Games & Humor
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Wed November 2, 2011

'Captain Dad' Finds The Funny In Parenting

When moms see cartoonist Pat Byrnes on the playground with his daughters, he says they often check the sex offender registries on their cell phones. Byrnes is a stay-at-home dad and creator of a "manly blog of stay-at-home parenting" where he writes not as Mr. Mom, but as Captain Dad.

Byrnes tells NPR's Neal Conan that his challenges are "pretty familiar to anyone that spends a significant amount of time around their kids ... the little things become big things, and it can be frustrating and maddening, and then you laugh at how ridiculous it is."

And then, he turns some of those moments into cartoons.

According to the 2010 Census, the U.S. has more than 150,000 stay-at-home dads, but Byrnes says there's more to it than that.

"There are a lot of dads that kind of share the responsibility," he says. Byrnes says he knows at least two firemen who work 24-hour shifts in order to take full days off to help care for their children, trading off with their partners.

"That's becoming more and more common where dads are manning up and taking care of the kids," he says.


Interview Highlights

On finding the perfect dolphin costume for his daughter, Rebecca

"There are a lot of shark costumes out there. And so a lot of people were saying, 'Ooh, look at the shark.' And, of course, Rebecca had to correct them all the time ...

"She just fell in love with dolphins. So she reads dolphin books. She has ... two dolphin pillow pets. We went to the dolphin show at the Brookfield Zoo. She's just always been crazy about dolphins. She speaks in the language 'dolphinito' ... I wouldn't even try to imitate that. It'll kind of blow apart all your electronics."

On his respect for moms

"Women have been saying for generations that it is the toughest job in the world, and I think can speak with the authority of a man on this subject. They were right. Girls, you are right."

On how he transitioned from at-work to at-home dad

"I started out as an aerospace engineer, so I worked with a bunch of crazy, nerdy men. And then I was in advertising after that, so I worked with a bunch of crazy people. And then for, oh, probably about 13 years before the kids came, I was working freelance, so I was kind of reclusive already and prepared for that part.

"Being a cartoonist ... you know, the fact that I have flexible hours and I kind of work in the interstices of life anyway, it made sense that I'd be the guy, and there was really no arguing it."

On how others treat his stay-at-home dad status

"I've ... only been razzed by one other cartoonist for being too busy changing diapers to draw cartoons. But, you know, it's a cartoonist. It's probably a joke to begin with. Other than that, I mean, I heard one comment ... about what I was doing, saying, 'Ooh, that's not really accepted.' And occasionally, you know, people write online about how evil it is in destroying the fabric of our society for men who stay home and take care of the kids."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

NEAL CONAN, host: For Halloween this year, Pat Byrnes' 6-year-old daughter wanted - no, needed - a dolphin costume. He thought that would be simple enough, and after scouring the Internet, he came up with lots of options - in the wrong size or on the wrong continent. Eventually, he did manage to locate what may have been the only right-size dolphin costume on planet Earth. Say goodbye to Mr. Mom. That's another of the amazing adventures of Captain Dad, a stay-at-home father who describes parental dilemmas in blogs on sleep deprivation, the search for acceptance from mothers on the playground and changing the world one diaper at a time.

Stay-at-home dads, what has surprised you about your job? Give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Pat Byrnes joins us now from a studio at Chicago Public Radio. He creates cartoons for The New Yorker and blogs as Captain Dad. Nice to have you with us today.

PAT BYRNES: No, it's my pleasure, Neal.

CONAN: So Monday was the big test. Was the dolphin costume a hit?

BYRNES: It was indeed, although a lot - there are a lot of shark costumes out there. And so a lot of people were saying, ooh, look at the shark. And, of course, Rebecca had to correct them all the time.

CONAN: All the time. What's - what was the - passion for the dolphin, where did that originate?

BYRNES: I don't know, but she just fell in love with dolphins. So she reads dolphin books. She has a dolphin - two dolphin pillow pets. We went to the dolphin show at the Brookfield Zoo. She's just always been crazy about dolphins. She speaks in the language dolphinito(ph).

CONAN: Dolphinito. It's...

BYRNES: Yeah. I wouldn't even try - yeah, I wouldn't even try to imitate that. It'll kind of blow apart all your electronics.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Well, perhaps it should be kept a secret in any case.

BYRNES: It's out of the audible range anyway.

CONAN: Stay-at-home moms or - and most working moms, for that matter, would not find many of these adventures all that novel.

BYRNES: No. I think they're pretty familiar to anyone that spends a significant amount of time around their kids. It just - you know, the little things become big things, and it can be frustrating and maddening, and then you laugh at how ridiculous it is.

CONAN: And you get to take a fresh eye on this because of your experiences as stay-at-home dad, something, you said at one point, you share with dozens around the country.

BYRNES: Literally. Actually, according to the census, there are, like, more than 13,000 dozen that do it full time, but that's misleading because there are a lot of dads that kind of share the responsibility. I mean, I know at least two firemen because they work their, you know, 24-hour shifts. They got a couple of days. You know, they trade off with the mom. So that's becoming more and more common where dads are, you know, manning up and taking care of the kids.

CONAN: And you have a profession which enables you to work at home.

BYRNES: Yes, I do. Being a cartoonist, there was - you know, the fact that I have flexible hours and I kind of work in the interstices of life anyway, it made sense that I'd be the guy, and there was really no arguing it.

CONAN: Your wife, it should be pointed out, has a pretty important job.

BYRNES: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. She's the Illinois attorney general, and she does a pretty dang good job. Actually, some people say she's the best we've ever had. And so I figure, all right, I can't compete with that, so...

CONAN: She, all day, will hear conversation about felonies and wiretaps and all kinds of conspiracies and RICO statute. You, on the other hand, hear lines like, what if a pig used my fork? Then I would have to use my hand.

BYRNES: Yes. So I've got the much tougher arguments to combat. Kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: I can understand that.

BYRNES: Yeah. I think any parent knows that kids are just natural born lawyers. No wonder lawyers is the thickest section of the phonebook because it just comes naturally.

CONAN: And there are all kinds of things that kids do - again, beyond the ken of at least traditional fathers - in their daily lives that this conversation suddenly has more meaning. It's not that you're hearing drivel. It's you have to hear them in a different way.

BYRNES: Yeah, you do. You develop the ear. My wife is not around it all day. So when one of our kids says something that's perfectly clear to me, she's straining because she's used to hearing, you know, articulate adults speak all day. I am used to, you know, hearing things and understanding strange words that, you know, that the adult ear can't hear.

CONAN: When did you decide to blog about your experiences?

BYRNES: Well, my wife had been encouraging me for sometime to write about it, to write a book about it because there are more and more dads doing it, and it would help if they could hear about it from someone who's, you know, not too sincere, somebody that could give the funny take on it because when you hear these very sensitive kind of talk, it's intimidating. So I started writing, but I didn't really have time to write too much coherently. But just last year, things have started to lighten up, and both kids are in school.

Arguably, one's just in preschool for two and a half hours, four days a week. But now I have some time, so now's the time to start putting it all together before I forget what happened.

CONAN: I was wondering if you could relate us the story of the mean dad.

BYRNES: Oh, the mean dad? Well, can I just preface this by saying I heard of a parent just this week that cut a kid's trick or treating out because the kid was misbehaving? Anyway, just hold that in your mind because that's way worse than what I did. We took our girls out to get haircuts and - well, if you have kids, you know that that can be an adventure. And when we got home - the next morning, I walked around the house and I found little snippets of hair all over the place. My cute little 3-year-old decided to give herself a trim after getting a haircut and so I took away all the scissors to be mean dad.

CONAN: You know, you could put your eyes out with that.

BYRNES: Yes. But you know what, that's really - she's actually in the room here. She actually did a great job, and that side of her face looks better than the other side.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: So you say. We'll believe you. Pat Byrnes...

BYRNES: My wife says so. It's not just me.

CONAN: Well, we got to believe the attorney general, right?

BYRNES: Yeah.

CONAN: Pat Byrnes is our guest, a stay-at-home dad and New Yorker cartoonist. He runs the manly blog of stay-at-home parenting, captaindad.org. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Mike is on the line. Mike, calling us from Knox, Indiana.

MIKE: Hello. I love your show.

CONAN: Thank you.

MIKE: One of the things about being a stay-at-home dad raising two little girls, and one that's going through puberty at the time is I have to go out. And when I go out to the community to buy clothes, what I find it really hard to do and embarrassing is when I had to ask about bras and panties and things of that nature. And it's just - it's very hard to cope with, being a male raising females and trying to do all the right things. And I just - I find that very hard for any man, in general, to do.

BYRNES: Amen.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BYRNES: I hear you, man, because my - when we go to Target, my daughters, when they like to run and hide, where do they hide? In the ladies' undergarments and bras.

MIKE: Oh, in the (Unintelligible).

BYRNES: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: They know the place you're least likely - you know where to look, but you probably go through hardware to get there.

BYRNES: Yeah.

MIKE: Well, the thing is - the other thing is, as I said, you know, like, I got the periods coming. And so I'm kind of worried about that because, I mean, I have a medical background so I, I mean, I know how to tell it medically, but it's still my little girl. And it's still kind of hard. I wish that it, you know? I never find it to be a man's position to have to explain it to a girl.

CONAN: Mike, good luck with that.

MIKE: Oh, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BYRNES: Yeah. And drop me a line. Tell me how you did it because I'm going to have to face that in a few years myself.

CONAN: Well, you did write one blog that was really interesting about making sure that you take the time to notice when they're little because it doesn't last forever.

BYRNES: That's true, and you hear a lot of people tell you that you're going to miss it. And in a lot of ways, you look forward to missing it. But one way you're not going to miss it is because you didn't miss it, and I'm not going to miss it as bitterly. I'll be able to miss it tenderly.

CONAN: Let's go next to Mike. Mike on the line with us from Bethany Beach in Delaware.

MIKE: Hi, Neal. How are you?

CONAN: Good, thanks.

MIKE: I understand you spent some time down here?

CONAN: I did.

MIKE: Yeah. I just wanted to say a couple of things about being a stay-at-home dad. I was a stay-at-home dad for two years. I'm sorry, for five years with my two boys. And I guess the thing, I wasn't ready for with it, though I really enjoyed it, was just that you realize that your whole social set-up is where you used to - or a lot of your social set-up is where you're - when you're at work, and that all goes away (unintelligible) you know, it's kind of lonely and frustrating that, you know, you just don't have that same support system, especially as your guest was talking about, too, with trying to fit in a dad amongst the moms and also with your other male friends who are talking about business things and that sort of thing. So that was quite of a challenge when it came to being a stay-at-home dad.

BYRNES: I heard that. That's painfully true.

CONAN: Pat. Well, I just wanted to ask Pat, did you work in a newsroom before, a busy, raucous place where people threw things and joked around all the time?

BYRNES: I used to work in - I started out as an aerospace engineer, so I worked with a bunch of, you know, crazy, nerdy men. And then I was in advertising after that, so I worked with a bunch of crazy people. And then for, oh, probably about 13 years before the kids came, I was working freelance, so I was kind of reclusive already and prepared for that part.

CONAN: And prepared for that part. Though the society of playground moms, that's been a recurring theme.

BYRNES: Yeah. That's - it's a really interesting microcosm, the playgrounds. One thing you'd notice when you get there early in the morning is that the first shift is mostly the nannies because they're the ones that scooped up the kids and whisked them away while, you know, mom and dad zipped off to work. It's a little while after that that the moms come. And so for a while there, it's - it'll be three, four to one - nannies and moms, and then it'll work eventually toward a balance.

CONAN: Mike, thanks very much for the call.

MIKE: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking with Pat Byrnes who's a New Yorker - his cartoons appear in The New Yorker and runs the manly blog of stay-at-home parenting, captaindad.org. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Joe's on the line, calling from Clarkston in Michigan.

JOE: Hey there. How's it going?

CONAN: OK.

JOE: I'm calling because one of my big challenges as a stay-at-home dad is juggling of the time for the three kids. I have a 7-year-old, a 4-year-old in pre-school and a recent toddler in diapers. And one thing my mom made it look much easier than it turned out to be, to be a stay-at-home parent, and that's one thing I'm really, you know, coming to grips with, is that it's not an easy gig being at home with the three kids.

BYRNES: Now, have you talked to your mom about it? I bet you she'll tell you that she experienced the same thing.

JOE: Oh, yeah. I tell her all the time on routine basis. I call her up and just tell her that she really tricked me on this one because I really didn't think it was going to be that hard of a job, you know, doing it, my wife was an executive in the banking industry, and I'm an archeologist. And, gee, it must be a good time to take a break from the field, and I just routinely tell her that, you know, she really pulled the wools over my eyes by making it look as easy as she did for - having four kids, actually. I have three siblings.

BYRNES: Well, women have been saying for generations that it is the toughest job in the world, and I think can speak with the authority of a man on this subject. They were right. Girls, you are right.

JOE: They were. But, see, I thought it was just a big bluff. I was like, yeah, this will be pretty easy. I mean, really, how hard is it going to be? Just change a couple of diapers, run the kids around on a few errands. Even right now, I'm actually driving my car. I know I should not be - I'm actually sitting in my driveway. I just pulled in here. It's - I just picked up my middle child from pre-school. I had to wake my toddler up from a nap to load him into the van to go to pre-school, and then I'm going up to the bus stop, which yesterday, actually, my daughter forgot to get off the bus because she's too engrossed in reading, and I ended up having to chase the bus around for two miles while I coordinated with the main office and then the bus office, trying to find out what stop they will let her off at.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BYRNES: Oh, I'm laughing with you.

CONAN: Joe, it sounds like you got some urgent business you need to take care of right now.

JOE: It is. It's very true. He's - I think he wanted to be a little star in the sun here. But I appreciate the time for (unintelligible) to talk about this on the air with you guys.

CONAN: OK, Joe.

BYRNES: Hang in there, Joe.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: It's interesting. Once rocking a child late at night, I think I calculated 20,000 diaper changes per kid.

BYRNES: Yeah, that's - when you think about the price of diapers, that's significant.

CONAN: Bought stock at Procter & Gamble the next - no, I wish I had, but I didn't. Here's an email from Joel in South Dakota. I love being a stay-at-home dad and find it very rewarding. I wonder if your guest has experienced negative comments from working parents of both sexes as I have.

BYRNES: Very little, at least to my face. I've gotten one - only been razzed by one other cartoonist for, you know, being too busy changing diapers to draw cartoons. But, you know, it's a cartoonist. It's probably a joke to begin with. Other than that, I mean, I heard one comment that is, you know, about what I was doing, saying, ooh, that's not really accepted. And occasionally, you know, people write online about how evil it is in destroying the fabric of our society for men who stay home and take care of the kids. Other than that, it's - no one talks to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: You - nobody talks - you do, though, must have insight into a lot of the controversies of parenting that have come up in the past few years. For example, the big book of the past year, "The Tiger Mother."

BYRNES: Yeah. Yeah. I don't - yeah. I - like everyone, I want my kids to be, you know, the world's greatest kids, but I don't want them to be the world's most scarred kids either. And I've had a lot of careers and found my way, so I survived OK, and I expect my kids to do much the same and I'll guide them to wherever they want to be and help them get there. But beyond that, I'm not going to crack their knuckles over the piano. I'll just nag at them.

CONAN: Let's get Tom on the line. One last caller. He's in Peekskill, New York.

TOM: Yes. I've been doing this part-time for about 15 years. As I waited, I thought, have I enjoyed it because I have two perfect children or do I have two perfect children because I did it? It has been a sacrifice. I have lost a lot of friend and I sure as heck sacrificed a ton of income because most of my male friends have no idea of the experience about - I have had with my two children. And I wouldn't change a thing. It's been very hard, very difficult but invaluable. So I compliment you and any other father who's tried to do it because I don't think most of the society, you know, has made the transition yet.

BYRNES: Right back at you. Yeah, right back at you.

CONAN: Tom, thanks very much, and congratulations.

TOM: Thank you.

CONAN: One last quick question, Pat Byrnes. Who's taking care of the kids?

BYRNES: Well, I am right now. I mean, I'm still on the clock. But, Lucy, do you want to say hi? Say hi. No, she's looking at me (unintelligible).

CONAN: She's shy. Yeah.

BYRNES: But I've got one here and the other one is still at school. And I'm working - head over there to pick her up afterwards.

CONAN: Well, say hi to Lucy even if she won't say hi to us. Thank you very much, Pat. Good luck.

BYRNES: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

CONAN: Pat Byrnes joined us from a studio at Chicago Public Radio. You can find links to his pieces and see a couple of his cartoons at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Tomorrow, the best sports writing of the year. Jane Leavy joins us for that. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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