Toronto Star

Jun. 16, 02:00 EDT

The many faces of fatherhood

`You don't get respect from women'

Martin Patriquin
The Toronto Star

RARE BREED: Stay-at-home dad Greg Kershaw attends to one of his many chores while keeping an eye on son Terran.
A typical exchange at a party, between Greg Kershaw and a stranger.

"So, what do you do?"

"I look after children."

"Oh yeah? As a job?"

"No, they're my own kids."

"Ahh, so you don't work."

Kershaw, 41, sitting in his favourite living room chair, chuckles. In front of him lies a minefield of bright plastic toys from his son's early-morning workout. It's 10 a.m. and Kershaw is enjoying the sliver of time between dropping off his 5-year-old son Terran at school and getting his 1-year-old daughter Delenn out of bed. There is a trickle of sweat on his forehead.

"I fully believe that nobody should be promoted into management whatsoever until they have looked after children," Kershaw says. "There is no debating with 5-year-olds. It's simply: `Do not put the cat in the refrigerator.'"

Defying stereotype hasn't been easy

Refrigerated cats, stained carpets, diapers and discipline are all part of the game for this former computer systems analyst and now stay-at-home father. Kershaw used to live most of the year out of a suitcase. Now his life is devoted to, and characterized by, routine.

"It just kind of happened," Kershaw shrugs, as though it was the easiest decision of his life. "My wife wanted to have kids and continue her career, so I said I'd stay home. Otherwise, she would've missed her opportunity."

His wife, Nardina Grande, is an arts editor and project manager. She works out of a basement office in their Scarborough home while Kershaw cooks, cleans, takes care of the kids, (usually) mows the grass, changes diapers and dispenses discipline. He doesn't do laundry; that's Nardina's job.

Kershaw is a rare breed: Fewer than 10 per cent of Canadian stay-at-home parents are fathers, largely because of the stigma involved, he says.

"It's a good life, but it's not for everyone," Kershaw adds.

During the day, the kids live by his rules. At night, his wife reigns. On the weekends, they compromise, meaning the kids see two very different parenting styles.

"Fathers are more direct," Kershaw says. "If my son does something he shouldn't, I tell him to stop. If he still does it, I count to three. A mother will let out a barrage of `Don't do that' instead. Kids learn that moms are never final. You can always negotiate with mom."

Turning the stereotype of the fatherhood on its ear hasn't been easy.

His parents formed a traditional family "my mother didn't even drive," he says and his father is still uncomfortable with his choice.

Kershaw's in-laws, born in Italy, are particularly perplexed. His mother-in-law, during a visit, "asked why my wife was mowing the lawn, and it was because I was inside making baby food."

But what really bothers him are the snubs from many of the moms he meets.

"All that talk about women's liberation and feminism was supposed to lead to more of this," Kershaw says. "In fact, it's still rare and you don't get respect from other women."

It's tough, too, to watch people he used to work with creep up the corporate ladder while he, as others phrase it, is "only" raising kids.

"Men identify themselves with their careers. They are doctors or lawyers or accountants. If you ask a woman, they'll say, `I'm a mother' or `I'm a wife.' They identify more with things at home, even if they are working."

With this in mind, Kershaw is Mr. Stay-at-Home Dad temporarily.

He says he will be back to work sooner rather than later, to give his wife a turn at the toughest job he's ever tackled.

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