stay-at-home father, it’s a result of either being laid-off or due to the economic down turn. Being surrounded by 700 members of NYC Dads Group, I’d say about half of them are stay-at-home dads. These guys are not in their roles because they’re forced into it. The majority of them say, “I want to do and make the best decision for my family.” Or, for practical reasons, it makes sense for the father to be the at-home parent. These guys are making their own decisions, and a lot of them are not what the media always points to.
One stereotype is that at-home dads are less manly than other dads. Can you respond to this?
Being an active, engaged, involved dad is a cool and rewarding thing to do. Seeing a dad joking around and laughing with his kids is all the macho you need. I embrace my role as an at-home dad. It’s not something I hide.
When you find that a certain brand ignores at-home dads in their advertising, does it change your perception of that brand?
Obviously, if a brand uses a dad in an ad, I’m already perked up just watching. When you see a commercial that shows at-home dads, you kind of applaud them, like, Hey guys, thanks for including us. I think the real piece out there for brands advertising is: It’s okay to exclude dad, but you never want to alienate him.
Is there anything you think would surprise our readers about being an at-home dad?
We talk about a lot of the same things that most at-home moms would—about our children’s sleep habits, the preschool admission process, potty training and so on.
You’re challenging longstanding societal notions of fatherhood. Do you think at-home dads are rebels?
No, we’re just parents looking to make a connection with our children. Even though we’re doing something that may not yet be completely socially accepted, this is our way of doing what’s best for our family dynamic.
How has your family role changed your life?
Being an at-home dad really helps me appreciate seeing things through my child’s eyes. I get to be a kid again.