How I Got Over My Ego And Embraced Being A Stay At Home Dad

It's not easy.

by Dean Masello
Originally Published: 
dad reading with kid

The following was written for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life.

Who is Dean Masello? I’m currently a stay-at-home parent for 8-month-old twin girls. Among other activities, I enjoy testing for self-awareness by holding them in front of mirrors. In these moments, I’m occasionally startled by the man reflected back. I wonder, “Am I even in control of the decisions I’m making?” Sometimes you look at your life and it feels like someone else is pulling the strings. I used to be a trial attorney. I loved it — the grit, the action, the drama, and the thrill of victory. Yet, even that wasn’t enough to satisfy my restless soul. For 10 years, I was a lawyer by day and standup comic by night. Then, I suddenly gave it all up to change dirty diapers and play peek-a-boo — that doesn’t sound like something that I would do.

It still surprises me that I’m a stay-at-home dad, but the transition has been even more uneasy for my wife (Michelle). Contrary to my lofty ambitions, Michelle was groomed to fulfill her destiny as a domestic servant. She recalls an earth-shattering moment that occurred when she was 10 years old: “My dad took us out to lunch for a big announcement. It was my older brother Chris, my younger brother Barry, and myself. While waiting for dessert, my dad turned to my brothers with a big smile and told them: “I’ve decided that you boys are going to take over the family business! How great is that!? You’re set for life!” Michelle exclaimed, “What about me?!” At the time, everyone just assumed that she would marry, have kids, and ride off into the sunset as a kept woman. Ironically, this revelation convinced her that she was alone in the world, and pushed her to become the liberated, self-reliant woman who today runs a thriving psychology practice.

When Michelle and I first talked about starting a family, neither of us envisioned trading in our professional degrees for domestic servitude. However, by the time Michelle was pregnant, I had grown weary of the legal profession and and wasn’t yet a household name in the comedy world. When we found out we were having twins, I floated the idea of staying at home to raise our girls. Michelle’s initial response was less than enthusiastic. She wasn’t apprehensive about my child-rearing skills; rather, my willingness to stay home with the girls instantly made her feel like a bad mom. She realized that she would never give up her practice for motherhood, and felt shame for lacking that desire. She acknowledged that her guilty feelings were the product of societal expectations, but they were genuine nonetheless.

Penelope Jean and Clementine Rose were born on June 21, 2016; the very next day, I suited up for another day of trial practice. In the meantime, Michelle was just grateful to be experiencing the girls on the outside of her body. Awash in a sea of oxytocin, she no longer felt insecure about her husband becoming the stay-at-home parent. For decades, wives were forced to abandon lucrative careers — to the detriment of the household — just to avoid the shame that would befall them. Michelle loved her job, and she was clearly the breadwinner; whereas my take home income was marginally higher than the cost of daycare. Free from anachronistic conventions, we simply chose to do what was best for the family.

Caring for twin babies is physically demanding both in terms of strength and stamina. When Michelle returned to work, she was already suffering from carpel tunnel, mommy thumb, and back pain — not to mention sleep deprivation. The first time I took the girls for a major grocery haul, I hadn’t anticipated the difficulty of the task. After experimenting with different strategies, I finally hit my stride by pushing the stroller with one hand and pulling the grocery cart with the other — heads were turning throughout the store. They had never seen anyone maneuver a cart & stroller with such grace. I thought to myself, “Never send a woman to do a man’s job.”

As I got comfortable with the daily routine, I started venturing out, and soon discovered a group of stay-at-home moms who met up weekly at a nearby beer garden. I was initially too shy to approach — it reminded me of how I felt in high-school — desperately hoping to be invited to sit at the cool table. This time around, it actually came to fruition — not only was I the only dad — I was also the only parent with twins. From that day forward, I felt completely at ease — laughing, drinking, sharing trade secrets, and exchanging war stories.

Although I’ve fully embraced my new role, I’ll occasionally feel insecure about money. It’s the first time in my adult life that I’m dependent on another to put bread on the table. Of course, my value to the family as a stay-at-home parent is priceless; or as I like to say, “Being a parent is the most self-important job in the world.” Moreover, Michelle clearly did not marry me for my bank account. She’s always been attracted to my tenderness, ambitions, and confidence. Confidence is way more attractive than jealously and possessiveness. In fact, as I write this piece, it’s Friday night — Michelle’s not even home. I encouraged her to have a ladies’ night out. “Have fun, flirt with guys — prove to yourself that you still got it.” It’s important for her mental health. It also gives me more time to cultivate an alliance against her. “C’mon Clementine. Can you say Da Da?”

Fans of Dean Masello’s sly wit and deadpan demeanor might be surprised to know that the former attorney struggles daily to control a variety of ailments, including anxiety, sleepwalking, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. While these traits wreak havoc in his personal life, on stage, he harnesses his unique worldview to create the brilliantly insightful social commentary that has made him one of the industry’s most respected young talents. In his spare time, he’s a stay-at-home parent for his newborn twin girls.

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