“It’s Not All Beer & Netflix” – Confessions Of A Stay-at-home Dad

Luke BenedictusBy Luke Benedictus.
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Cameron Whittaker’s own dad abandoned his family when he was just three years old. Determined to break the cycle, Cameron ditched his day-job to become a stay-at-home dad to his little boy, Max. This is what he’s learned.

When I was considering the idea of becoming a stay-at-home dad, some of my mates who don’t have kids looked at me like, “Happy days! This is just gonna be beer and Netflix!” And that is the furtherest thing from the truth ever. In a day, you might get 30 minutes to yourself and you’ll have done six loads of washing and got peed on twice. But I was never under the impression that I was in for an easy ride

In reality, the decision was very fiscally based. When Max was conceived, I was working as a manager at a warehouse for a mining company, while my wife was an electrical engineer. It really just came down to the fact that my wife earned more money than me, and she’s very career-driven – way more than I am. So we did the sums and decided together that I was going to be the stay-at-home dad. My wife went back to work after three months.

The first couple of weeks at home were quite daunting. You’re going to make mistakes. I still make mistakes every day. But you’ve just got to get in there and do it. Parenting is something that you’ve got to invest yourself in and, if you don’t, then you’re missing out. You really are missing out. You’ve got to get involved from the beginning.

But I think it’s also really important to set up those expectations before you have kids. Often when parents decide to have kids, all of a sudden the baby is suddenly there. And then it’s a case of, “Oh. Okay, so what do do we do now?”

My own father left us when I was about three and a half. My mum had four kids under the age of 13 – I was the youngest. We just came home one day and discovered a letter from my dad saying that it was all too much and he decided to do a runner. He just left. He literally disappeared. We never saw him again.

Max is four now and I look at him and think, How could anyone leave this vulnerable young fellow here at this age, and just take off? How could you leave all the responsibility to someone and never make contact? It’s just beyond my comprehension.

My older brother told
me that my dad’s father did the same thing to him and walked out on his family too. Apparently my dad was always really, really peeved at his dad for doing that. But he did the same thing again. So for me it became about breaking the cycle.

There’s a lot of things that I missed out on growing up without a father. I didn’t have that person to teach me to shave, to build things, to fix things, all that stuff. I didn’t get that opportunity. Even though I might not know much about those things now, there are other things I can pass on to my son. Things like accountability and just being there for him and supporting him throughout his life. As I said, it’s about breaking the cycle. I’m not allowing what happened to me as a young fellow to dictate the decisions that I make as an adult.

I can absolutely see how some stay-at-home dads would find it an isolating experience. But I’m very outgoing and I just went out there with the expectation that I’m going to meet people, I’m going to go to the library sing-a-longs, I’m going to go to the picnics in the park, I’m going to go to these play dates. Because you have to do it. And if you don’t, you are the dad that’s literally just sitting at home alone. I joined the local mothers’ group with Max at three months and just said, “Hey, look, I’m this big, ugly bearded bloke. Do you mind if I come along? I know this is a mothers group. But I’m a stay-at-home dad.” And they were fantastic.

What’s been the most satisfying part of becoming a stay-at-home dad? Learning to fold fitted sheets, would have to be right up there…

Sometimes it obviously gets hard. It’s not like: just put your feet up and watch Dr. Phil. They are long days, and there are days that don’t go according to plan. There might be times if Max has been playing up all day where you don’t get the grocery shopping done as planned and the washing machine hasn’t been emptied and the house is a mess. On those bad days, you learn to just go for the low hanging fruit. Some days all you can manage is to get chicken nuggets in the oven so there’s some dinner there for your wife when she comes from home. You learn that some days are like that. But you also learn that you can just have another crack at it all tomorrow.

But most of the time I think, “Hang on a second, I’ve got the good job here.” Most of the time, I feel very lucky.

You can hear more from Cam and other fathers
on SBS Insight on August 4 at 8.30pm