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Skye Dunlap

Silicon Valley network of dads-at-home grows

By Cecily Barnes

Jean-Philippe Roussell makes quick strides out to his mini van, double-parked in front of the house on Cherry Avenue. Three-year-old Kate smooshes her face against the tinted window. Michael, 2, has worked out of his car seat and is climbing over his 5-year-old sister, Allison. Laughter and scattered words seep from the van, exaggerated when Roussell yanks open the driver's side door and slides in.

"Everybody put on your seatbelts," he says, straining his head over his right shoulder while he buckles his own belt.

Looks of bewilderment pass over each child's face as their small minds contemplate this immense task--how to get young David from the wrong end of the back seat, across both of his sisters, to the other end of the van and into his car seat. Small heads turn, words fly but nothing much happens. After a moment of stillness, Roussell automatically unclips his belt, jacks the door open, steps from the van and slides open the back door. Chaos ensues.

"Daddy, I can do it," Allison screams, grabbing at her younger brother in a desperate attempt to get him in her hands and into his car seat before her dad takes over. Kate wiggles between her father and sister, squealing with the commotion. David makes his body limp and slides from the carpeted bench-seat onto the floor of the van. Two minutes later Roussell pulls away from the curb, all three children buckled safely in their seats. Welcome to the life of one of Willow Glen's stay-at-home dads.

According to Peter Baylies, president of the At-Home Dad Network in Andover, Mass., approximately two million men across America live like Roussell, acting as their children's primary caregiver. This number has increased significantly since 1985, when only a half-million men stayed home with their kids--compared to approximately 11 million women who do so.

"You can see it when you go to rest stops or McDonald's, there used to only be diaper-changing tables in the women's restroom, and now they're in the men's, too," Baylies says. "The trend has increased since 1985, and the top reason is because many wives make more money than their husbands do."

Although no official study has been done, it seems that Willow Glen has attracted its fair share of stay-at-home dads. On just one block of Cherry Avenue alone, four such dads can be spotted doing their job almost any day of the week.

Eleven years ago, Willow Glen residents Ahmad and Ann Ahmadi lived like the average American family. Ahmad worked as a computer programmer in Palo Alto, Anne as a nurse, and a full-time baby sitter watched their two boys. But when Ahmad came home unexpectedly and found his two boys propped in front of the television and the baby sitter chatting with an unknown man, he and Ann decided this wasn't the route to take. Jonathan and Jason were put in kindercare, but Jonathan kept catching colds from the other children and having to be taken home.

"In the two years since Jason was born, we probably tried, like, 10 different methodologies," Ahmad says. "Nothing worked."

Finally Ahmad and Ann decided that one of them needed to stay home with the kids. Although Ann was the woman, she didn't want to be the one.

"She preferred to work," Ahmad says of his wife. "She's a very strong feminist, and she wanted to move up in the hierarchy."

Now Ahmad mops, vacuums, does laundry, changes light bulbs, gardens, cooks and chauffeurs the children around.

Ahmad says he loves being a stay-at-home dad. The mothers' play group he joined when the boys were young took him in like one of the girls, and friends and acquaintances have long since accepted his situation.

However, not all men feel as comfortable with the stigma of doing "women's work." At-Home Dad Network president Baylies addresses these concerns, and many others faced by at-home dads, in his quarterly newsletter at www.athomedad.com. Among other things, he tries to connect men with others who live in their area, to form play groups. "It makes men feel like what they're doing is more normal," Baylies says.

Jean-Philippe Roussell stands at the edge of the Astroturf at Willow Glen Park while Michael, Kate and Allison aggressively push the tire swing around and around. Michael becomes nervous and toddles toward a climbing structure, disappearing inside within seconds.

"Daddy, I'm thurrrsteeeee," Kate whines, hurrying over to where her father stands. Jean-Phillipe flips his hands open just as Kate tumbles forward, flopping her dead weight into Jean-Philippe's hands. "Mmm, unnn, daddy." Jean-Philippe swoops Kate into his arms.

Two seconds later Kate stiffens her body, slides down his leg and runs to her sister, who's casing the base of the monkey bars in what appears to be a serious decision-making process. But as soon as Kate approaches, Allison trots back toward her father, hurling herself into his legs.

"Daddy, I'm hunngreee."

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From the October 15-21, 1998 issue of Metro.

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