GUEST POST: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad

I’m busy producing the Great Northern Radio Show today, but have planned a special treat for you. Clint Edwards is a guy I’ve gotten to know through our modern world’s crazy techo-magic. He’s a fantastic creative nonfiction writer who got his MFA at Minnesota State-Mankato. Lately, he’s been blogging about being a stay-at-home dad with many hilarious results. This week, he and I did a post exchange and today it’s my pleasure to share his guest post, Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Dad.


Confessions Of A Stay At Home Dad

By Clint Edwards

I came home from work on a Friday and the dishes were not washed, the laundry was not folded, and the floor was not vacuumed. While passing the kitchen table, I stepped on Lucky Charms and Gold Fish Crackers. I put my shoes back on. Most evenings the house was a mess. That is, unless we had company scheduled. Then, suddenly, things were in order.

I considered myself a progressive man. I got up in the night with my kids, did the laundry, washed the disses, kissed scuffed knees, checked for morning breath, snuggled on the sofa, and so on. After I graduated college, my wife decided to be a stay at home mom, and I respected that. I wanted her to be what she wanted to be. But despite my progressiveness, when I came home to such a messy house, my knee-jerk reaction was What the hell have you been doing all day.

After putting my shoes back on, I picked up Norah, my four-year-old, and she smelled like piss. PISS! It was all down her legs and along the back of her dress.

“Babe. Norah had an accident.” That’s what we say in our house. Accident. We don’t say piss. Or poop. Or shit. We call shit a code brown.

“Ugh…  Norah.” Mel said, “That’s the second time today.” She looked at me and said, “Can you please just take care of it. I’m trying to make diner and the kids have been driving me nuts. I’m about to kill them.” She pauses for a moment. Looked me in the eyes, and said it again, slowly. “KILL THEM.”

Most evenings she talked about murder. Each time it was to emphasize how horrible the kids had been, and I’d always assumed that it was more of a refection on her than the kids. I couldn’t understand what happened during the day that made her want to murder her own children. But… I was going too.

Clint Edwards and wife Melanie. They appear to be well-matched, according to the internet.

Mel is short and slender with brown hair and thick brown glasses. We both have thick-framed glasses, and I suppose this is an example of us growing together. We didn’t wear glasses before we were married, but now we both do. After nearly ten years of marriage, our humor is similar. Our diets are similar. Our taste in TV, books, and movies are similar. Sometimes I wonder if we are slowly becoming the same person. The funniest part about Mel’s desire to kill is the way she dresses. Her clothing is always bright and colorful, with rainbows or flowers, or rainbows with flowers. The first time she said she wanted to kill my son, I snickered because she was wearing a t-shirt with a bright green Care Bare on it. The contradiction was hilarious.

We were both raised Mormon and we are from Utah. By being a progressive man, I feel like I am really going against the faith I was raised into, were both raised in, where the father is the model for God. Where I am to follow the will of the Lord, and Mel is supposed to follow me. Instead I try to see our marriage as a partnership. Which ultimately means I’m not in charge of anything.

I took Norah into her room while shaking my head. I thought about the fact that Mel has one job. One job! Care for the home. I wanted to say something. I wanted to release the republican. The Fox News watching asshole that seems to be my default state. The grumpy man of the 50s that I’ve tried so hard to put behind me. The man my father was. I’m always surprised by how quickly I forget that Mel worked full time while I finished school. That she manages the money because of my incompetence with numbers. That she puts together all the cheap particleboard furniture I can hardly afford because I’m a moron when it comes to tools. Instead of saying something poignant and rude, putting her in her place, voting on laws to control her ovaries, giving her the back of my hand, I grumbled to myself. I dropped a few F-bombs in my head, and in a few hours we all had dinner.

Tristan was six that summer, short for his age, with a barrel chest and buzzed hair. We had the same slender hands and flat feet. Tristan has said that “art is lame” and that “snow is embarrassing.” For Halloween he wanted to be a “karate chopper.” He prefers to be called Tristan Gooey Mac-Flip Edwards, a name he received off a package of mac and cheese. He played Pokémon, watched Pokémon, talked about Pokémon, and dreamed about Pokémon. The more I watched the show with him, I started to wonder if it was going to teach him to train animals to fight for sport. I dreaded getting a call from his future self, informing me that he’d moved to Mexico and started a cock-fighting venue.

At dinner, he asked me a bullshit questions about Pokémon, “what is Pikachu plus Bulbasaur?”

“I have no idea.” I said. “Two?”

“Charmeleon,” he said. Then he rolled his eyes like I was a moron.

“What did you learn in school today?” I asked, and he says he doesn’t remember.

Tristan could tell me the damage on nearly any Pokémon. He could tell me which ones are water types, air types, and electric types. He knew their back-stories. What land they were from. And yet, if I asked him about school, his day, anything other than Pokémon, he said he couldn’t remember. This frustrated the hell out of me. It made me want to burn his Pokemon paraphernalia: the card, and shirts, and toys. It made me want to build a time machine, go back a few decades, and kill the inventor of Pokémon. But what I think angered me the most is that I didn’t feel I could connect with him in any other way than to talk about Pokémon. I often fanaticized about removing Pokémon so it would not be in the way of our relationship. I thought about how wonderful it would be if the two of us could talk about the news, or politics, or literature. But he was six. So he told me about Pokémon while I rolled my eyes, nodded, and thought about time travel.

Norah was was four that summer. She was short and slender with sunflower eyes and wavy brown hair, traits she received from her mother. If I called her cranky, Norah stomped her foot and said, “No! I just Norah.” She answered to “Gobber Baby” and “The Little.” She had a fat round tummy that I loved to tickle. At the time, she was obsessed with puppies, kitties, and babies.

I asked about her day, and she barked like a dog.

“I don’t speak puppy,” I said.

She barked a few more times. Then, in dog speak, she told me her name was Ringo and began to talk about Ringo in the third person.

“Ringo want’s a hug.”

“Ringo loves daddy.”

“Ringo want’s to play fetch.”

“Ruff! Ruff!”

She climbed down from her chair, walked on all fours, and licked my leg. I pated her head, called her a good dog, and told her to get back in her seat. One of the things I hated most about being a traditional nuclear family was that I didn’t really know my kids. At least not like Mel did. I didn’t know the names of Tristan and Norah’s friends, which stuffed animals they preferred, or if they liked their toast cut in squares or triangles.

That night, Mel and I discussed the big change that was about to happen in a few days. This was my first summer after graduating with an MFA. I was lucky enough to land a job at a university. This, in turn, meant that I got the summer off.  Mel would be going to school full time and working an internship over the summer. We were switching rolls. I was to be a stay at home Dad.

In bed, we discussed the logistics one more time: when she will leave, when she will be home, and when she will do homework. She reminded me about library day, Norah’s dance class, swimming lessons, and our grocery budget.
As she spoke, I thought about sex and how we could be having it. Then I looked at the clock, realize that it was after 10:30 PM, and knew that it wasn’t going to happen. Sex never happened after 10:30 PM anymore. So I drifted back to the republican. All I could think about was how clean the house will be. How I will not put up with the kids’ shit. How I, with a strong hand, will teach those kids how to clean and study and respect me. I thought about how Mel will learn to run a proper home after she gets a load of my example. I thought about what she’s been doing with the house, I ranked and evaluated it, and knew that I could do a better job.  This all seems very practical now because I really wasn’t looking at the bigger picture.

“Are you even listening to me?” She asked.

“Yeah.” I said. “Don’t worry. I am confident that the kids will be better fed, smarter, and the house will be cleaner by the end of the summer.” I said it sarcastically, like I was joking. But there was just enough truth in my voice that she felt the bite.

Mel looked at me and said, “Reall

y? Really? I just hope they don’t die.”

We turned our backs to each other and turned out the lights. In hindsight, I was completely being an asshole. But it felt justified at the time because I wanted things to change.


During the first few days I demon cleaned. I vacuumed. I scrubbed toilets. I washed dishes. I showed Tristan and Norah how to make their beds, clean the living room, clean the playroom. I expected it of them. I only let them eat healthy things for lunch: peanut butter sandwiches, mandarin oranges, oatmeal, and baked chicken. I didn’t find it too hard, either. I just put my head down and got shit done. I worked under the assumption that my life was a checklist. I was going to clean the tub. Once the tub was clean, I would not have to worry about it for some time. I mean really? How dirty could a tub get? It is soaking in soap most of the time. I felt this way about most of what I was working on. I vacuumed under the kitchen table, and assumed that I would only have to do that once every two or three days. Same with the dishes, the laundry, and the playroom. And for the first few days it worked. The kids listened to me.

Mel came home to a tightly run ship, and I looked at her smugly, lip curled. I wanted her to see how wonderful I was doing. I wanted her to know that I was the master of this house. The best stay at home dad ever! And she admitted it too.

“Wow!” She said. “The apartment looks great. I hope you can keep it up.”

She gave me a shit-eating smirk. A smile that seemed to say, Good luck with that. And I thought to myself, Good luck indeed! You just watch, little Miss. Good luck. This will be the cleanest summer in history!

Day four started out just like the previous three. We got up, had breakfast, got dressed, and around 9:30 AM we started picking up the living room. Tristan was putting his Pokémon cards away, and I asked Norah to pick up her shoes.

“Ruff. Ruff.” She said. She was on all fours, panting, her little but waiving as though it were a tail.

“Norah. We don’t have time to be a dog. We need to get things cleaned up so we can go to swimming lessons.”

“Ruff. Ruff.” She said.

“Listen to me.” I said.” We don’t have time for this. We only have 45 min to do our chores before swimming lessons. Just pick up your shoes.”

She barked at me again. And suddenly I got really irritated. More irritated than I think I have ever been with one of my kids. Didn’t she understand that we had a limited amount of time? Didn’t she know that after swimming lessons we were supposed to go to dance class? This was the only time we had to clean. So much was riding on this. One messy day, and Mel would assume she’d won. She’d come home, see the toys in the living room, the food on the floor, the dirty dishes, and conclude that I had fallen short. This was not acceptable.

I asked her again. Only this time, with more force.

“Norah. Pick up your shoes. It is not that hard. You’re not a dog. You are a little girl with hands. Pick up your shoes, walk on your hind legs, and put them away.” I cannot believe I said hind legs, but it made sense at the time.

“Ringo want’s to play fetch.”

“Ugh…” I yelled. I clinched my fists at my sides.

“She’s just being a dog,” Tristan said. “You don’t have to get so angry.”

Now Tristan was back in the room, sitting on the sofa, watching, and not cleaning.

“This doesn’t concern you.” I said, like I was some bully. Tristan looked me up and down, and laughed, long and hard, his small hands over his stomach.

I looked down and Norah had her shoe was in her mouth. She was panting, with large strings of drool hanging from her chin.

“Oh… kid!” I said. “Don’t put it in your mouth. That’s disgusting.”

I tugged at the shoe, and she clenched down with her jaw, holding it and growling. I have no idea where she learned how to do this. We don’t even have a dog.

Norah and I fought over the shoe for some time. Me growing more frustrated with the wasted time, and her enjoying her time as a dog.

A mix of anger, frustration, and irritation came over me. I picked her up, jerked the shoe from her mouth, carried her down the hall, and tossed her on her bed. My tense body, the anger in my face, the way I threw her onto the bed, everything about that moment showed that I was angry. Norah had to have known that I meant business. But instead of saying she was sorry,instead of falling in line, she laughed and asked if I would throw her on the bed again.

I slammed her bedroom door and walked away. She screamed in her room for nearly 30 min. I tried to get things cleaned up, but it was hard to focus with her tormented cries echoing across the apartment.

“She just wants to come out.” Tristan said. “You’re kind of being a butt.” He had his hands on his hips, face soft and stern. He looked a lot like his mother does when questing my parenting.


That evening Mel came home to a messy house, an irritated husband, and whiny children. She walked through the kitchen, into the living room, her eyebrows raised just so. “Rough day?” She asked.

“We had a little setback because of Ringo the dog.” I said. “But I will get things back in order by tomorrow.”

Mel made a clicking sound and said, “That Ringo has ruined several of my days. Did you put Norah in her room?”
“Yes,” I said.

“Did she never stop screaming?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I find things go a lot smoother if you just spend a little time listening to her.”

“I didn’t have time to listen to her.” I said. “We needed to get going.”

“Hmmm,” she said.


The next day I deiced to one up Mel. Not only was the apartment going to be clean once she got home, I was going to take the kids on a hike, and do Norah’s hair. Mel would come home and she would be blown away. And it worked. Well… all the but the hair. Just combing it was torture on both of us. Norah screamed with each knot. I felt horrible and I started to wonder if my neighbors thought I was beating her. My guy instinct was to make it quick, like pulling off a band-aid. So I tugged really hard on the comb and Norah cried loader than I’d ever heard. Loader than when she wrecked on her bike. Loader than when she burned her hand on 450-degree mashed potatoes and we had to take her to the hospital. I told her I was sorry, but she just kept holding her scalp and crying. Eventually, through her cries, I made out that she was calling me a, “Meany.” I finally settled on a Hello Kitty Ball Cap.

For a few days we went on hiking adventures, and they went great. The kids were excited to do something new. And Mel was impressed by how clean the apartment was and how much exercise the kids were getting.

But slowly the hikes became like death marches. They asked me when it would be over and if they could ride on my shoulders or my back. Sometimes they hung from my leg. They dragged their little feet and sagged their little shoulders. One of them was always hungry, or tired, or thirsty. Norah always needed to pee while Tristan always needed to poop. Once Norah wet her pants and then sat down in the dusty trail, covering her pants with piss soaked mud. Then she insisted that I put her on my shoulders.

Tristan said that I was mean and told me how much happier he’d be at home playing the iPad, the wii, Pokémon, or watching Netflix.

“Ugh… Dad!” Tristan said. “Let’s just go home. This place is stupid.”

I told him that those brain-sucking ridiculous pieces of crap were nothing compared to God’s great outdoors. He rolled his eyes.

Once we made it to our destination, weather it be a view of the city or a staircase waterfall, Tristan whined and whined until we turned around, while Norah tugged at my pants to proudly show me her wet crotch.

One night after a hike to the waterfall, when Mel came home, Tristan was crying because I’d taken the iPad away and Norah had pee in her pants. The floor was coated in Cheerios, crackers, clothing, shoes, board games, and DVD’s. The tub had a ring. The apartment smelled of rotten milk. I was at the table, head down, massaging my temples.

“I am going to kill them,” I said. I looked up at her and said it again, slowly, “KILL THEM…”

Mel didn’t grumble like I used to. She didn’t roll her eyes. She didn’t swear under her breath. Instead, she looked at me with compassion. Her eyes seemed to say… you’re cracking. You have hit bottom. You have given up all hope. And with that change, we will rebuild you and make you stronger.

She rubbed my back and said, “I get it. I understand.”


One month into being a stay at home dad, and all I did was drink Diet Coke and bitch at my kids.  My lust for cleaning had dwindled. I started to accept my failure. I ate an alarming amount of ice cream. I allowed the kids to watch movies all day so I could sleep, warmly in my bed, away from what I knew they were destined to become…  lazy slobs like myself.

It was on one of these resting days that Norah came in with her toy doctor kit. She placed her soft hand on my face, and said, “You need a check up.”

She gave me Bun-Bun (her stuffed bunny) to hold. Then she checked my eyes, ears, blood pressure, and temperature. She leaned in close, her face to the side, her eyes peaceful and concerned. I thought about what Mel said earlier in the summer, “I find things go a lot smoother when you listen to them.” I started to realize that I was trying to control my kids instead of trying to work with them. I wasn’t listening.

“You need a shot,” she said. “But it’s just a little one. It won’t hurt.”

She gave me a shot in the leg. Then she raised her arms and said, “All better. You can get out of bed now.”

Funny thing was, I did feel a little better. There was sweetness in what she was doing that made me feel hopeful.

When Mel came home that night, I put it all on the table. I told her how frustrated I’d been. How the kids were driving my crazy. I didn’t know how to make it all happen. I didn’t know how to keep the house clean, keep the kids healthy and happy, without being miserable. Without falling apart myself. “I admit it. I am a horrible father. How do I do it? How do you listen to them?”

She wasn’t smug about it. She didn’t look me in the face, smile, and tell me that I had only one job and I couldn’t do it. She didn’t tell me that I was pathetic. But I suppose she didn’t need to. I was telling myself all those things. Instead, she sat across from me at the table and said, “Our kids can suck sometimes. I mean, I love them. But they can really suck.”

“Tell me about it,” I said. “Really frustrating.”

We complained about them for a little while. Shared a few stories. Then she said, “I find things go a lot smoother when I just don’t worry so much about the house. I just focus on listening to them. Ask them what they want and try to use that to get what you want.” She gave me a few examples, like how Norah cleans up the living room a lot easier if you whistle at her and pretend it is a game of fetch. And that Tristan cleans up the play room really well if you bribe him with candy, or tell him he will get a few extra minutes of video games for not bitching.

The two of us really connected that day. I’d spent a few days in her shoes, and I think it did me some good. And I think Mel understood me better, too. Near the end of the conversation I thanked her for the advice. She smiled and said, “Thanks for listening.”

Each time I came home and she told me that she was going to kill the kids, it was her way of asking for help. Asking me to give her a break, before she broke. It was her way of telling me that raising young children is a non-stop day of whining and bitching and wanting and needing and crying and pissing mixed with an occasional tender moment that makes it all worthwhile. Moments like when Norah gave me a checkup. It’s not like a job with a lunch break. It’s not something that you can set down on your desk for a moment while you take a walk so you can come back with a fresh head. I finally understood, and I think Melrecognized my new understanding.


That night, we had sex after 10:30PM.

Things went a little smoother after that. I tried the whistle method on Norah, and it worked. So what if she was carrying everything with her mouth, I just didn’t care anymore. I knew it was the best way to get things done. Once, when she threw a fit and I had to put her in her room, I thought about her love for animals. I went and got a cow puppet (I couldn’t find a dog or a kitty). I sat on her bed with the puppet on my right hand and in my best cow voice I said, “Norah, my name is Dr. Cow. I have a Ph.D. in tickles and hugs. Why are you so sad?”

drcowNorah unloaded on Dr. Cow. She told him how Tristan had scared her by making a funny face. Then he didn’t apologize. “He just made me really scared.” She said. Then she gave Dr. Cow a hug, and together, they went and chatted with Tristan to resolve the problem.

Dr. Cow started making regular appearances. He made things go much smoother with Norah. However Tristan was a tougher nut to crack. I didn’t know how to get him to want to talk to me. So I asked him about Pokémon. Only this time, I was not negative about it. Instead of trying to force him to talk about something I wanted him to talk about, I got excited about Pokémon and used it as a way to get what I wanted… to better understand my son. I started out by telling him that the toys in the living room were Pokémon and he needed to catch them. He was too smart for that.

“Dad, those are toys. Not Pokémon,” he said. “I’m not stupid.”

So I tried a few other ploys. I told him that Pokémon trainers eat baked chicken. He didn’t believe me. “They eat candy,” he said. Then he called me Mr. Fart-fart

I told him that it is easier to find Pokémon after taking a bath. They can’t smell you coming. He rolled his eyes and said, “No way. Trainers never take baths. They live in the woods.”

But I kept at it. And as I did, I realized what I really wanted from him. I wanted him to know how to work and clean and all that. But what I really wanted was to connect with him. Tristan is a funny kid. He has a big personality like me. But I realized he hid behind his personality by telling jokes and laughing. And if that didn’t work, he talked about Pokémon. And when that failed, like it often did with me, he just said, “I don’t remember.” Everything with him was surface level. He’d never told me what his favorite subjects in school were, or who his best friend was, or if he was starting to notice girls. What I really wanted was for Tristan to open up to me.

So I started reading a little about Pokémon online. Nothing too in-depth, just enough to feel like I could engage in the conversation. I tried hard to shove my hatred of Pokémon down, deep inside. And I practiced talking about it without using the words stupid, irritating, or ridiculous (this was difficult, I assure you).

One night, as we had dinner as a family, Tristan started talking about Pokémon, and I listened. I asked him about different creatures and trainers. I told him about some of the regions I’d read about. He raised his eyebrows and smiled. We went back and forth.

Then I asked him about his friends at school and which one would make the better Pokémon trainer. I asked him what he learned today that might make him a better Pokémon trainer. He opened up. He told me that Samantha would be the best trainer.

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“I don’t know…” He paused and thought for a moment. “I think because she can run really fast. And she isn’t very tall, so she could hide behind bushes. And I just think she is smart and has a funny laugh.”

The corners of his mouth twisted, and Mel and I looked at each other with raised eyebrows.

I asked if Samantha was his girlfriend.

“Ugh… no way,” he said, “I just think she’s funny. And I like when she smiles. And sometimes she pushes me on the swing.”

Then he paused for a moment. “It’d be really fun to catch Pokémon with her.”

He folded his arms, put his head down, his cheeks a little flushed, and I knew the conversation was over.

“Samantha does sound like she would be a great trainer,” I said.

Tristan smiled. Then he walked to his seat at the table, grabbed his plate, and walked back to me. He hopped on my lap, and we ate like that for the first time in months.

Across the table, Norah told Mel about her new friend Dr. Cow and how he gives really great hugs. Mel smiled, looked at me, and whispered, “Doctor Cow?”

“He has a Ph.D. in tickles and hugs,” I said. “They’ve been having a few appointments.”

Mel shrugged and said, “OK.”

On the table were books, movies, and toys. We’d shoved them to the side to make room for our plates. The sink was full of dirty dishes, the floor was coated in cereal, and the living room looked like the stuffed animals had a blowout party. And for the first time, I didn’t care. I understood what went into keeping a clean house, and I finally understood that connecting with my family was more important. I didn’t think less of Mel. In fact, I had more respect for her. I understood what she was up against. More importantly, though, I felt like I better understood my kids. And I hoped that they better understood me, too.

 Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. His writing has been published in The Baltimore Review and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University, Mankato. His blog will rock your world (

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