and another long day on Wednesday combined with an unproductive weekend results in a paper that I'm not quite satisfied with. But I had to turn it in, and this is what I came up with. I present you with my second essay for EN 100 - College Writing, a profile essay on my brother.
In 2002, Doug McCarrick was a gainfully employed man, working a good job as a building maintenance supervising contractor for General Motors. His wife, Dawn, was pregnant, and she was 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 Dawn 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 and less malleable. 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; 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 already. 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. “Sleeping in was nice, the isolation, not so much,” he says. “I’m glad that part is over.” He does a lot less staying at home now that his boy, Jason, is in his early teens. He has a part-time job working nights at the church as a member of their maintenance crew. His days are now filled mostly with side work of one sort or another. With his open, 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, clean out a room. There’s a lot of older folks at church 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. The more work I did, the more word spread that I’d do this stuff, and the more involved the projects became. I’ve tiled bathrooms, hung drywall, put down wood floors, helped people move, and even done some landscaping. 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 worked at a lumber yard back in high school.
When it is mentioned that he truly is a jack-of-all-trades, he smiles and chuckles a bit at the play on his name. He nods and says, “Mostly it’s from doing stuff on my own homes.”
From his seat on the couch he points around his living room, “I put up the crown molding and did all the trim work in here. I rebuilt that deck out back. I tiled the bathroom over there. You learn a lot when you’re making mistakes on your own house. Staying home with Jason gave me plenty of time to make a lot of mistakes and run into lots of surprises.”
There have been unexpected things along the way. Some of them good and others tragic. Of course, there are things he hadn’t thought of when he took on the mantle of being a stay at home dad. “In those early years, before Jason started school, I didn’t do much of anything but stay at home. Which sounds great, but isn’t so much.”
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. Being a stay at home parent, mom or dad, can give a person cabin fever and drive them a little stir crazy.
“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, playdates, and whatnot would be enough to make most men reconsider their choice, but apparently you get used to it. Even more intimidating is 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. In 2006, Doug took the part time job at the church. The evening hours let him work while his wife was home and ensured that someone was around for Jason. He shows his dimples and says, “Partially for the money and partially to get out of the house.”
In the early years, nobody gave him a hard time about staying home or about dropping out of the workforce. Doug emphasizes the benefits of his situation: late mornings, lazy afternoons, and not having to answer to a boss. He brushes past the less pleasant aspects of being a stay at home dad, and can’t recall a unsupportive word being said to him. His friends and family were supportive of his decision to stay home. He kept in touch with his friends and he was able to get out occasionally: to play racquetball, attend a fantasy football draft, or join a softball team. He was not a complete prisoner to his choices and there was joy in having his family near in the evenings and on weekends.
Once Jason was in school full time, Doug started looking for other work, something full time, but the economy was in the dumps and unemployment numbers were at record high levels. People were scrambling for any job and taking positions for which they were vastly over qualified. In that fracas a man who had no degree, no formal training, and who had been out of the workforce for a few years had no chance. Doug found the pickings to be slim and the pay to be ridiculously low. Realizing that working at the Home Depot wasn’t going to benefit him or his family, he started doing more and more side work. Such work gave him a flexible schedule and the ability to pick and choose his work load, which was a great boon when it came to school events, doctor appointments, and the sick days that go along with raising a child. 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. “She’s really the only one giving me shit at this point. What can I say, it’s my mother-in-law? It works for us. Dawn is okay with it, I get to spend a lot of time with Jason, and that’s all that really matters.”
It’s apparent that he’d like to have a good job, work full time, and get back into the workforce, 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: playing fantasy football, taking his boy to lunch, or running to the store on a whim.
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, house cleaning, and such. It’s not ideal, but we make it work and there’s always somebody here for Jason.”