Wednesday, May 25, 2005

HouseHusband

You may not know this about me, but I was a three-time househusband.

Yup. Work-at-home, stay-at-home husband and dad.

It all started in October 1991, when I quit my eight-year career as a copywriter/creative administrator for the largest advertising agency in Little Rock - and in my state, cashed in my retirement investment to buy $3,500 in Macintosh computer equipment (and to tide us over until the business was up and running). And I began doing the same kind of work at home - while my wife of a little over a year continued working as a professor.

You might be thinking that this plan didn't make any sense, but there are other circumstances you'd need to know. Angi brought home about twice as much as I did, between teaching and conducting research, writing textbooks and other projects. Plus, we couldn't have children. We wanted children. We were disappointed (and out quite a bit of money) working with an adoption attorney. We signed up with an adoption agency associated with our church fellowship instead. We prayed. We fasted.

And we had a feeling that the time was near.

We were right. Matthew was born in late December, and we were able to go to Kentucky and meet him after all the termination papers were signed in February.

So I operated a copywriting, graphic design and typesetting business from my home. And I changed diapers, rocked, held, fed, cooed, sang, and occasionally napped with our baby at home - well, he got hungry at night. A lot.

I worked. I also did laundry. Did a little interior decorating at the house. Kept it picked up and clean. Dusted and vaccuumed. In fact, I still do. I never learned to cook anything past canned soup or griddle pancakes, but I can set and clear a table and load a dishwasher with the best of 'em.

Good friends brought me good work to do, and never missed a payment on their bills.

I didn't make nearly as much money as I had at the ad agency, but I wouldn't trade those years with Matthew for anything.

In May of 1996, we got to go back to Kentucky to meet his baby sister Laura, then take her home with us. My little company was renamed - from Matthew Scott Brenton Creative Services (reminding me that he was my CEO and the primary one I needed to work for) to Brenton3 (cubed) Creative Services. Laura became President; my title was Vice President and Daddy. Our logo was a pink, blue and yellow wooden block with letters on it.

I kept working - sometimes juggling toddler boy, baby girl and briefcase to deliver my work - but it became obvious I needed a steadier income. For a while, I worked an afternoon-evening shift at the agency I had worked for before; sometimes baby Laura went with me and sang to my fellow-workers from her playpen in my cubicle. After several months, we put the children in day-care for a half-day and I took a part-time position at a different agency.

Things really changed when we moved to Springfield, Missouri. My job there started first, at another large ad agency, full-time - and the firm kept me in a corporate condo usually used for visitors that summer. But I had to be away from my family five days a week, driving 3-1/2 hours each way to be with them on the weekend until Angi's position as a department chair at the university started in the fall.

I didn't get to witness Laura's first steps, and that's still something that causes a pang somewhere down in the bottom of my heart.

(One mid-week after a weekend visit that was too busy for me to help clean up, Angi fired up the vaccuum cleaner - only to cause Matthew to run downstairs, shrilling "Daddy's home!" He was sadly disappointed.)

The children went into full-time day care and pre-school. We worked. We picked them up. We became the typical two-working-parent American family.

Until, after 11 months, several major changes took place among my clients at the agency and I was suddenly out of a job. For a couple of months, I was a stay-at-home dad, but for the most part without children to care for: just a dry, trying safari for a new position. I tried the new monster.com route. In 1997, I even learned HTML and posted my own resume and portfolio on my own Web site. So that short break doesn't really count in house-husbandry.

Then Angi accepted a great opportunity as a dean at Abilene Christian University, and we moved again. I worked at the newspaper, afternoons and nights again, posting its articles on the Web. The children seemed to enjoy day care and school, so I wasn't spending as much time with them at home as I had when they were babies. But I was free in the mornings for chapel and other programs - and I was close enough to home that I could always be there for dinner. But that was the extent of my second stint as a househusband.

That was our routine for about three years - then Angi was offered a deanship back at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. My boss at the Abilene Reporter-News saw no reason that I couldn't take my job with me, and I did. I worked at home afternoons and evenings, still available for chapel and special programs and summer break for three years. I even began writing a column called Parenting on Purpose that became fairly popular in Abilene.

But times got tough for the newspaper, and two of my bosses were pressed into more demanding roles there - leaving me with more work to do than I had hours to do them in. The children were in school. I felt isolated. I had wonderful friends among the moms in the neighborhood ... but I just didn't really fit in somehow. I enjoy being among people, and I just didn't have the time to establish or connect with the kind of social network I needed. Imagine trying to start a network of househusbands ... in Little Rock, Arkansas.

So ended my third role as househusband; I began the career safari again, and ended up working for my wife's Chancellor on the same vibrant campus about a hundred yards from Angi's office. It's a fine job. I love being among the college students and experiencing their very different culture.

There are times, though ... when I'd still like to be available when my nine-year-old daughter leads the pledge of Allegiance or my twelve-year-old son reads scripture in chapel at their school. There are too many times now when I just can't, and that little spot at the bottom of my heart starts to ache again.

Would I be willing to go back for a fourth run as a househusband and dad, given the right circumstances?

In a heartbeat!

9 comments:

Keith said...

Keith, Thanks for the personal slant on your blog today. Its interesting to see where you've been last few years. I applaud your willingness to take a backseat as primary breadwinner for the sake of your precious children. I think I have the answer to your desire to be around them more. Write a pilot for a new reality show and call it "HouseHusband." I would watch at least a couple of episodes. You're creative enough to expose the highs and lows of a stay at home father and my bet is that you will build a loyal fanbase. "Tune in next week when Daddy Brenton and the kids develop a virtual lemonade stand on-line." Keep blogging brother. Your words and insights are a real inspiration. I know David U.has encouraged you to write a book. Based on your archives I think the material on the holy spirit would be a great start.
Keith

David U said...

Keith, thanks for telling that part of your story! I feel like I know you better now, and for sure appreciate you more than I did....and I already appreciated you a BUNCH! :) We ALL have a story, huh? And we all have a common author too.

Thanks again for sharing.

Oh yeah, the other Keith is a banker.....get him to bank roll that new reality show. That will give us an indication as to how sincere he was in his advice! :)

jettybetty said...

Keith,
I read this whole blog, clicked around on several of your links and figured out something pretty frieky--I am 99% sure I know your wife. I know our little church of Christ world can be pretty small--but it just got smaller. We were never best friends, but we did share some things--like being the minority females on faculty at OC in 1976? Could that be her?? JB

JD said...

Great insights, Keith. Only a great dad could have those feelings and be willing to be a househusband. I give you my applause.

Keith Brenton said...

JB,

Angi took a look at the London photos and said "It's certainly possible - I've lost a lot of memories about those years, though!"

I know she taught speech communication then as now, and possibly journalism ... and that she babysat for extra buckage back then.

- Keith

jettybetty said...

Sounds like a match to me! (I taught business.)
Has she told you tales of Tri-Theta??
I am so excited to know where she is--and that she got a great guy!!!
I send my blessings to you all!!
JB

Fajita said...

Keith, I love this story.

Travis said...

Wow. You can make Griddle Pancakes! I'm impressed.

Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

I think a new reality show "HouseHusband" would be a great antidote to "Desperate Housewives!" Absolutely!

I saw the English guy who came up with the ideas and concepts for both "Survivor" and "The Apprentice" on Oprah one day and he came to this country with only $6,000 to his name, no car, no job, not much education - no nothing - and look where he is now!

Make it happen and make us all proud!