It’s not ‘Mr. Mom,’ it’s ‘Dad’

Stay-at-home dads tell their side

Dad image
Isenberg, last Father’s Day, with, from left, Talia, Sivan, and Oren.

"Dads don't babysit. It's called 'parenting,'" reads a T-shirt sported by stay-at-home dad Ariel Isenberg. 

The shirt's words are the motto of the National At-Home Dad Network, which Isenberg joined a decade ago. The network provides advocacy, community, and support for families where fathers are the primary caregivers, offering everything from seminars on discipline to advice for doing a girl's hair. 

Isenberg is a pro at his daughter Talia's hair. She was born in 2008, during the time of the economic downturn. Around that same time, armed with his master's degree in elementary education, Isenberg applied to 360 schools but only received one offer-a teacher's aide position. So, he and wife, Shira, a corporate bankruptcy attorney, agreed it made more sense for him to stay home with Talia. 

Early on, many disparaged his decision. Men would tell him, "That's what I have a wife for," and women would ask him, "Are you giving Mommy the day off?" Many criticized him for not being the family "provider."   

Finding no parenting classes for dads, he called 'Mommy and Me' classes, hoping they would let fathers join. "We never thought of them," they would reply, "but dads are parents, too." 

It was all deflating for Isenberg. "I found myself drowning in my own isolation," he recalled. 

Eventually, he found a playgroup for dads and their kids. "Bonds in that community are really tight," he said, "It's harder for a working parent to understand what we're going through." The playgroup led him to the at-home dad's network. 

Today, things have evolved for stay-at-home fathers, he said. When Talia was a baby, Isenberg would often find himself the only guy in the supermarket; today, he says, as many as one in four shoppers are dads. "There is…more acceptance of being an at-home dad," he said. "Many understand that there is more than one way to 'provide' for a family."             

Corporations are reshaping their perceptions of dad's role, too, and becoming unexpected allies. Advocates, including the at-home dad network, made the case to companies and advertising agencies that, by selling products only to moms, they were missing a huge potential market. Huggies, Jif, and Cheerios, for example, heard their protests and adjusted their marketing. 

One thing that still bothers Isenberg is when mothers, though well-meaning, call him "one of the moms." He says he prefers to just to be called a "dad." 

Today, the Isenbergs have three children: Talia, almost 12; Oren, 9; and Sivan, 6. Once asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Oren replied, "I want to be an at-home dad." 

Isenberg feels embraced in his role by his Jewish community, first at his former synagogue, Anshe Emet Synagogue, in Lakeview, and now at Congregation Beth Shalom, in Naperville, where he and his family moved.   

Another at-home Jewish dad, Darien Kruss, who befriended Isenberg at his new synagogue, attended his first at-home dad network conference in 2016.

Kruss, a software consultant, is a single father to Isabella, now 7. He has older children, from his first marriage, that he also had stayed home with. 

"I'm a stay-at-home, work-at-home single dad…with no time to myself," which he said. As for so many parents, this feeling has been exacerbated by homeschooling during the pandemic. 

While he finds his circumstance challenging, Kruss feels accepted by most. Moms, he said, welcome him at activities with his daughter. "I never got any weird looks," he said, "even at events with 300 moms and fewer than 10 dads." 

All in all, he wouldn't trade being home with Isabella for anything. "I love being able to engage with my daughter, and not to have to say, 'maybe later' when she wants to find bugs or plant seeds."

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