Homemaker, caretaker, house-spouse. Call him what you want, but don't dare call him 'babysitter.' This stay-at-home dad could give lessons.
By Amy Gordy/Photography by Lily Darragh
Chris Nick can do it all. He can cook, clean, pack lunches, sew a button, build a tree house, host a tea party, chaperone field trips and coach his daughters in tennis. He’s been a stay-at-home dad for daughters Caroline, 8, and Cate, 4, for four years, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Before his career as caretaker, Nick worked for a medical supply company and ran the warehouse for 16 years. That job moved him and his wife, Laura, to Memphis where they lived for eight years, until Laura was offered a job that brought the growing family back to her hometown of Little Rock.
“Laura was pregnant with Cate, and we were on the way to the hospital to deliver her when Laura got the call from the recruiter offering her the job in Little Rock,” Nick said. “She immediately said yes, then turned to me and said, ‘Is that OK?’”
With a 4-year-old and a new baby, the couple was happy to move back to be closer to family, and the change gave Nick the opportunity for a fresh start on a new career. He had always been interested in teaching, so he went back to school to get his degree and got a job teaching English and writing in England, Arkansas.
After only two years teaching, the family came to a childcare crossroads. Laura was advancing in her marketing job, which required more out-of-town travel—she’s gone typically three to four nights a week—and Caroline was about to start school. The couple looked at the cost of childcare and decided it made more financial sense for Nick to stay home and take care of the girls. “We added up all the costs and the length of my commute to England every day, and Laura just turned to me and said, ‘Why don’t you stay home?’”
The idea took some getting used to. Nick had worked a full-time job for as long as he could remember, and being a stay-at-home dad just wasn’t something the men in his family did. “My dad worked from the time he was 15 in my granddad’s auto shop. Then he was the fire chief for 20 years in my hometown. My granddad was the fire chief before that. My cousins were all firefighters. I’m the only one who hasn’t been a firefighter.”
He faced some naysayers in the beginning—he said his mother’s main concern was whether or not he knew how to wash and dry the girls’ hair. Determined to prove them all wrong, Nick accepted the challenge, which he admitted is a lot more work than he had anticipated.
“I do all the cooking and cleaning, I take the girls all the places they need to go and get them dressed in the mornings. We go to tennis practice six days a week. I’m building them a tree house in the back yard right now. I thought it was going to be a cush job—that I’d get to go for runs and play golf sometimes—but I’m always busy with the girls. When I have them, they are my focus, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.
He admitted the transition from full-time work to a stay-at-home job wasn’t easy, and the financial balance took some time to get used to. “It was weird at first. I was used to buying whatever I want and doing whatever I wanted, and suddenly I felt like I couldn’t spend the money. Laura is great, though, she never tells me that I need to talk to her before I buy something. It’s all our money.”
Nick also had to get used to the isolation one can feel when daily adult conversations become a luxury. “I do miss the adult conversations you get at a full-time job, but I’ve met good friends since we’ve moved back, and our neighbor Joy has been a huge help if I ever need anything for the girls.”
While Nick admitted to having a good support system with his wife, neighbor and mother, he still sometimes feels like an island when it comes to his place in society. “I have only ever met one other stay-at- home dad in Little Rock. I take the girls to the park, and there are only ever moms, and I do wonder what they think about me. It’s odd to see a man at the park during the day. Some moms will talk to me, but for the most part they stick to their clique.”
Nick is not wrong in feeling like a rarity. The Pew Research Center recently found the national number of stay-at-home dads to be close to 16 percent. According to Huffington Post research, Arkansas’s average is closer to 10 to 15 percent.
Nick’s oldest daughter, Caroline, is beginning to understand that her dad is a little different from most. “She’s noticed that I’m the only dad at the park, and I just explain that ‘Mommy goes to work to make money so we can be together.’ I think it’s good for them to see this dynamic. It’s empowering for them, as girls.”
The girls value their time with their mom, and Nick is quick to step back and let Laura take over when she’s home. “When Laura comes home from a trip, it’s like I just fade away. They love their time with Laura, and I get that.”
Nick is happy taking care of the day-to-day stuff with the girls. He knows their picky eating habits, how to soothe
them when they fight, and discipline them when they push boundaries. “Caroline is so much like me, always cracking jokes. She loves 'Star Wars' and watching old movies. She likes the music I listen to. And Cate is just so sweet. She needs love, and hugs and kisses constantly.”
Nick grew up in a home where both parents worked and remembers coming home from school with his older sister who was in charge. “I just can’t imagine leaving Caroline and Cate to watch themselves. It’s just a different world now. I love being able to stay home with the girls, and I don’t know if I would know them as well as I do if I didn’t. I would have loved to have my dad stay home with me, it’s a special bond.”