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Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette
Todd Findley has been a stay-at-home dad to, from left, Austin, 8, Sean, 12, and Stuart, 11, since Austin was born.

At-home dads find joys

Time with children offsets stresses for primary caretakers

– Along with using his accounting degree at three businesses, Todd Findley also used to be a soccer coach and a teacher.

For a year, he taught at North Side High School, and for six more, he taught business and economics at East Noble.

As part of his business class, he advised career planning: assisting the students in discovering their interests, and helping them find their hidden talents which they could eventually turn into a working career.

And yep, he sees the irony of it all eight years down the road. That’s how long he has been a stay-at-home dad.

Among the things he often told his students was that a symbolic red flag for future employers was a large gap between jobs, and if that ever occurred, they would have to explain it.

“If I ever do get back into the workforce, I have a gi-normous gap in my résumé,” the 43-year-old Findley says.

Then what would his story be at a job interview? That he encouraged and praised his oldest son, Sean, now 12, with his booklet of cartoon drawings? Or that he played sports in the fenced-in back yard with Stuart, now 11? Or that he went to summer camps with Austin, 8?

Would he explain in an interview that he and the boys often visited the zoo, hit a movie or did grocery shopping together? That they watched IU basketball at night, and he took them to school the next morning and was home when they returned? That he found a peaceful balance between sorting clothes and sorting problems and being a husband to Melanee and a dad to the boys?

Todd Findley (all the time) and 37-year-old firefighter Eric Balliet (part of the time), and countless others in the area, are part of a growing number of men who are taking a more defined role in raising their children.

According to a 2011 U.S. Census report, 32 percent of married fathers (about 7 million) are “a regular source of care for their children under age 15.” The report defines regular care of children as an arrangement in which the father is with the child or children at least one day per week.

The census also defines an at-home dad as a father who has not been in the labor force for the past calendar year and whose wife has been working for the past year.

Statistically, Findley is a prime example. And while Balliet is employed with the Fort Wayne Fire Department and doesn’t exactly match the Census Bureau’s rigid criteria of a stay-at-home dad, he is often the primary parent for his 4-year-old twins, Lucas and Alyssa, while his wife works as a 911 dispatcher.

“We work weekends, holidays – the whole gambit,” Balliet says. “We work odd schedules, and child care is not an easy thing to come along. We were kind of forced of having me being a stay-at-home dad on my days off.”

For Todd and Melanee, a computer programmer who works from the upstairs office of the family’s north-side home, it was the birth of Austin eight years ago that was the determining factor in the decision to have Todd become a stay-at-home dad.

“We made the decision that I would stay home,” Todd said. “She works in a booming field that has a lot of job security and thankfully pays well, so we can do it on her salary.”

If only for a few moments, Melanee comes downstairs to sit in the family room, next to Todd.

“I think I thank you every day for something,” she says to him.

“He not only does the hard stuff of being the official between fights and the battles, but he does the laundry, the grocery shopping and running the kids around,” Melanee says. “Maybe it’s not hard, and maybe it’s not super fun, but he’s here every day. He’s the best dad in the world.”

Quietly, Todd Findley smiles.

He admits that his lifestyle is not the norm and that he doesn’t judge other men in a more traditional role who work 60 hours a week. It’s that this works for him and Melanee and the boys.

“I get one of two reactions: ‘That’s so cool, I wish that I could do it,’ or ‘I don’t know how you do that. I could never handle it,’ ” Todd says of other men’s comments. “I never had a problem with that, thinking that people will look down on me, thinking I’m not being the man of the household.”

And as for Balliet, who mostly works 24-hour shifts and occasionally 48 hours at a stretch, he sees the importance of being there for his kids, particularly now, before 4 years old turns into 24.

“Every parent I’ve spoken to said cherish the time, because it flies by,” Balliet said. “When you’re in the moment, it doesn’t seem like it’s flying by, but I can’t believe we’re four years into this already. It seems like yesterday they were born, and they’ll be 5 in November.

“When they’re 18, or 15, when they’re doing their activities and they’re doing their activities and you don’t see them in the evenings and you’re trying to rush to get a quick sandwich before you’re going to baseball or soccer or whatever, when life becomes hectic, I can sit here and say I cherished those moments when they were young, and that I’ve gotten in more of those moments than the average father who works and doesn’t have the time to stay home with their children during the day and be that father figure on a daily basis. Know what I mean?”

For the thousands of stay-at-home dads, yeah, they know what you mean.