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Seven Books for Stay-at-Home Dads

Stay-at-home dads are not the exotic creatures they used to be, but you wouldn’t know that from, say, reading books. It’s still pretty unusual to find them as characters in fiction or subjects of non-fiction.

(That said, there is a steady stream of self-published memoirs by stay-at-home dads who, against all odds, came through on that promise so many stay-at-home parents make to themselves: “I’ll use this time to write my book.” Well played, daddies. Well played.)

Here’s a list of the best books that have kept up with the cultural shift toward dads being more involved in raising their kids, from novels to non-fiction.

Now, depending on what stage of stay-at-home fatherhood a dad is enjoying, the very idea of sitting down and reading a book might be aspirational, or indeed hilarious. But at least those dads can take encouragement from the fact that there’s a growing list of books that are relevant, and often specific, to their job. Eventually, they’ll have a chance to read some of them.

So, for all of those stay-at-home dads who are able to avail of nap times or perhaps a few hours alone during the school day, here are some suggested reads. And while this list is dedicated to SAHDs, their partners, friends and relatives might enjoy and benefit from reading some quality stay-at-home dad books too.

Little Children

Tom Perrotta’s Little Children arguably gave the stay-at-home dad character his big break in fiction. And like Perrotta’s his earlier novel Election, Little Children was soon adapted into an Oscar-nominated film.

Former jock Todd is now a stay-at-home dad known to local moms simply as “Prom King”. His filmmaker wife Kathy is on his case to take the bar exam—not that he’s interested in becoming a lawyer.

Dissatisfied stay-at-home mom Sarah copes with her plight by imagining that she’s anthropologist “studying the behavior of boring suburban women”. Her husband copes with his own dissatisfaction by spending time online courting a woman who calls herself “Slutty Kay”.

A playground kiss between Todd and Sarah spirals into an affair, and soon they are planning playdates for themselves rather than their children. Further suburban drama flows from the return of a recently released pedophile, whose mom is eager to find him a girlfriend.

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Fathermucker

A rare case of a novel with a stay-at-home dad as its narrator, Fathermucker traces a single day in the life of Josh Lansky.

Former screenwriter Josh is now a freelancer and father of two precocious and demanding preschoolers, Roland and Maude. Fathermucker unfolds over the final day of wife Stacy’s business trip to L.A. At a morning playdate, one of the mothers suggests to Josh that Stacy is cheating.

As the idea of the affair plays on Josh’s mind, he imagines different scenarios, which manifest themselves in screenplay format in the book. And as Josh faces all of the rituals, joys and struggles of bringing two children safely through another day, other concerns compete for his attention, leading the story down new paths. Josh takes a particularly striking detour after we learn that Roland has Asperger Syndrome: he presents a timeline of how the syndrome has been (mis)understood throughout history, intertwined with the family’s personal history of Roland’s condition, from initial missed clues to diagnosis and treatment. 

The Daddy Diaries

Narrator Jay is an especially unusual find in literature: rather than the stay-at-home dad who specializes in toddler wrangling, Jay is the father of 13-year-old Alex and 10-year-old Tara.

In Joshua Braff’s The Daddy Diaries, Jay and his wife Jackie have recently relocated their family from San Francisco to St. Petersburg, Florida, for Jackie’s work. Jay’s role as stay-at-home dad is a new one, and intensified by the fact that Jackie spends a lot of time on the road. Jay’s diary records the challenges of adapting to a new place and to a new presence in his home: the teenager. Alex is having a particularly hard time adjusting to life in Florida, and Jay fights to bridge the distance growing between them.

Despite this, The Daddy Diaries is a light read, with Braff’s tight, pithy style compelling each diary entry onwards to the next day at a good clip.

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Captain Dad

Pat Byrnes’ career highlights as a cartoonist include his work for the New Yorker and the illustrated edition of Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots & Leaves. But his career highlights (and lowlights) as a father of two girls prove more interesting and hard-won: he admits, with nearly ten years’ experience, that being a stay-at-home parent is the toughest job going.

When Byrnes became a father, it made sense for him to stay home. He was able to set his own work schedule, while his wife’s job as Illinois Attorney General didn’t really offer any wiggle room. Captain Dad: The Manly Art of Stay-at-Home Parenting offers witty commentary on the parenting experiences that followed, from the challenges faced by all sleep-deprived grown-ups in a child’s world, to dad-specific issues such as the absence of diaper changing facilities in men’s rooms. His anecdotes come with legitimately helpful hints and, naturally, cartoons. 

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The Daddy Shift

In The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms, and Shared Parenting Are Transforming the American Family, journalist and former stay-at-home dad Jeremy Adam Smith examines the "movement of fatherhood from solely breadwinning to both breadwinning and caregiving," presenting it as an important evolutionary advance in the American family. Smith draws from different strands of social science research as he examines the consequences that this change has brought to dads, families, and society. These analytical chapters alternate with engaging portraits of stay-at-home dads from diverse social, ethnic and economic backgrounds across America.

Smith makes an interesting and well-supported case for the cultural and economic importance of stay-at-home dads, and he advocates for the policy changes needed to support families as they evolve away from outdated gender roles.

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All In

As a reporter at CNN, Josh Levs carved out a role for himself covering modern parenthood, so he knew what was at stake when he was denied fair parental leave to care for his sick wife and preemie daughter. The legal case and wide public interest that followed led to policy changes at CNN/Time Warner, as well as other corporations.

Since then, Levs has become an expert on dads at work, and a U.N. Global Gender Champion. His book All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses—And How We Can Fix It Together argues that paternity leave is a feminist issue, and paid family leave is a baby’s human right. Like The Daddy Shift, Levs’ book explores the state of modern fatherhood and its impact not only on fathers and families, but society at large, with the goal of changing policies and prejudices. Levs draws on his skills as a reporter and fact-checker, as well as his personal experiences, in this powerful rallying cry. 

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Pops in Pop Culture

For stay-at-home dads interested in taking an academic look at their place in society—which might be a refreshing change from even the best board books—there’s Pops in Pop Culture. This collection of essays explores how fatherhood is represented in popular culture, with examples from Australia, Britain, Canada, South Africa, Sweden and the US.

While the collection addresses themes such as “shifting social and personal landscapes of diverse family forms that question the hegemony of the heteronormative nuclear family”, the essays’ subjects are not as lofty. Instead, they include daddy blogs; video games; shows such as Modern Family, 24 and Breaking Bad; Louis C.K.’s stand-up comedy; and the films of Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson.

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As the world catches up with the realities of modern parenting, there will be plenty of books to add to this list. Whenever you come across one of them, please share it below, so that stay-at-home dads (and those of us in their orbits) can discover them too. Thanks. 

Katie is a reader, editor and note taker who works as a Content Writer at Bookwitty. Originally from Wisconsin, she's at home in Dublin.

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