In 2002, Doug McCarrick was a gainfully employed man working a good job as a building maintenance supervisor for General Motors as part of their contract work force. His wife was pregnant and due in July. He had a new truck, she had a new car, and they had a house on the border of West Bloomfield and Waterford Townships. Life was good.
He and his wife knew that they wanted someone to stay home and raise the children, but they were both making good money and the solution to the problem was not quite as obvious as it might have been in an earlier time. A time when men and women’s roles were more clearly defined. She thought it would make her crazy to stay at home and not work. He didn’t think it was the man’s role to stay home. But they had no family to babysit for them and childcare was prohibitively expensive. Either way one of them was going to have to quit, and they were going to be taking a pay cut. The family income would be hit hard, but it was the way they wanted to do it.
“Both our mom’s stayed home, and we knew we wanted the same for our kids,” Doug says with a grin and tosses the dogs ball across the yard. It’s a nice yard, open with no fences, a small pool, and a large patio. The golden retriever races after it and brings it back, just as he has a dozen times before. It’s a never ending game, and it’s obvious he’ll go as many times as the ball is thrown.
The decision as to who would be the stay at home parent was made for them a month before the babies were born. The company that Doug worked for lost the contract and let everyone in their maintenance group go. He was out of work. She wasn’t. It was that simple. He would be the one to stay home.
“It just made more sense to us,” Doug shrugs. “I don’t have a college degree. It was just a good connection and some luck that I found that job when I did. Don’t get me wrong, I was not happy to have lost that job. But I wasn’t going to find anything that paid as well as what Dawn was getting paid. So I stayed home.”
For the last fourteen years he has been the stay at home dad. Though he does a lot less staying at home now that his boy is in his early teens. He has a part-time job working nights at the local church as a member of their maintenance crew. His days are now mostly filled with side work of one sort or another. And with his open and friendly demeanor he always has someone at the church asking him to help with something.
“It started out with just some simple things, paint a room, hang some shelves; there’s a lot of older folks here that just can’t do as much for themselves as they once could. They ask for help, I help them out, they give me a little cash on the side. And the more work I did, the more word spread that I’d do this stuff and the more involved the projects became. I’ve done drywall, put down flooring, landscaping, cleaned out basements and garages, I guess I’m a regular handyman.”
When asked how he learned all this stuff, he’s quick to point out that he’s done labor all his life. From building decks to detailing cars to doing cabinet work. He has spent time installing furnaces, doing commercial maintenance, and working at the lumber yard throughout his lifetime. He truly is a Jack-of-all-trades. “Mostly it’s from doing stuff on my own homes,” he says and points around his living room. “I put up the trim in here. I rebuilt that deck. I tiled the bathroom over there. You learn a lot making mistakes on your own house.”
But there have been unexpected things along the way. Some of them good and others tragic. And of course there things he hadn’t thought of when he took on the mantle of being a stay at home dad. “In those early years, before the boy started school, I didn’t do much of anything but stay at home.”
The family was saving money by not having to pay for childcare, but talking to Doug it’s apparent that’s not what he’s referring to. There was a lot of isolation, boredom, and though he doesn’t say it, loneliness is apparent in his reminiscences.
“I’m home all day and my friends are all at work. All of Dawn’s friends are home with their kids. So whenever there’s a get together or a play date, I’m hanging out with her friends.” The strangeness of hanging out with a bunch of women at birthday parties, play dates, and whatnot would be enough to make most men reconsider their choice. And that doesn’t even cover the idea of hanging out with your wife’s friends without her. But as he says, you take your chances to get out when they come along.
“I didn’t have any play money to go and do anything and I couldn’t get much done at home, because when they’re that young they need a lot of attention. I was shocked by how much time a baby takes.” Those first years were an experience the like of which few men have experienced. Just the sound of another human voice on the telephone was sought out like a lifeline to the world outside his parental prison. It was all new and all different, but it was for his boy and that was why he stayed home.
“Things weren’t bad, a little tight maybe. But we sold our first house and made good money, paid off the cars and the bills, and bought this one.” That was in 2004 and in 2006 Doug took a part time job in the evenings at the church. Partially for the money and partially to get out of the house.
In the early years nobody gave him grief or flack about staying home and dropping out of the workforce. Doug emphasized the benefits of his situation, late mornings, lazy afternoons, and not having to answer to a boss. His friends and family were supportive. He kept in touch with the guys and he was able to get out occasionally to play racquetball, softball, or attend a fantasy football draft. He was not a complete prisoner to his choices and there was the joy of having his family around him in the evenings and on the weekends.
After the boy was in school full time he thought about looking for other work, but the economy was in the dumps and unemployment numbers were at near record levels. He found himself competing with out of work people far more qualified than he was, having been out of the workforce for a few years and without a degree he found the pickings to be slim. That was when he started doing more and more side work. He’s at a point now where the amount he makes doing side jobs is enough that a low paying day job just isn’t appealing.
“My mother-in-law gives me grief about making her daughter support me,” he says with a dismissive wave of his hand. And it’s apparent that he’d like to have a good job, but he’s not going to just take any old thing just to say he’s working. The church gives him a steady paycheck, his wife makes a good living, and his side work gives him enough extra to do the things he wants, be that fantasy football, taking his boy to lunch, or running to the store.
Knowing what he knows now, would he consider it a mistake to drop out of the work force?
“Maybe financially, but otherwise no. We didn’t have any family that would babysit for us so me being home worked for us. I’m home during the day or at least for that hour after he gets out of school. Then we swap, she stays home and I go off to work. It’s a little like we’re both single parents most days. I think she gets the worst of it, what with the homework and dinner and what not. But during the days when I don’t work I take care of the laundry and cleaning and such. It’s not ideal, but we make it work and there’s always somebody here for Jason.”