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Housedad To Stepdad

Househusband, Breadwinner, Solo Dad, non-custodial dad, Stepfather: Dead* has seen fatherhood from all perspectives. *Not Their Real Names

In 1988 we were a young couple with 2 year old Steve* and baby Ben*, when we learned of a career opportunity in Australia.

Jane* and I both thought our marriage was rock solid when we decided to move to Darwin. Jane actually come from Australia; we met while she was over here on a year’s working holiday.

Once in the new job, it was hard. I was working long hours, away from home for two weeks at a stretch. Jane started to feel uncomfortable being stuck at home all day and was missing her work, teaching.

So we did a “role reversal”: Jane teaching and me at home with the kids, working after hours. But my wife was still restless and wanted to go dancing in the evenings. Before long, friends began bringing home tales of “another man”.

So Jane went to Canberra for a break, but I learned she wasn’t staying with her sister, as arranged, but with an old boyfriend. Naturally I was upset, so I went fora break myself to think things through.

When I returned she was waiting for me at the airport, saying it was over and she wanted to separate. And she wanted me out of our house! I didn’t want to lose my kids so I didn’t leave as instructed and for several months we occupied opposite ends of the house.

Jane’s sister eventually persuaded her that the young children would be better off with me, as Jane was keen on pursuing a career in Canberra. I would have been prepared to stick it out indefinitely in a divided house for the sake of the kids, but it was decided we should split and I would return to New Zealand with Steve and Ben (now 4 and 2).

Jane, however, had a legal document drawn up which would see the custody of the children swapped every four years – at great expense each time. Lawyers in New Zealand were baffled by this document.

I set up house close to my parents as I knew I would need support. For a while it worked out, but I became depressed, felt isolated and wasn’t coping with Steve and Ben. Social Welfare actually told me I was “pushing shit uphill” and “Don’t expect to get invited around for cups of tea with the mums in the area”.

There were a couple of housedads in the area, but they had of least the support of their partners. Social Welfare, friends, family – everyone was telling me the kids need their mum, not their dad. Subsisting on a benefit in Christchurch wasn’t much fun either after living in Australia on a double income, and I could see the future only in terms of a downward spiral.

So I sent the kids back early and permanently, forgoing the four year turnaround farce that Jane had arranged. I felt Steve and Ben would be better off in a stable environment. I still think it was the right decision.

I believed I would never see Steve and Ben again and that someone else would take my place in their affections, but they still see me as their father.

I try to support Jane’s parenting decisions. One time in a phone call, Ben was complaining that he was grounded because he had spilt his ovaltine.

Personally I thought punishing him for spilling his drink was a bit harsh, but I asked: “Were you walking around with your ovaltine?” – “Yes” -“Did mum say you shouldn’t walk around with it?” – “Yes” – “Well, there
you are, then.”

Every 9 months I go over to Oz or they come here and we have a good time, but they get a bit bored here as I now live in Ashburton – a bit slow for them after Canberra.

I am now married to Leanne, who has two children from a previous marriage, but I don’t see myself as their stepfather.

Their father lives in Hamilton with another partner and a new baby. He came and stayed with us for a week, and we all had a good time. His kids love him. To them, I’m just “Dean”, to my own kids I’m still “Dad” – no matter the distance.

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