What is a homeschool dad? If you said it’s a guy whose wife homeschools, you’re usually right. These dads come in more or less helpful varieties.
The unhelpful ones put their wives on trial with a “let’s see how you perform” mentality. They’re not sold on homeschooling, merely tolerating it. They are dubious that it will produce the Ivy League sports star that they dream of. Meanwhile, the house and meal plan better not suffer.
The helpful ones, such as my husband, support homeschooling with an appreciative attitude, a willingness to accept “good enough” when it comes to house and meal plans and are always there to cheer their wives on for their valiant efforts and rub their feet when necessary. I will add that Greg, a gifted teacher, has often tried to help with the teaching. Other helpful husbands do just that, taking the burden of a subject or two off their wives’ shoulders. We homeschool moms cherish those fellows indeed.
There is another type of homeschool dad, however, who is in a class by himself — and often feels like he is. It is the man who takes on the main role of teacher.
Those guys fully merit the title “homeschool dad.” They are a rare and exotic breed among homeschoolers. Your best chance of spotting one is at a homeschool curriculum fair though they are occasionally encountered in the wild. In my more than 26 years of homeschooling I have met… let me see… six and a half. That includes the two I met over the internet who responded to my articles saying in essence, “Don’t ignore us dads. We homeschool too!”
John Clark, who writes for these pages, is a homeschool dad of nine children. He says people often ask his wife Lisa how she does it all. “I’ve never been asked a single time. Then when she tells them that I do most of the homeschooling, they usually laugh and say, ‘Sure, he does’ with a wink.”
“It’s a women’s club,” says Jay Tellado, a personal friend. A retired NYPD captain, Jay took on homeschooling with a passion and showed up at his daughters’ co-op eager to pitch in. He got discouraged when he found himself feeling frequently sidelined.
This I can’t get over. I would have thought the opposite would happen and women would go home and start nagging their husbands, especially traditional women who are expected to cook, clean, have 10 babies, homeschool, and sell almond butter soap on the side.
But Clark assures me that he has encountered the same chilly reception. “A homeschool mom once told me that she doesn’t want men at conferences. She said it was her chance to get away with her girlfriends.” He adds, “Think about every homeschool book, blog, column and speech you’ve ever heard. How many are addressed to men?”
Well, I once spoke on how dads should recognize that homeschooling is a mom’s second job and then had the staggering experience of a dad humbly come up to my table to say, “Thank you for your talk. I’ve been selfish. I am going to help my wife more.” But even that talk wasn’t specifically about men’s issues.
Clark is right — I’ve seen few talks or articles addressed to homeschooling men by homeschooling men.
Homeschool dad Kory Willis finds a lot of encouragement from the articles Clark has done. He reiterates that there is not much out there by men for men, nor is there much evident support from women. “I’ve had the feeling that some homeschooling moms don’t know quite what to make of a homeschooling dad.”
Yet it was men who planted the idea of homeschooling into Willis’ head in the first place. When his daughter was born a priest told him frankly, “You have to homeschool this child.” Though he initially thought the priest was nuts and dismissed the idea, a few years later a teacher friend, disillusioned with the methodology and politics of the public education system, brought it back to him. “If your daughter shows any signs of having above-average intelligence, you should consider homeschooling.”
As for Willis himself taking on the main teaching role, there were several factors — he enjoyed teaching and felt he could make a difference, he was able to sell his share of a successful business and stay home, but more than that he experienced how deeply wounded his sister was when his father left after a divorce. “I wanted to be sure that I would always be available for our daughter.”
I asked Willis what kind of resources or support system he wished existed for homeschool dads.
“Simple recognition would be a nice start. I started, out of family necessity, working for pay at age 14, and have worked at many a job; this one has been far from the easiest.”
No. It isn’t. I once called a homeschool dad a superhero in one of my articles. I’ll say it again. That goes for anyone who takes on the main teaching role but if you factor in a lack of support, it would make the job harder. I know I wouldn’t have survived without my fellow homeschool moms.
Willis opines that perhaps there are more dads who would like to homeschool but simply don’t think it’s possible. “I’d bet there are at least a few who would not only like to do it but would find it very fulfilling.”
Willis relates a moment — not unlike ones I’ve experienced — when the rewards of homeschooling make all obstacles seem trifling. “A few years ago, we were at the vet with our cat. Our daughter went up to the counter and engaged an older woman working behind the desk in a lively conversation about animals. The woman was obviously charmed and enjoying the encounter. After they had been talking for a while, the woman asked our daughter, ‘Where do you go to school?’ She replied that she homeschooled, to which the woman nodded, smiling, and said, ‘I thought so.’”
Do you plan to stick with it for the long haul? I ask him. “Certainly through the end of this week,” he says. He adds, “It’s very important to try never to lose your sense of humor.”
Until more men boldly go where few men have gone before, the image of “homeschool mom” will prevail and a google search of percentage of homeschool dads will continue to yield zero results. Maybe homeschool dads can band with homeschool grandparents and homeschool older siblings and unite to shake up the stereotype. Meanwhile, they should know that their efforts are appreciated where it counts the most — by their own wives and children and by God and even by a few of us stereotypical homeschool moms who know what it takes to do the job.
This article originally appeared in the National Catholic Register and is reprinted with permission.