Monday, December 01, 2008

Family's A Career For Some Dads

After he bows, 5-year-old Jasper Thomas practices karate kicks in the morning before he dresses himself, makes his bed, feeds his dog, Moki, and lets him outside.

Then he wakes his parents.

"His karate teacher told him it's a privilege to be here," said Jasper's mother, Julie Thomas. She said her son wants to prove that he's responsible enough to earn the right.

"His chores are like his work," Julie said. "He wants to be like his dad."

He is well on his way.

Jeff Thomas, 33, has a full-time job unlike many fathers in Utah.

"I'm a stay-at-home-dad," Jeff said.

"My main priority is these guys," he said, pointing at the two blond children on playground equipment at the park. The kids were trying to get Moki to go down the slide.

"I grew up in a career-oriented home among socialites," Thomas said. "I was really neglected because of that."

By the time he was 7 years old, Jeff Thomas was basically taking care of himself. He wants a different childhood for his children.

"When you get neglected," Jeff said as tears came to his eyes, "you struggle because you want to be loved. I don't want them to have the same feeling as I had when I was growing up."

After his parents divorced, Jeff said, his family situation reached a point where he was almost placed in foster care. Instead, he went to live with his sister in Boise. There, he helped raise her family. By the time he was 13, he was reading books with titles like "Circle of Life."

"She had child-development books lying around everywhere," Jeff said. "I was a teenager and was reading those books. It prepared me for this."

Julie said her husband has wanted to be a stay-at-home dad from the beginning.

"On our first date," Julie said, "we said if we ever stayed together, he'd have to be a stay-at-home-dad and I'd work."

Thirteen years later, the couple is living that goal in the Daybreak development, where they live with their children, Jasper and a 2-year-old daughter, Jaden. Each morning, Julie, 30, awakes about 6 a.m. to start her telecommuting job in their basement, where she works until the afternoon. Jeff takes care of the children, and in the evening he works part time from home as an airline reservation agent.

"I never imagined that we would luck out and I could work from home," Julie said.

On a wall in their home hangs a collage of family photos surrounding the words, "No ordinary moment."

"As a parent," Jeff said, "the situation is always changing. You have to deal with new scenarios."

He said that some men, when they find out he is a stay-at-home dad, assume it's an easy job.

"Dude, you need to have more respect for your wife," Jeff said of his response. "They have no clue."

With an acronym that sounds like "sad," it is no surprise stay- at-home dads (SAHDs) may battle for a better image.

Or, in Utah, any image.

"I think Utah is just very unique," said Jeff, who has a registered Web site for SAHDs in Utah.

He said he occasionally meets up with another SAHD he knows in Layton. "It takes a lot to motivate dads to get out together."

Despite Utah's limited numbers, SAHDs are increasing in the United States. Of the estimated 64.3 million fathers in 2006, according to the Survey of Income and Program Participation, 159,000 were SAHDs, according to America's Families and Living Arrangements.

The study defines SAHDs as married fathers with children younger than 15 and who have remained out of the labor force for at least one year primarily so they can care for the family while their wives work outside the home.

On blog sites such as, or, stay-at-home dads all over the country discuss child-rearing issues like potty training, personality problems, dressing a child modestly or dressing a child's wounds.

Who are these dads?

"Forget the buttoned-down, three-piece-suit-wearing fathers of yesteryear," authors Ron
Rentel and Joe Zellnik say, "who arrive home from work just in time for dinner and who left nurturing strictly to mom."

In their book "Karma Queens, Geek Gods and Innerpreneurs," Rentel and Zellnik wrote that these 25- to 40-year-old "Denim Dads" were raised during the '70s when feminism was in "full force."

"Girls of the time were told they could grow up to be anything they wanted to be," Rentel and Zellnik wrote, "and the first generation of Denim Dads was taking it all in."

Rentel and Zellnik wrote that a full third of this generation had divorced parents, and though not all Denim Dads turned out to be SAHDs, they were "determined to do things differently."

"I've never been one to hold to conventional wisdom anyway," Kenn Johnson said.

Johnson, 35, is a SAHD. He and his wife, Jolene, 31, live in Bountiful. Kenn works part time with KSL and Jolene is a nurse practitioner.

"She makes more than I ever could in radio," Kenn said. He said that his being at home with the kids "just made sense." Jolene works a 12- and 24-hour shift during the week, and Kenn works a couple hours each morning from home. The rest of the time the family is free to spend time together.

Deseret News (Salt Lake City), Jun 15, 2008 by Molly Bennett Deseret News

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