WASHINGTON — When Sonny Lemmons and his wife found out they were pregnant, they did what most expectant parents do.
“We sat down and pulled out our check book and looked at our savings account and then began to weep openly,” says Lemmons, who worked in higher education at the time, along with his wife.
“Financially we could afford [child care], but emotionally, the price was too high to pay somebody to raise our child.”
His wife’s compensation package included on-campus housing, a perk that was too good to give up just before having a baby. So Lemmons decided he would be the full-time caregiver.
“It just made more sense for me to quit my job and stay home,” says Lemmons, who lives in Columbia, South Carolina.
“It was such a bizarre idea for me. I was the one who brought it up, but I had never in my life changed a diaper before; I had no clue how to take care of a baby. But when I thought about the idea of never being there for my son, I couldn’t handle that. My career was not that important to me.”
Lemmons is one of the roughly 2 million fathers who stay home with their kids full-time. That number is up by about 1 million since 1989, as is the percentage of dads who say their primary reason for staying home is to care for their family, a recent PEW study reports.
While the decision to stay home made sense to Lemmons and his wife, it didn’t sit well with everyone. Lemmons contacted some mentors when he was considering staying home. Some offered support, but one told him he would be “committing professional suicide” if he decided to leave the workforce to raise his children.
Despite his mentor’s advice, Lemmons stayed home.
When Lemmons, who now has a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old, talks about how long he’s been at home with his kids, he doesn’t respond in years. He calls his years of time at home “tours of duty.”
“Because it feels like a battle,” he says with a laugh.
When his first son was an infant, he relied a lot on some stay-at-home mothers he knew for advice and guidance.
“I would call them and say,