Dave is a 40-year-old full-time stay-at-home dad in L.A. with two sons, Bradley and Ernie, ages three and eight months. Prior to fatherhood Dave was a full-time social media manager bringing home $55,000 a year before taxes. His wife Beth, on the other hand, owns a production company and makes $200,000 a year. After Bradley was born, Dave realized his entire paycheck was being used for daycare so he quit to be a full-time dad. That meant, among other things, he became entirely dependent on Beth financially.
Call it pride or ego, but I don’t like to admit that I rely on money from someone else. If I needed something as simple as T-shirts, I used to avoid spending Beth’s money for as long as possible. Now it’s understood that I should just shut up and get the stupid shirts. When we have a date night, I’ll put the card down, like it’s some grand gesture, but there’s none of my money behind it. Beth will say, “Thank you,” and I’ll respond, “You’re doing all the hard work — I’ve just got a wallet.”
Prior to the kids, we had some conversations where she was like, “I don’t understand why you’re not saving more money.” I sent her articles about how you need six figures to survive in L.A. Basically, you can’t survive in L.A. on $55,000 a year.
Beth says she doesn’t think twice about it, but I do. “Shame” isn’t the right word, but it’s definitely anxiety provoking. I don’t want to get used to taking money from someone else — not even my wife.
At first, it was hard to accept, and at times, it’s still difficult. For example, I’m a hobby illustrator, and right now, I have a link open on my computer for an art book that’s $40. But there’s a part of me that feels weird about putting it on the family card — I feel like I should use money I earned. Maybe that’s me wanting to be a “real man,” or maybe it’s just not wanting to owe somebody. Either way, in the back of my head I think, This house isn’t mine. This furniture isn’t mine. Most of the clothes I’m wearing aren’t mine. This car isn’t mine. Even the gas in the car isn’t mine.
It’s feels like a “loss of self.” If I left with a cardboard box tomorrow, it’d be a pretty empty box.
Beth is a serious business person who buys high fashion and nice jewelry. I buy Lego figures because I like the colors. Needless to say, I spend a lot of time second-guessing purchases, or trying to plan them out, like, “I need to buy enough serious things so I can slip this silly thing in and not feel bad about it.” Case in point: I recently went to Target to buy food, cleaning supplies, toddler shoes and baby clothes. Then I noticed there was a relaunch of Duck Tales and saw a Scrooge McDuck action figure. My sense of nostalgia took over, and I tossed it in the cart. In the end, I spent 150 useful dollars at Target and 7 stupid dollars. But I still felt weird about it.
I’m also a runner, and the new Apple Watch is being released this week. It’s $400, plus an additional $10 on my phone bill. This will involve a strategic conversation of mentioning to Beth that I like it, and then waiting until we’re at the Apple Store and trying it on in front of her. All told, it will likely be a three-month process to get her to buy it for me. I know she’ll be fine with it, but she works hard for that money and I want to respect that.
We have a family credit card — she has one copy and I have another — for gas, groceries, clothes and day-to-day nonessentials. There’s never been an instance where I needed to put $3,000 on the card. If the car registration is $500, I’ll let her know I’m putting it on there. She always reassures me that she’s cool with my spending money. She’ll be like, “Shut up! Just do it!” Like we were travelling recently and had to do laundry but the hotel laundry was like $40 to get a pair of socks washed. She understood we needed it done — we weren’t gonna pack two weeks of baby and toddler clothes. Once in a while, she’ll check the credit card statement and mention something. Like we bought a bunch of digital books instead of actual books, and she wanted to make sure some of the purchases were legit. It’s more a security thing than a “why did you buy this” thing.
I once had a conversation with a pregnant mom where she made a statement about her husband wanting to talk about the credit card bill. She made some joke about how she was emotional and pregnant, and you don’t talk about finances with a pregnant woman. There are definitely days when my inner Mom-Bot is yearning to go buy something to feel like I’ve accomplished something.
That said, I don’t think the arrangement has affected our sex life, but the means in which our finances are obtained has. Beth works long, hard hours and travels frequently. I’m chasing the rats around all day, waking up sometimes two to three times a night to help them. I’m also up by 5:30 a.m. The combo of running her own business and spending what time she can with the kids, paired with my ability to fall asleep instantly when my head hits a pillow has probably affected it more than the scales of financial power being tipped 100 percent her way.
Presumably I’m going to go back to work eventually. It’s probably another five to six years away, though. Part of being in L.A. is defining yourself by what you do. That could be why I’ve never been able to consider “stay-at-home father” a true label. It’s not a profession, even though it’s the most exhausting job I’ve ever had.
Basically, I’m in a limbo state. I’m 40 years old. When I rejoin the workforce, I might be too young not to have a job but too old to get one. It’s a weird place to be — going from a site producer with large corporations and media agencies to working at Target. So there’s a lot of stress about where my future’s going to put me.
When I do return to the word world, there isn’t one tangible thing I see myself spending my own money on. It’s more about feeling like I’m contributing. Paying for the electric bill is sadly very exciting to me. It’s enthralling to think about a number on a piece of paper that shows I’ve contributed. It’s proof of work. It’s like saying, “Thank you Beth, but I’ve got this now and I’m working hard to take some financial weight off your shoulders, as you did for me for so long.”