The dadcraft Life: How a forced sabbatical created opportunities for Andy to rediscover the joy of fatherhood.
Tell us about your family.
I’m married to Barb and I have four kids, ages 12 down to 7. We packed them in tightly. We have three boys and a girl.
Raising a family of four children in Denver makes you a bit of an outlier.
We lived in Greeley (northern Colorado) and then moved to suburbs of St. Louis. We got used to the raised eyebrows after we had our fourth child. Two and three was pretty normal. When I would say four, it created a conversation for sure. When we moved to downtown Denver, it happened even more. It’s the first time we’ve lived in an urban context.
9 times out of 10, we get a “wow.” Then they say, “Man, you guys are busy.” I can see their wheels turning. They’re thinking about how crazy we are. My wife, Barb, typically responds that it is a lot of work. I typically respond that after you have one or two kids, you embrace the crazy. Adding one or two more isn’t adding a whole lot. Going from three to four was the easiest transition to make.
You recently entered what you’ve called a “forced sabbatical.” Say more about that.
I left my most recent job and was hoping that there would be something waiting for me on the other side of it. And, I’ve beat the bushes and landed a few part-time roles, but nothing full-time has yet materialized. At the end of my last job, there was a certain amount of fatigue from my work. I don’t think I realized how tired I was. It was having an impact on my soul and on my family.
My wife is a nurse now, but she just finished up school. It’s been an intense season. If I had a full-time job, I’m not sure we’d be able to function well as a family right now. As far as our family is concerned, this forced sabbatical has given me the space to consider where I’ve been the last five to ten years. How I’m put together. The things I’m good at and the things I need to avoid in my life and work.
I’m so thankful for this season. It’s been hard and challenging, but it’s been maturing. I’m walking out of this season a different person.
What have you enjoyed about this season?
I wouldn’t have chosen this forced sabbatical, but it’s been sweet to have the margin to be present with my kids. Today my oldest son is off school, and we’re running errands together. Later, we’re going to watch a movie. And, I’m just not as concerned about productivity as I once was.
For the first twelve years of our family—we got pregnant within thirty days of our wedding—Barb stayed home with the kids. I was the primary breadwinner. She managed the household, cared for the kids, and everything that goes into that. I never fully appreciated the amount of work that goes into running a house. Laundry, school transportation, meal planning. It’s never ending. Man, as soon as I feel like I’m on top of laundry, it starts again.
I’ve actually enjoyed it. I enjoy cooking. I enjoy thinking about fun activities for the family. And, I’ve enjoy stretching the taste buds of our kids.
What’s been hard about this season?
The income, frankly. I’m working two part-time jobs, but it’s not enough. The financial side has been challenging. We’re thinking through how to frame this for our kids. We don’t want to frame it like we don’t have money. But, we also don’t want to lie to them. That’s been a challenge. They’ve made comments about it. And, we want to let them sit in that, but also help them process it.
Also, navigating my own shame has been hard. The cultural idea that the man is the primary breadwinner of the house is pervasive. Whenever conversations get around to what I do, I purposefully don’t go anywhere near it, because there’s a certain amount of shame. Of feeling emasculated. Nobody has ever said that to me, but those are the thoughts in the back of my mind. We’ve had friends and family be gracious and generous to us. While it’s a huge blessing, it’s humbling and, at times, humiliating. Do I say I’m unemployed? Do I say I’m in-between jobs? Do I say I’m a stay-at-home dad? How do I talk about it in a way that’s honest, but also honors this season I’m in? That’s been hard.
We always ask: What’s one thing you’ve learned from your father?
My dad worked the same job for almost his whole life. He sold cars. My dad doesn’t fit the car salesman stereotype. He’s felt a good amount of stigma with his job. Even so, he did it. And, he provided for us. It was hard work. I’m sure he felt underappreciated. He did a very unromanticized and thankless job for a long time. But, he did it to care for our family.
We always ask: What do you believe is your finest fathering skill?
My presence and my honesty. I give my kids an unfiltered look into my heart. When I’m having a bad day, I talk about it with them. I fight to stay present with them and be available to them as a dad, even when I’m having a low.
We always ask: How has becoming a dad made you a better person?
It’s helped me learn to differentiate between what I take responsibility for and what I don’t with other people. Barb and I were talking just last night about a challenging emotional season we’re going through with one of our children. We want the best for our kid. And we’re asking, what do we need to own here? We can’t control our kids’ growth in every way. We don’t have to be frustrated. We can be patient and wait for them. And, we can allow them to be their own person. The tension in this realization is thick, but I believe it’s made me a better person and friend and husband.
We always ask: What is your favorite activity to do with your kids?
Sunday nights, we do a movie night. We do a big platter of food—cheese and popcorn and stuffed olives. And, we watch a movie with our kids.
I’ve also been reading the Harry Potter books aloud to my kids. I try to give it my best go with the voices. I try to be consistent with the voices. How did I attempt Snape’s voice last time? We have fun with that.