For Westport resident Tom Holleman, raising his children is a full-time job.
A 44-year-old married father of three, he has been staying at home with the herd since his oldest child was born a decade ago.
“I love staying home,” Holleman said last week. “I wanted to be a part of their lives. I wanted to have an active role in their growth, and I do the best that I can just to be involved.”
Across the nation, about 189,000 stay-at-home dads spend their day-to-day lives taking care of their children, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s more than there were generations ago, but it’s still a small fraction of the total full-time parents throughout the country – 3.5 percent, to be exact.
“I think when I very first started being a stay-at-home dad, it was interesting, because … there really was no other stay-at-home dad that I could think of that were my friends or anything like that,” Holleman said. “And you have to learn and figure out how to operate in that world.”
Dads these days are, on average, more involved with their children’s lives than a generation or two ago.
Back in 1965, married dads with kids younger than 18 spent an average of 2.6 hours a week taking care of their kids, according to data from the Pew Research Center, a nonprofit fact tank based in Washington, D.C.
That amount of time went up by a matter of minutes through the 1970s and ’80s, according to Pew, before climbing to 4.2 hours in 1995, 6.8 hours in 2005 and 7.3 hours in 2011, the most recent year for which data is available.
Many fathers clock even more hours than that on daddy duty.
Brian Walsh, a stay-at-home dad who lives in Danbury with his wife and two children, estimates he spends about six hours a day with his children.
“I make their lunches, get them ready for school and drive them to school in the morning,” said Walsh, 41, who spends much of his time coaching hockey and soccer.
“After school, if they have hockey that day, we’ll do hockey practice, or soccer on a soccer day. Then we’ll come back, eat dinner, spend time together, do homework and go to bed,” he said.
He and his wife spend most of their Saturdays and Sundays with the kids. And while the kids are in school, Walsh said he takes care of the house and gets the shopping done.
In total, the average American dad contributes more to housework these days than in the 1960s. According to the Pew data, fathers spent 4.4 hours a week on housework, compared with 9.8 hours a week in 2011.
And while dads have become more involved in their children’s lives, mothers’ time spent taking care of children has increased from 10.2 hours to 13.5; at the same time, their time spent doing housework has significantly declined, as paid work has increased. In 1965, women spent an average of 31.9 hours a week on housework and 8.4 hours on paid work. These days, it’s 17.8 hours in the home and 21.4 at paid work.
“With school involvement, I’m probably 80 percent and she’s 20 percent. But with family life involvement, I think we split it pretty well,” said Dominick Bria, 44, of Stamford. Bria, who has three children – one in college, one in high school and a third in middle school — has been active in parent-teacher organizations for several years, in addition to working in sales full time.
Being a father in 2013 is totally different than it was in the mid-80s, when he was his children’s age, said Bria.
“What’s different today? My dad loved us no question, but he didn’t listen to us about things that were school-related. The teacher was always right, and that’s not the case anymore. Now kids have a say,” Bria said. “I never remember parents being as involved as they are today — mom or dad. I don’t remember that at all.”
Walsh said when he first made the decision to stay at home with his children after his daughter’s birth in 2000, his own father resisted the idea.
“A lot of people were not big fans of it. Thirteen years ago, it was very rare,” Walsh said. “It was odd. You’d get strange looks and strange comments from people. Back then the economy wasn’t bad either, so people would wonder why I would stay home.” It’s better now that it’s a bit more typical, he said.
It can be financially tough sometimes to rely mainly on his wife’s paycheck from her job as a professor at a local community college, but the benefits of being there for his children’s first words and steps outweigh the financial stresses, he said.
And having the mother as the primary breadwinner is becoming more and more commonplace. In 1960, 3.5 percent of married moms with children under age 18 took that role for their families; in 2011, it was up to 15 percent, according to Pew.
“Nobody ever laid on their death bed wishing they had more money. They wished they had more time or they’d done more things,” Walsh said. “And those things for me, I get to do them. They say you can give a man a fish and he’ll have food for a day, or you can teach a man to fish and he can feed himself for life. I get to teach my kids to fish every day.”
Similarly, Holleman and Bria said they place their children’s needs first simply because they want to be there for them as a trusted guide through life.
“I really think it’s fun to be around them, and to watch them be friendly with their friends, watch them grow and learn to do different things,” Holleman said. “I get to get a firsthand look … to watch them become the people that they are.”
And someday, they might just be dads themselves – the kind who aspire to give in the style of their own fathers.
“About three weeks ago, I realized my son wants to be me. He wants to do everything I can do,” Walsh said. “He wants to fix cars with me, fix things and use my tools and that’s kind of neat. It was probably one of the scariest moments I’ve ever had when I realized that, but also one of the most rewarding.”