Dads Making Waves: Creating a Community For Stay-at-Home Dads

By Kara Murphy June 4, 2019

Editor's note: It's a dad takeover! This month we've replaced our regular feature "Moms Making Waves" with a special dads edition -- just in time for Father's Day on June 16.

Who he is:

Jonathan Heisey-Grove is a husband and dad to two sons, ages 6 and 11. He is a stay-at-home dad and a freelance graphic artist. He is also president of the National At-Home Dad Network.

Why we think he's a dad making waves:

Jonathan leads the National At-Home Dad Network, a nonprofit with the mission of providing support, education, and advocacy for fathers who are the primary caregivers of their children. The group connects dads in communities across the United States for get-togethers, friendship, and support.

Seventeen percent of stay-at-home parents are dads, a number that has risen in recent decades, partly as a result of changing gender roles and norms, according to a 2018 Pew Research data analysis

The aha moment:

Jonathan was unexpectedly let go from his job with a major shoe manufacturer, where he designed packaging. His son, then 4, was in an onsite daycare, which meant both of them were suddenly left with nowhere to go.

"Our goal was to find another daycare and get my resume set up and start doing interviews," Jonathan said. "But meanwhile I was taking care of him. Then my wife had an opportunity to apply for a job in D.C., so we decided that I should put off a job search."

She was hired, which meant a move from Massachusetts to Washington D.C. That's when the couple started seriously discussing having Jonathan stay at home permanently.

"We knew any job I got wouldn’t pay as much, so we decided that I would concentrate on my son and my wife can work on her advancement in career," Jonathan said. "So we took the big leap and I've been a stay-at-home dad since then."

Connecting with other dads:

Jonathan was introduced to the National At-Home Dad Network when he joined a dad's group in D.C. called the DC Metro Dads. He found an immediate support system among the stay-at-home dads.

"A lot of it was just having someone to talk to and relate to," he said. "They're facing the same parenting issues and challenges, and also sometimes feeling this stigma that comes with being a stay-at-home dad. Having others there that were going through what I was going through -- no matter what stage of parenting they were in -- really helped me feel less isolated and more confident."

Support from moms:

"It can be hard to make connections, especially for dads in smaller towns that don't have a larger community of stay-at-home dads," Jonathan said. "So if moms out there see a dad with a kid at the playground and they're just hanging out and playing alone, don’t be afraid to go up and introduce yourself and talk to them. As parents, we all need support. He might be feeling self-conscious and isolated, so bring him into the conversation and help him make connections."

Overcoming gender stereotypes:

"It was both of our fathers that had the hardest time with me staying home," Jonathan said. "They are from the generation where dad works and mom stays home. It took my dad quite a few years to stop asking me when I was going to get a job."

But he's found that other people not only accept his role, but cheer it on.

"My wife is in a field with a lot of women who look at our situation and tell her that it's awesome," he said. "That they wished they'd done that when their kids were younger."

What do you do on "those" days?

"Ha! Don't we all have those? Well, I still get out of bed. I still recognize things that have to be done with the kids and the house. But on some days I'll make a conscious decision to not stress myself out by trying to fit everything in and just concentrate on the most important. Sometimes I'll have to stop for a second and refocus my energy. Some days, of course, I lose it with my kids. But I've found that when I do, I need to come back and apologize and let them know why I reached that pressure point."

What's next: 

"Our annual conference is coming up in Minneapolis Sept. 26 to Sept. 28. We call it HomeDadCon. The purpose is to bring primary caregiver dads together from across the country for professional development as dads who embrace parenting as their most important job, to network with other active and involved dads… and for a well-deserved chance to relax. This is our 24th year for our conference and it's always a good time -- a way for dads to reaffirm, recharge, and reconnect."

Do you know a stay-at-home dad? Let him know about the National At-Home Dad Network!