Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad

Overview

Take David Eddie. Once, he was a freewheeling comic novelist, whose work was hailed as "entertaining...infectious enjoyment" (The New York Times). The guy who wrote the book on Generation X called him "loads of fun" (Douglas Coupland). Then, Mr. Eddie met Ms. Right -- a woman with brains, beauty, and a full-time career -- who delivered an ultimatum on her thirtieth birthday: "Fertilize my eggs, or pack your bags." Housebroken is the true story of one man's painfully funny evolution from single cad to stay-at-home...
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Overview

Take David Eddie. Once, he was a freewheeling comic novelist, whose work was hailed as "entertaining...infectious enjoyment" (The New York Times). The guy who wrote the book on Generation X called him "loads of fun" (Douglas Coupland). Then, Mr. Eddie met Ms. Right -- a woman with brains, beauty, and a full-time career -- who delivered an ultimatum on her thirtieth birthday: "Fertilize my eggs, or pack your bags." Housebroken is the true story of one man's painfully funny evolution from single cad to stay-at-home dad -- from man-about-town to man-of-the-house. In his own unflinching words, Eddie describes how a bachelor who never kept anything in the fridge but condiments and beer actually learns to cook for the whole family. He shows how a man who let ashtrays flow over and dishes stack up for months can miraculously clean the house. In charge of a child, he comes up with logical reasons why every parent should rope-a-dope the kid. And within a three-block radius of his house, he somehow manages to find adventure. This is the brave firsthand account of a down-and-dirty dad, Renaissance husband, reluctant housekeeper, and still all-around-regular guy.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Novelist and journalist Eddie (Chump Change) is living a dissolute bachelorhood of bohemian squalor and interchangeable "sexually forthright, non-rocket-scientific young women" when he finds the love of his life in the form of a family-minded woman. He was wary of the crimp domesticity might put in his literary aspirations, but when son Nicholas comes along, the avowedly unemployable writer decides that he was "born to be a househusband." He may stay home while his wife goes to work, but he's not entirely housebroken: he uses the corner bar and neighborhood lingerie shop as day-care centers, longs to join the glitterati, muses about divorce on a hellish family vacation, exists for long periods in a haze of boredom and sleep-deprivation and wears the indelible social stigma of the stay-at-home dad. But he derives an unsuspected degree of fulfillment in a house well-kept, a meal well-cooked and a child well-cared for, and finds that family life gives him "more sustained happiness than I ever expected to enjoy on this earth." These superbly crafted explorations of fatherhood are full of wry humor, keen observations, and hilarious, off-kilter riffs on such topics as the Teletubbies, the seduction techniques of the single man and the scientific literature of parenting. This indispensable guide to fatherhood in the post-feminist age proves that writing and child-care do indeed mix. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641681301
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/6/2003
  • Pages: 227
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 8.12 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Read an Excerpt

1. A SQUARE PEG

"You're doing a good job," the guy behind the counter at the butcher's shop says.

That's funny; it sure doesn't feel like it. Nicholas is six months old. Pam's been back to work for a month. I'm pretty new at this and very shaky. I've lost his pacifier (again); he's fussing and squirming-on the verge of a major tantrum, I can tell, complete with tomato-red face and hot tears streaming down his cheeks-and the stroller's blocking traffic in the long, narrow store. Though it's four in the afternoon, he's still in his sleep-suit, same one he wore yesterday, the front festooned with crusty food. Earlier a woman stopped me in the street and said something over and over again in Chinese, fingering the sleeves of his outfit.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand you. I don't understand what you're saying," I kept telling her. But I was lying. I knew perfectly well what she was saying. In the universal language of interfering busybodies and tsk-tsking babushkas everywhere, she was saying, "Your baby cold. Needs another layer. You bad dad. You very, very bad dad."

I feel, in fact, like I have BAD DAD tattooed on my forehead as I jam a carton of homo milk between his lips, trying to get him to drink from the spout, teenager-style. It works, sort of: he drinks greedily, hungrily, like a neglected orphan-boy, the milk coursing down his cheeks and soaking the front of his PJs.

"Thanks," I tell the butcher. "Could I have a boneless pork roast, please?"


You've probably seen us around: huge, hulking brutes, some of us, stubbled, troubled, humbled, baffled and hassled, pushing strollers down the street, shopping carts down the aisle or swings in the park. Every day there are moreof us. We're househusbands; hear us roar!

I never meant to become one, of course. I don't think many young men wake up in the middle of the night thinking, "Now I know what I want to be in life! A househusband and stay-at-home dad!" But who knows? Maybe someday that will change. Obviously we're in the middle of a revolution in the workplace. A recent study by the Families and Work Institute in New York suggests that women now earn more than half the income in 45 percent of the households in the United States. If you factor in single, divorced and widowed women, you could say that women earn more than half the money in more than half the households in America. Maybe someday there will be a corollary revolution in the home, and boys will grow up dreaming of staying home to take care of the kids.

(Don't hold your breath, though. Old habits die hard: according to another study by the same organization, even in households where women are the sole breadwinners, they wind up doing most or all of the housework.)

Overall, I consider it the best job I've had (well, on a nice sunny day it can be the best job in the world-and I pray to a new god now, El Nino). I treat it like a job, too: my wife, Pam, is the client, and has to be pleased with the overall product; my son, Nicholas, is the boss and orders me around on a day-to-day basis. Of course, like any boss, he can be moody and dictatorial, can freak out and call me on the carpet for poor performance of my duties. However, unlike most bosses, in my experience anyway, he's also capable of radiating pure joy and happiness, of lighting up like a Christmas tree when I report for work in the morning.

And that's a key difference, I feel, between the home-based and the office-based man. Both my client and my boss love me. I never wake up in the morning anymore with my guts churning, thinking, "Argh, I have to go to work and cross swords with all those jerks again today." Christopher Lasch called home a "haven in a heartless world," and I agree.


I was never really cut out for the rat race anyway. I mean, I know nobody really is, but I always seemed to have a harder time of it than most. I'm a square peg, I guess. For me, it's never been a question of will I get fired or not, but how long have I got? The moment I walk through the doors of any new job, sporting a fresh shirt and fake-confident smile, an invisible hand reaches out and overturns an invisible hourglass, and my time starts running out. From day one in any new job I'm as apprehensive as an escaped convict or soldier in mufti behind enemy lines, just waiting for the horrible moment when someone does a double take and says, "Hey, wait a second! Who's that guy? He doesn't belong here!" And then I'm off and running again, searchlights sweeping the ground, dogs barking behind me. . . .


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Table of Contents

Preface 1
1. A Square Peg 5
2. "She's Perfect" 18
3. A Cad's Fear of Kids 33
4. "I Am a Househusband" 49
5. The Advent of Nicholas 66
6. Our Horrible Honeymoon 81
7. The Hong Kong Handover 97
8. The Politics of Drudgery 117
9. How to Cook 139
10. Toward a Possible Redefinition of Machismo 161
11. "What Do You Do All Day?" 177
12. How to Dad 201
Epilogue: Preparation for Parenthood 225
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First Chapter

   

A Square Peg

 

 

``You're doing a good job,'' the guy behind the counter at the butcher shop says.

 

 

That's funny; it sure doesn't feel like it. Nicholas is six months old. Pam's been back to work for a month. I'm pretty new at this, and very shaky. I've lost his pacifier (again); he's fussing and squirming--on the verge of a major tantrum, I can tell, complete with tomato-red face and hot tears streaming down his cheeks--and the stroller's blocking traffic in the long, narrow store. Though it's four in the afternoon, he's still in his sleep-suit, same one he wore yesterday, the front festooned with crusty food. Earlier a woman stopped me in the street and said something over and over again in Chinese, fingering the sleeves of his outfit.

 

``I'm sorry, I don't understand you. I don't understand what you're saying,'' I kept telling her. But I was lying. I knew perfectly well what she was saying. In the universal language of interfering busybodies and tsk-tsking babushkas everywhere, she was saying, ``Your baby cold. Needs another layer. You bad dad. You very, very bad dad.''

 

I feel, in fact, like I have bad dad tattooed on my forehead as I jam a carton of homo milk between his lips, trying to get him to drink from the spout, teenager-style. It works, sort of: he drinks greedily, hungrily, like a neglected orphan boy, the milk coursing down his cheeks and soaking the front of his PJs.

 

``Thanks,'' I tell the butcher. ``Could I have a boneless pork roast, please?''

 

You've probably seen us around: huge, hulking brutes, some of us, stubbled, troubled, humbled, baffled and hassled, pushing strollers down the street, shopping carts down the aisle or swings in the park. Every day there are more of us. We're stay-at-home dads; hear us roar!

 

I never meant to become one, of course. I don't think many young men wake up in the middle of the night thinking, ``Now I know what I want to be in life! A stay-at-home dad!'' But who knows? Maybe someday that will change. Obviously we're in the middle of a revolution in the workplace. A recent study by the Families and Work Institute in New York suggests that women now earn more than half the income in 45 percent of the households in the United States. If you factor in single, divorced and widowed women, you could say that women earn more than half the money in more than half the households in America. Maybe someday there will be a corollary revolution in the home, and boys will grow up dreaming of staying home to take care of the kids.

 

(Don't hold your breath, though. Old habits die hard: according to another study by the same organization, even in households where women are the sole breadwinners, they wind up doing most or all of the housework.)

 

Overall, I consider it the best job I've had (well, on a nice sunny day it can be the best job in the world--and I pray to a new god now, El Nino). I treat it like a job, too: my wife, Pam, is the client, and has to be pleased with the overall product; my son, Nicholas, is the boss and orders me around on a day-to-day basis. Of course, like any boss, he can be moody and dictatorial, can freak out and call me on the carpet for poor performance of my duties. However, unlike most bosses, in my experience anyway, he's also capable of radiating pure joy and happiness, of lighting up like a Christmas tree when I report for work in the morning.

 

And that's a key difference, I feel, between the home-based and the office-based man. Both my client and my boss love me. I never wake up in the morning anymore with my guts churning, thinking, ``Argh, I have to go to work and cross swords with all those jerks again today.'' Christopher Lasch called home a ``haven in a heartless world,'' and I agree.

 

I was never really cut out for the rat race anyway. I mean, I know nobody really is, but I always seemed to have a harder time of it than most. I'm a square peg, I guess. For me, it's never been a question of will I get fired or not, but how long have I got? The moment I walk through the doors of any new job, sporting a fresh shirt and fake-confident smile, an invisible hand reaches out and overturns an invisible hourglass, and my time starts running out. From day one in any new job I'm as apprehensive as an escaped convict or soldier in mufti behind enemy lines, just waiting for the horrible moment when someone does a double take and says, ``Hey, wait a second! Who's that guy? He doesn't belong here!'' And then I'm off and running again, searchlights sweeping the ground, dogs barking behind me....

 

More than anything, I can't stand the politics. My aphorism here is ``I like socializing with people, but not working with them.'' Something about work, about having to put bread and meat on the table, brings out the worst in people, I feel, and I can't stand seeing my fellow Homo sapiens (ha! should be Homo buttcoveris or Homo stabbinzebackski when you're talking about people at work) behaving in such a petty, narrow-minded fashion.

 

Sooner or later they always smell me out. They always smell the truth in the end. I don't really like to work--not what the world calls work, anyway: reporting to the same impersonal building day in, day out, seeing the same faces, performing some pointless task. (The only thing I really miss about work is the office supplies.) What is a job, anyway, but something someone pays you to do because they don't want to do it themselves? But I have my own work to do, for my own reasons--moral, personal, philosophical--and all these jobs do is get in the way.

 

Obviously, with an attitude like this I don't last too long at any given job. My longest stint in the working world was at an organization I unaffectionately call the Cosmodemonic Broadcast Corporation. I worked there full-time for two years and part-time for four years. Why such unprecedented longevity? Perhaps because the work--writing the words the anchors read over the air--was often almost interesting, occasionally nearly creative.

 

But it happened there like it happens everywhere. Every time I went on vacation, it seemed, when I returned someone else was sitting in my spot, looking smug and defensive, but not at all apologetic, the victor of some invisible power struggle. It was like a game of musical chairs. And when the music stopped, I was always the one left standing, holding a pink slip......

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Preface

``When do you write?'' a lot of people ask when they find out I'm a stay-at-home dad.

 

Well, it's tricky, and complicated. My wife, Pam, is a TV news reporter/anchor. She reports Monday to Wednesday and anchors on the weekends. She has Thursdays and Fridays off, so I work those days. On Tuesday mornings my mother, recently retired, looks after our son, Nicholas (who's two as I write this). On Wednesdays our part-time nanny, Audrey, comes in for four hours, from 9:30 to 1:30.

 

It's a patchwork arrangement, like most people's these days. We didn't exactly plan it this way; it evolved. From chaos I have wrestled six mornings a week to write, and I'm grateful. But still, it never seems like enough. All my competition seems to be gay, single, childless or else has the wherewithal to keep their kids in deep background. Meanwhile I'm all too aware we're paying someone eight dollars an hour, or my mother's taking time from the sweet bliss of retirement, or Pam is looking after him on her day off--all so I can noodle around in my office seeking le mot juste or flat-out procrastinating (ironing shirts, reading a magazine or novel, chatting on the phone).

 

I write at top speed, in a festering stew of guilt, with distraction bombs going off outside my door every few minutes like fireworks at a patriotic display. Right now, for example, Audrey's changing Nicholas's diaper not five feet from my door. He's screaming, crying and carrying on. No doubt I'll be checking the situation out very soon (I'm not sure which is more distracting, his crying or his musical laughter). In fact, excuse me, I should probably check it out right now.

 

It's nothing; he's just tired....My point, gentle reader (``and still gentler purchaser!'' as Byron would say), is I don't have time and anyway I'm too tired to adopt a fake persona or embroider my writing with little faux-poetic prose-doilies, as seems to be the current fashion. I want to portray life as it is and myself as a human being, warts and all, as they say. Not only warts, but dandruff, halitosis and hemorrhoids (at least I hope they're hemorrhoids; I haven't been able to bring myself to ask a doctor to check it out). The unvarnished, rarely vacuumed truth, in other words. With Nicholas on the scene, the urge is stronger than ever. He's going to read this someday. Am I going to lie to him? Allow me to quote Michel de Montaigne, the great sixteenth-century French essayist, in support of my sentiments:

 

This book was written in good faith, reader. It warns you from the outset that in it I have set myself no goal but a domestic and private one....If I had written to seek the world's favor, I should have bedecked myself better, and should present myself in a studied posture. I want to be seen here in my simple, natural, ordinary fashion, without straining or artifice; for it is myself that I portray. My defects will here be read to the life, and also my natural form, as far as respect for the public has allowed.

 

Of course, as with all memoirs, you have to remember that memory is filtered through the imagination: the action, dialogue and internal monologue in this book are all reproduced as I <I>imagine<$> I remember them, or as I remember imagining them. Also, I've changed the names and some biographical details of some of the characters, mostly at their requests.

 

One obvious irony of this book is that at times I had to be a lousy househusband and bad dad in order to write it, especially towards the end. And it was only thanks to Pam's willingness to do double duty and eat lots of pizza and takeout that I could get it done at all. Without her, this book would be an anecdote and a couple of aphorisms; so it goes without saying it's dedicated to her. But I couldn't have done it without my mother, either, who came in to pinch-hit more times than I can count.

 

So: to my wife and my mother.
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