On a recent trip to Melbourne I jumped at the chance of paying a visit to a real-life circus performer who’s second act entailed being, without a doubt, a brilliant stay-at-home-dad. Scott’s ease at being in the limelight, coupled with his travels down paths less travelled, stands him in great stead for his new-found role.
Jules: Can you tell me a little bit about your situation and how you’re involved with Olly; how often you look after him and how this relationship has evolved to this point?
Scott: I have a bit of a thing about going into too much detail so just nudge me if I…
J: I’ll keep you on track.
S: Okay. It started of that when Olly was born I was working as a freelancer and two weeks after he was born I got a call saying, “Do you want this job at the circus school? It’s full-time…”, and I tho,t, “Ah… can I think about it?”. “No, we need to know now.” So I started working full-time, nine-to-five—and I never really worked nine-to-five. When I was with the circus and we were rehearsing it was ten-to-six and when we were performing it was all sorts of hours.
J: When you say freelancing, what were you doing?
S: Freelance performing and photography. So I was an acrobat, bmx bike rider, juggler. I was also doing real-estate shots and portraits at the time. And I was doing some teaching of circus workshops and stuff.
J: Interesting! It sounds very different…
S: [Smiles] It’s all day-to-day and mundane for me, but I forget that that’s something people don’t generally do.
J: [Laughs] No. It’s up there with lion taming. So you took the job?
S: I took the job and I was in a whirlwind for the next 18 months. It was so busy, crazy and hectic. I’d quite often forget to eat lunch because I was so busy and things had to be done. Four o’clock would come around and it’d be like, “Oh! I’ve got to have lunch.” All the shops would have closed by then.
So I was working full-time, going crazy, and then I was offered a contract to perform for the school holidays—to go on tour. I took that as an opportunity to leave my job and go back to freelancing. So I was away for three weeks and work kindly let me go part-time and do an evening shift. So what that meant was that I could spend the days with Olly, at home, and the weekends too. Because Sarah is, in her line of work she’s a face painter—a professional one—so her weekends are spent going out to certain jobs, parties and corporate functions. So on the weekends I’d look after Olly full-time anyway. Weekends were ‘Olly-time’ and they’d just go way too quickly.
So I came back from the tour and I suddenly had my days free. So I could just play with Olly. And that was fantastic. What ended up happening was Sarah was able to get more work and so I’d spend the days with Olly and when he’d have his afternoon nap, that was the time I’d go off to work.
I’d have him on the weekends and that would allow Sarah to go shopping or just hang out with her friends.
J:Did you find much time when you’re paths crossed, you and Sarah?
S: Yes… her hours are always all over the place. So it would just be on the weekends, in the mornings or evenings. She’d always be home before I’d have to leave…
J: So it wasn’t an arrangement that was born out of financial necessity?
S: We sort of fell into that through… well… almost through financial necessity.
J: For instance some dads partners have much larger earnings, or the capacity to earn much more. In many instances it would almost be essential for her to work so as they could meet all their financial needs.
S: That’s kind of what it was. When Olly was born Sarah wasn’t working much and everything I earned went to the mortgage and the bills and that was it. It wasn’t enough. And Sarah started getting more work… and more and more work. That then allowed me to go part-time. We were able to manage anyway—just living frugally.
J: That curbing-off of the work, was Sarah resentful at any time that you got to spend more time with Olly?
S: No, no! She was happy.
J: She was happy to work?
S: Yeah, she was happy that I could spend more time with him because she knew how much time I hadn’t spent with him when I was working full-time.
I think that was one of the trade-offs, that I chose to stay part-time and to do what I’m doing and Sarah doing what she’s doing, so we both can spend time with Olly, because it’s awesome.
So I guess we don’t have that much cash-flow or disposable income but…
J: You have quality-of-life. In terms of time available.
S: Yes, I get to see Olly grow up and we were both there when he took his first steps and we were both there when he rode his skateboard, his scooter, his bike.
J: And there’ll always be the days when he’s at school, five days-a-week, to work more consistent hours. So… you don’t really identify yourself with being a stay-at-home dad…
S: It wasn’t until you started talking to me about it and I wondered if I fit your criteria, that I really thought about it. I didn’t purposefully decide to stay home, and that Sarah was going to go out and work. Or that through circumstance, what we were doing and our line of work… it happened that I could stay at home during the day, throughout the week… and occasionally I’d get gigs during the weekend evenings. Sarah would try and line things up so she wasn’t working at those times. Or if we both decided we needed the money we’d find someone to look after him.
J: One of the things that also comes up a lot is being a stay-at-home dad and not having your hand in work of some sort, be it during the evenings or on the weekends, you become more removed, more isolated. But I suppose for you, being able to work and being around your peers—people whom you can have an adult conversation with is important.
S: Yeah, I think I was really lucky in that regard that I still had the job and I could go and socialise. And I think with Sarah, she’s got a number of friends who live close by, either from her mothers’ group or that we’ve met since we’ve moved here—they’ve got children similar in age.
J: You mentioned Sarah’s got the mothers’ group. Have you found a fathers’ group? Have you ever looked for one?
S: I’ve never looked. I’ve never thought about it.
S: Because—and I’m just thinking out loud here—when Olly was born, Sarah was the main care-giver and she was looking after him and wanted to look after him, and I had the full-time job. So she found the mothers’ group, she organised the swimming lessons, the gym, the library…
J: And you carried this on once she went back to work?
S: Yeah. I wouldn’t have even thought of half that stuff either. I think it was quite lucky that she did. [Smiles]
J: So you do those activities to socialise Olly?
J: Does Olly go to daycare?
S: No, he doesn’t go to daycare. Not yet.
J: What about…
S: He might-I don’t know if he will. [Pauses and ponders] Kinder. What’s kinder?
J: It’s the first year of school, at age five.
S: ‘Prep’? What’s the one before ‘prep’?
J: I suppose that would be called daycare. Depends what state you’re in though.
S: Yeah, so possibly next year—the second half of next year—we’ll look at one or two days a week. [Olly can be heard shouting from within the house]. Ah, he’s waking from his little nap.
J: What about the day-to-day time you spend with Olly? How do you find it?
S: It’s awesome. [Laughs and smiles] Depends, we might… he loves trailers at the moment.
J: Being carried around in one?
S: Yeah, I hook up the trailer to the bike. We’ve also got a seat for him that sits between me and the handlebars on the bicycle, because we don’t have a car. So I rode him around on that, then I hooked up the trailer one day, and, “Ooh, trailer!” [mimics Olly], “Olly sit in trailer?”. And so he loves going in the trailer. We’ll go down to the shops with him in the trailer, get everything, put that in the trailer with him and then ride back.
J: And do you find the day-to-day is relatively easy? You don’t experience too much conflict for example?
S: It depends on the time of year I guess. Winter’s fairly quiet and summer, heading towards Christmas gets busier and busier in terms of work. Sarah’s working quite a lot now [two weeks shy of Christmas] and I’m getting a few gigs here and there. So it’s a bit like, “You have Olly now and then I’ll have him then.”
Because we’ve got so much overlapping work now Sarah’s mum has come down for a week to look after Olly. I think one thing we’ve found particularly tricky is we don’t have any grandparents living locally. Sarah’s are in Sydney and my parents are in northern New South Wales.
J: You have to rely on yourselves more so.
S: Yeah. We’ve got some great friends just over the road that can dive in at short notice. So Sarah’s mum is looking after Olly right now. [Looks around distractedly]
J: What do you find the biggest challenge about looking after Olly?
S: He’s very… challenging…
J: ‘Challenging’ is a very polite word. [Both laugh]
S: He’s very headstrong. I’m not sure if that’s the right word. He knows what he wants and… he wants it. Whether that’s to ride the skateboard, to go and see the ducks…
J: Even if that doesn’t fit into the day’s agenda.
S: Oh… what happened once when we were about to go out? [Pauses and tries to recall]
Olly had to do everything himself. He had to change himself, to get his breakfast ready, to eat his food on his own, to take his nappy off, take his pants off, he had to… and it was like, “Olly! We’ve got to go!
Otherwise we’re going to miss the…”
J: You found that frustrating? [smiling]
S: Yeah! Especially when we’re in a bit of a hurry. If I’ve slept in for too long. [Smiles]
J: I suppose that’s what I’m curious about. A bit of raw honesty about it all. That everything is not tinted by those rose-coloured glasses.
S: [Laughs] Yeah, mostly it’s awesome. It’s fantastic, it’s phenomenal, I love it. But there are times when he’s just in a mood and it’s just like, “Olly! Just… c’mon!” [Holds his head in his hands] “Change, get changed, stop getting distracted by the trains. C’mon we’re not playing trains anymore, we’re not jumping on the trampoline anymore. C’mon, it’s time to go!”
J: You seem like a patient person.
S: [Smiles and laughs out loud]
J: Does it ever run out?
S: It ran out a couple of weeks ago. I said, “Sarah, I can’t deal with him.” Because he’s just got to go first, he’s got to open the door first. He’s very particular in what he wants to wear… That ‘s the other thing too—Sarah has to unclip his seatbelt in the car.
J: Not you?
S: No, not me.
J: [Laughs] If it’s any relief we have to do exactly the same.
S: I’m sure all kids are the same in that regard.
J: But it doesn’t make it any easier.
S: One of the pits of parenting. That’s funny because some friends have also said, “Just wait till you go to do it, and they want to do it, and it’s too late for you to put it back because you’ve already touched it.” We haven’t got to that stage yet.
J: So what did you do when you got to that stage? What do you do to cope-to defuse the tension?
S: I mainly just try to remind myself that he’s just a kid. He’s a kid. He doesn’t know any differently.
J: In the heat of the moment that’s a hard thing to do.
S: He just wants to play or do something or sees us doing something and wants to do it with us. So I could ask Sarah to take over or I guess you just have to be patient. Just let him do what he wants to do because if you try and help [starts laughing] all hell breaks loose.
J: What about your parents? Who was the primary carer?
J: Do you think your bringing up Olly, instead of Sarah, will have any bearing on his role-modelling?
S: I think so, because I let him do a lot more things that Sarah wouldn’t necessarily let him do.
J: Example. [Scott laughs nervously]
S: Riding the scooter, riding his bike, riding the skateboard, riding the scooter whilst wearing roller skates, climbing up ladders, climbing high, climbing things at the park…
J: This has nothing to do with your risk-taking side of being a circus performer?
S: [laughs] Jumping up high on the trampoline-he calls it ‘jumping to the moon’.
I don’t know. I’ve got a friend, who’s also an acrobat, who, you could, from the outside, look at and say, “That’s really dangerous and a stupid thing to do”, or you could sit and watch and say, “They know the risks, they’re minimising the risks”. It’s like, Olly, when he first started walking, he was nine months. We eventually let him walk out the front door and down the steps. Not encouraging him to do it, but we’d let him do it and we’d be there just in case he fell over.
J: It’s a calculated risk.
S: Yeah, so we’d let him walk out and figure out that he needed to turn around backwards, because he needed to go backwards in order to do it himself.
J: So would Sarah hold him back a little bit more, be a little more protective?
S: No, not really. She mainly says to me, “Scott.” [looks sternly ahead] “Scott…” [maintains a steady gaze] “Scott…” [bursts out laughing]
I think for Sarah it’s a protective thing. And for me, I know he’s safe and he might fall over and land on his bum but he won’t chop his leg off or anything.
He won’t be harmed in that regard. He’ll be safe even though he might get a nick or a graze. He’ll learn that he needs to be careful and that’s what I’m trying to teach him. That you can do things but you’ve just got to be careful and make sure you know what you’re doing.
J: On a slightly different topic, how’s the sharing of the responsibilities of being a primary carer affected your relationship? has it impacted your personal lives?
S: I haven’t thought of that. I’d say, yes, it has impacted it. More though I would say that we’ve grown as people.
J: Aside from the fact of having a child together, what about the actual mixing up of gender roles? You now being more involved on the domestic front?
[We momentarily get interrupted as Sarah’s mother takes Olly out for an excursion]
S: I suppose there’s that whole thing where up until we had Olly I’ve always had money in my wallet to spend, had a lot of cash there, I’ve always know exactly where my money is and how much the mortgages are, what’s coming in and how much I’ve got to spend. And then suddenly all my money goes to the mortgage and that’s it.
Now Sarah is earning substantially more than me—it’s almost, in that regard, a relief—that I can play with Olly.
J: That’s interesting.
S: I quite enjoy taking him to the shops and going shopping with him. That’s another thing, I’ll let him go a little bit further ahead, whereas Sarah will always have him right by her side.
J: So you don’t perceive Sarah’s ability to earn a greater wage than you, a threat to you or your masculinity?
S: [Laughs] No, no, no. It’s something I’ve thought about, thinking, “Wow, Sarah earns a lot more than I do now.” But I’m also quite happy and excited that she’s earning a lot more money because for however long I’ve always earned the money. I think it’s almost more empowering for her. Because she’s become more self-reliant.
J: In society’s eyes, men who choose to stay at home, can be seen as cop-outs. Have you encountered any negative or adverse reactions to your choice of roles?
S: No, no. Most of my friends know what I do and what I’ve done in my past in terms of my work with the circus. I know a lot of people that have been in a similar situation.
I was thinking about this, this morning, that the whole circus community, the children [of which] grow up in the circus and are always around the parents. Not that we’re in a traditional circus situation, but it’s kind of similar in that we both have odd jobs and we don’t have a consistent income. Well, I’ve had a consistent income but that was only part-time. I had my last day today and that’s stopped now. So we’re both sort of there for him.
J: So in the circus world it would be more of an accepted thing to do.
J: Have you met, or do you know of any other stay-at-home dads?
S: I know maybe [pauses] one. Some friends who had a kid and decided that… actually two other friends. Knowing who they are doesn’t surprise me. They don’t have issues with the ego of not earning the income—being the bread-winner. They’re great with kids.
J: Do you think you have to have a particular type of personality to be a stay-at-home dad?
S: I don’t know.
J: Are there some dads you know who couldn’t do it?
S: To me, it’s why would you not want to do it? It’s like you get to play with your kid. That’s awesome. Why would you not want to spend as much time as possible with your kid? I’m sure everyone has that but then there’s the whole lifestyle thing and we’ve purposely chosen to live cheaply. We don’t have the fancy television and stuff like that—although our telly, it recently just blew up so…
So I think we live well, we’re not spending ridiculous amounts of money on things we don’t need, and we both have a rich lifestyle. It does get tough though because neither of us have a high income and there are times when you do want to buy that little something extra. But it’s not forever, so we’ll enjoy the time while they’re young because it doesn’t happen often.
J: The reason I asked the question about having a certain type of character, whether you have a more nurturing side…
S: I think I see what you’re saying. A friend of mine who works full-time, has a wife and three children. His wife does pretty much everything around the house, the lawns, the cooking, the cleaning. And he earns the income.
J: Do you think they could swap roles?
S: No. Because when he has the children his mum comes and helps him.
J: Is he simply unable to do it or that he doesn’t have the desire? Is he not the right personality type?
S: I don’t think you need to be a particular type of person. I think it’s something in your outlook or maybe in your education. I make an idiot of myself in public [as a clown] and I’m comfortable doing that but not everyone could handle standing up in front of people and being laughed at because they look ridiculous. Yet that’s something I’d be happy to do and I think I’m already on an alternate, non-mainstream pathway.
J: So what you’re saying is whether people are prepared to be perceived differently and possibly have to deal with the stigma attached to being a stay-at-home dad.
S: Yeah, and I guess it doesn’t bother me. I know what I’m doing and I know that Olly’s awesome. I love spending time with him and you can think what you want but I’m playing with my kid and it’s fantastic.
When Olly’s playing, I’m there playing with him and we’re up the slides together.
I see a lot of mums just sitting back doing nothing and their kids are doing crazy stuff.
[Gestures towards another parent’s imaginary child] “But it’s your children!”
Essentially I’m feeling quite protective but I also want to teach him how to play and how to socialise with other children, how to communicate, to make sure he doesn’t fall off a slide—because he does…
J: [Both laugh] He hasn’t got the best balance yet?
S: He does. Well it’s getting there anyway. It’s quite frightening what he can do. Sarah and I wonder, “Where did that come from?”. He pulled a skateboard from a shelf in K-Mart, got on it and started going. “Sarah! What have you been teaching him?”. Wasn’t me. Where did he pick that up from?
J: In regards to the reversal of gender roles have you, at any point, felt emasculated?
S: No. I wouldn’t think, “Oh, this is a woman’s job.” It’s more that this little boy doesn’t know any better, and, this little boy is not having such a good time right now. I need to take care of him now because that’s my job.
When Olly was born there was this overwhelming protectiveness [that] came out [in me]. If someone were to do something to Olly that would hurt him in anyway whatsoever, there’d be no stopping me. You’re not going to hurt my little boy. I’d do anything, absolutely anything.
We had a case where we had quite a lot of hoons driving up and down the road and I went and stood out on the road [extends his arm in stop motion] and went, “Stop!”. They didn’t stop and they moved over, so I moved over, they moved over and I moved over. When they went past I hit their wing mirror. They didn’t come back.
“Where the hell did that come from?”. There’s Olly, there’s my little baby in there. There’s these cars and I don’t want them screaming up and down the road. So that was a bit of a shock.
There was another time when he was tired [Olly] and upset and we were on holiday coming home from a theme park—it was so much fun—and we didn’t have Olly’s dummy. He was screaming the bus down, absolutely screaming. There’s a point where, it’s like, “What do you do?”. Sarah’s got him and trying to hold him, I was sitting in the seat in front of her, and this guy in the seat in front of me just said, “Someone just shut that kid up.”. This was happening as we were coming to our stop, and I lost it—at him—let it rip… [hesitates]
J: You don’t need to go into it.
S: [Smiles] I hope he has second thoughts next time something like that happens to him.
He’s a kid and… we’re a whole community. We look after each other’s kids. I think everyone who’s a parent will look out for the small children, whether it’s in the park or in the shops or…
J: You get a different sense of awareness when you have kids.
S: Yeah, and I had no concept of it before Olly came along. None, whatsoever.
J: And the awareness that comes with being a stay-at-home dad too.
S: When I had a look at your web site and read some of the stories there,
it was something that had never occurred to me—that there was this stigma of being a stay-at-home dad. I’d never thought about that stigma.
You know, the mothers’ groups and no fathers’ groups, or, people feeling a bit weird because they’re not earning their income. It never crossed my mind.
J: How did you feel when you read it?
S: I was like, “Oh! Really?” [surprised but puzzled expression].
J: Like, “Should I be…”
S: “What’s wrong with me?” [Both laugh]
J: I suppose it’s just an easier thing for some to do than others. And every situation is different. Every dad that I’ve spoken to has a different arrangement, a different way of dealing with things. Be it between themselves and their partner, whether they’ve got young kids or old kids, whether the kids are in school… and some of those dads discuss it all in hindsight. One of them made the comment, “We’re designed for this. Our brains are made to forget the hard stuff and remember the good stuff.” [Both laugh] His kids are now seven and nine.
S: I don’t know. When they’re less than three months old and six months old—there’s hard bits. And oh man… Sarah was always getting up in the night to feed him and I’d just sleep through it and wouldn’t even know that Olly had woken up. And I’ve got no idea how she managed the lack of sleep. I had enough difficulties just with myself, let alone…
J: You mentioned when you were reading the web site, the stigma of being a stay-at-home dad… I think we’re our own worst enemy when it comes to that quite often. I’ve never personally come across any open negativity. I’ve had an occasional odd look at the pub when someone’s asked what I do and I tell them that I look after our kids. They cocked their heads to the side and said, “Really?!”.
S: Maybe that happens a lot. Maybe with just what I’ve done, working with the circus, you’d get always get that, “Oh?” [indifferent expression]. I just think that what I do is normal, or that reaction is normal. I don’t know.
Yeah but I love it when Olly can come with me and I can take him into town, into the city, to places, the zoo.
J: How do you socialise Olly? If he doesn’t go to daycare, how do you get him to interact with other kids?
S: Quite a few of our friends have kids the same age and he’s got a swimming class and a gym class that he goes to. And… he just tags around with us. So when we get invites to opening night shows Olly comes along, talks to people, meets people. He always… he loves the girls, the waitresses, the little old ladies on the plane.
J: He’s a charmer.
S: Yeah. So a few people have asked about that—talked about socialising. Pretty much everything that Olly has done, he’s wanted to do. He’s waited till he’s ready to do it and then done it. It’s like when he was learning to walk, he pretty much had to walk straight away. So he was dragging himself along the floor and then he was up and running around.
If we went on the scooter, he’d push me off and have to ride the scooter himself. He’s twelve months old! [Head in hands]
He’s just so independent. He’s got his little bike, a little balance bike, which he rides all around the place—now to the shops and back—which is a few ‘k’s away. He’s happy to do it.
I’ve never thought that he wasn’t being social, or being socialised. He hangs around with us and plays with other children…
J: It’s just as important for him to socialise with adults as it is with kids.
S: We’ve always talked to him as a person, rather than as a baby. We’ll always say ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’, rather than ‘ta’. So consequently he learnt to say, “Thank-you”.
J: They get it.
S: Yeah. So he’s got plenty of friends that he goes and visits. What I was going to say earlier, was that there are a few people that we avoid, children that we try and avoid him playing with. There’s a couple in the mother’s group that are just bullies—outright bullies…
It was so gorgeous the other day when we were at a Christmas party and Olly said to another kid, “Stop. Stop hitting me.”. And he looked up and saw that I was watching what was happening. I was so proud of him for being able to articulate that and remove himself from that [situation].Tweet