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Copyright 1997, AT-HOME DAD Newsletter, Fall 97, Issue 15. By Peter Baylies


Daycare Dads (slowly) Invade America

I've recently noticed a new blip on my radar screen of fatherhood. It's so faint I can barely see it. The faint glow comes from the dads who now run daycare family homes. Not only are they caring for their own kids at home but are also parenting the kids of other traditional fathers. How do these dads feel about caring for other families' kids? Do they run centers differently than women? And like the at-home dad question, how many of them are out there? My first "daycare dad" sighting occurred in 1995, when I interviewed Peter Horn, an at-home dad from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, (Fall 95 issue). When Horn attended the Metro Child Care Association, he stated, "Out of the 400-500 who attended I was the only man that attended." He added, "The women would think I was with my wife or was helping her run the daycare."

According to Child Care Aware spokesman Demise Fogarty, there were 391,000 licensed daycare centers and family home care across the country in 1996. How many of those were run by dads is unknown to them as some state agencies do not track the owners by gender. One source however had more accurate "dad numbers." According to the Work and Family Resource Center based in Colorado, there are about 4,000 daycare centers or homes in the 6 county metro area around Denver. Of the 4,000 there are only "2 or 3 male run centers on file at a time." Using those numbers as a sample, there are about 300 male run centers across the country or about one tenth of one percent of the total.

Luckily four of those daycare dads subscribe to this newsletter. One reader who has received quite a bit of publicity, is Dave Maxson of Westminster, CO. He was dubbed "personality of the year" by The Denver Post which published an extensive article on him last year. As a result of the article he even got a call from a Regis and Kathy Lee producer to be interviewed as a possible guest. Before the publicity he had difficulty filling spots for his "Davey Bear's Day Care." He noted that 7 out of 10 phone calls would ask him for the person running the place and when he responded, "You're talking to him," the next sound he would hear would be "click"...another hang-up.

After the publicity he found himself swamped with a few hundred calls and was able to fill his positions quickly. Now, he says, he gets only "3 out of 10 who hang up immediately". Maxson grew up in a neighborhood of all boys who took over the lawn mowing jobs, so he decided to babysit and help his mom run a nursery. With this early experience he decided to stay home when his wife, Cathy, got pregnant. He now cares for 8 children of which two are his. Maxson did get a few calls from dads who have considered becoming daycare workers.

What can be done to get more dads in this profession? Bryan Nelson through a Harvard University grant is trying to find that out. Nelson theorizes, "If there was a 50/50 split for males/females we would see a shift of men who would stay home with the child." With the youngsters seeing that men can do the role that the women traditionally do they would become a role model for caring for children also. Or as Nelson puts it, "The role model would be in their brain and this is a key place to do it." Doreen Moore, a preschool director for Leslie Country Day in Stoneham, Mass, says, "If more men were in the profession the pay would be higher." So it's a catch 22 situation where men who are willing to go against the grain and be a daycare provider or preschool teacher need also to pass the hurdle of lower wages. It's no wonder that out of 1600 kindergarten teachers in MN only 31 are men. (Source: Minn Dept of Education)

Chris Grimes of Des Moines, Iowa, took up the daycare business after 6 years working in a soybean factory. While he was working outside the home, his daughter went through 2 daycare situations that were "unsavory." Soon he found himself taking childcare classes at a local collage and found that he "really liked being a parent" and that he wanted more time with his daughter. The only way he could do this and make money was to open his "Tiny Days Daycare Center." Now in his 3rd year of business, he has 6 kids including his 3 1/2 year old daughter. He's had the same kids since he opened 3 years ago.

Grimes has found that when it comes to discrimination the dads rather than the moms give him the most trouble. In one case, a mother interviewed him twice, and liked what she saw. It looked like Grimes was getting another child. On the third visit, where he thought they would be filling out enrollment forms, the husband came along and abruptly asked him questions about insurance and how much he had. Although he had what was required the husband just left, with his wife apologizing on the way out saying "I'm sorry, he is like that." They never called back.

John Wise, of Portland, Maine, wanted to make it clear that dad was running his daycare so he named it "Dad's Home Childcare". The first 6 months of his business was slow. His first client was a child no one else wanted, a special needs child with cerebral palsy. After some advertising, workshops and networking he found that word of mouth was what worked best. He now has 8 kids (2 of his own). After he wife Ellen had a baby he was an at-home dad for a year and started looking for work but "nothing was as satisfying as what I was doing."

One interesting trend among the daycare dads was their insistence that there be little structure and to let the kids dictate their playtime. "It's art time around here if Joe says, "let's do art" said Wise. "The only structure around here is snack, nap and lunch time." Wise calls it the "rhythm method". "Why would you want to break that rhythm by forcing another activity when everything is fine. If things are running smoothly we will continue with it as long as the kids are enjoying it." He Peter Horn agrees. "If one of my kids finds a bug on the sidewalk and wants to talk about bugs, I take it as far as he wants it to go. I call it a teachable moment, when their interest is at a peak. If they want to do scarecrows in March, then they do scarecrows in March. I just don't like the technique where you might tell a kid, This is the letter "A" and today we are going to learn about the letter "A". When you do this you will get nothing back from the kids."

Maxson says, "Although we don't harp on it I do a number, letter or color each day" however, he also believes that "America is shoving education down their throats. When I see a 2 or 3 yr old sitting down being drilled with flashcards they are losing their childhood. I spend more time teaching my kids to say please and thank you."

Grimes uses more structure than the other four but the kids probably don't think of building a tree house or a swing as "large motor skills." Nor do they think of blocks, stickers and pretend play as "small motor skills" He also does several projects such as stringing macaroni and cheerios.

Jim Marzano of Kingston, NY who runs what he calls "artcare" (see Kids Drawn to "Artcare" Biz at Parent's Place for more detail), charges more than a standard daycare since he cares for his kids in his art studio. He said, "In my art studio, kids rule. I have no predetermined schedule. Each day they come in and I pick their brains." Jim added that his daughter was an "incredible artist when she was 1 and just took off easily."

So here we have these dads who feel the need to be with their children yet are caring for kids whose parents cannot or choose not to stay home with their kids. Horn feels that this decision is not a reflection on how good a parent they are. "Everyone is not cut out to do this, my wife would go nuts and kill them in 3 years. People ask me how I could do what I do, and I say I don't know how they do what they do. For instance I could never be a mailman." (Horn's mailman was standing in his doorway during the interview.) John Wise stated, "If a parent can stay home at all they should. But there is a need. I know I would find a way to stay home with the children no matter what."

Discipline seems to be no problem for Dave Maxson. When he started he had a "biker look", weighed 245 lbs and had a full beard. Now he has lost the beard and 85 lbs off his waist. Although the intimation factor has lessened, he says he has a firm voice due to his father's military style upbringing which makes the kids snap to when he speaks. His most troublesome kid?, "My daughter is the worse child I have. She gets the most time-outs."

Copyright 1997, AT-HOME DAD Newsletter, Fall 97, Issue 15.