When Robert Payne hits up playgrounds and singalongs with his 1-year-old son, Lachlan, he’s usually the odd man out.
“It’s mostly moms and nannies,” the 39-year-old London transplant tells The Post. The former stone mason lives on the Upper East Side with his wife, Theresa, who works in finance. “People will say, ‘You’re lucky to have the day off,’ ” Payne says. “They don’t seem to realize I’m a stay-at-home dad.”
The squad of full-time fathers is growing: In 1989, only 10 percent of stay-at-home parents were dads — compared to 17 percent in a 2018 report from the Pew Research Center. In the media, family guys are getting well-deserved attention, from superstar papas John Legend and Adam Levine changing diapers in a Super Bowl commercial for Pampers to Mr. Incredible heroically holding it down in “The Incredibles 2” while his wife scoots off to fight crime.
But off-screen, stay-at-home fathers say they still struggle against stereotypes.
“People believe that what we’re doing — raising kids and taking care of the house — is not a job,” says Jason Greene, a father of four who has been heading things up at home since his oldest son, Wyatt, now 14, was born. “It’s annoying.”
But Greene says he’s juggling plenty, from cooking and cleaning to doing up to six loads of laundry every day — “my gym membership,” he says wryly. The 44-year-old shuttles his crew from school, to doctor’s appointments, to playdates, and shows up for parent-teacher conferences solo when his wife, Cara, a lawyer, is stuck at work.
The former actor admits that “gender reversal” can sometimes impact his marriage. “Back in the old days, the man would come home from work and kick off his shoes and throw his coat down somewhere” — and the woman would flip out about his carelessness, he says. “[My wife and I] have those same arguments, but I’m the one that’s upset that the shoes don’t go there.”
‘It took a little for my mother to stop asking me when I was gonna go back to work.’
Greene says it can also be tough to relate to men with more traditional careers, and conversations get awkward quickly when other guys ask what he does for a living. “There’s always blank look,” he says. “So I’ll crack a joke, like, ‘It’s the best job in the world during March Madness.’ ”
Xavier Rojas, 35, agrees that people get “confused” when he says that he actually likes being home full-time with his 18-month-old daughter, Lilou.
After she was born, Rojas took a temporary leave of absence from his human resources position to help his wife, Stacey, while she was out on maternity leave. But three months later, when she had to return to work as a clothing designer, the couple had not yet managed to find a nanny they liked. So Rojas quit his job and embraced his new role.
“It took a little for my mother to stop asking me when I was gonna go back to work,” says the Astoria resident. And she’s not the only dame giving him a hard time: “When my baby is crying, I’ve had [older women in my neighborhood] come up to me and try to explain to me what I should do or how to hold her,” he says, adding that these would-be helpers assume he’s inept because he’s a man.
Lance Somerfeld, a stay-at-home father to two children, 10 and 3, says that guys like him deal with the typical challenges that come with round-the-clock parenting, such as loneliness and isolation. However, it can be even harder for dads to cope because they don’t have access to the same social outlets that harried moms do.
After his son Jake was born in 2008, Somerfeld, a former teacher, started scouting for infant-friendly activities. But he quickly learned that “everything was incredibly mom-centric: mom-and-me playgroups, mom-and-me massage, new-mom lunches,” he says. “I was feeling frustrated and also the need, being an extrovert, to connect with people.”
So, the Upper East Sider created a meet-up, along with friend and fellow stay-at-home dad Matt Schneider. The City Dads Group currently has 2,100 members in New York City, and has expanded into 37 other cities.
Somerfeld, whose wife, Jessica, works in finance, says that the community has been invaluable for him as a way to connect with other men who understand the highs and lows of raising kids. He says the dads in the group talk about everything, from the agonies of sleep training to the funny moments that come with daughters. “We’re in princess mode now,” Somerfeld says of his days with Jade, 3. “We’re having tea parties, and every day is coronation day: She’s Elsa and I have to be Anna.”
Aside from the personal benefits, Somerfeld says he also likes that the group is helping to change the face of modern parenting.
“With my son, we’d have playgroup, and we’d have 20 guys at the zoo with their strollers and baby carriers,” he says of the early outings back in 2009. “People were gawking and making comments like, ‘What’s the story? Is this Dad’s day out?’ ”
Thankfully, it’s happening less and less these days, he says. “I think we’re turning a corner now,” he says. “It’s a very exciting time to be a father.”