Lake Bluff resident Chris Hambleton and Lake Forest resident Jeff Folker were successful businessmen, husbands, and fathers.
They spent most of their days, and many nights, away from home while building their careers, while their wives were doing the same. Then they realized that something had to give.
“We got to the point where we didn’t want a third party raising the kids,” said Folker.
Jeff and Julie Folker and Chris and Wendy Hambleton don’t know each other, but they have a lot in common. They were both in a situation where their wives’ careers where thriving, and their husbands were ready to leave the corporate grind to try something new: full-time parenthood.
Both couples chose to have dad stay at home with the kids while mom continued to work.
“To her credit, Julie had the better career and better long term potential and financial situation, and I was in the situation that I wasn’t all that excited about it so it seemed like a natural fit for me to take the step,” said Folker.
Folker has been a stay- at- home dad to Jason, 12, Lindsay, 10, and Jeremy, 6, for the past three years, and has never regretted his decision to leave his job to become the primary caregiver of his family.
“It’s not as stressful for me personally,' Folker said. "I wanted to be an active part of their lives, coaching, and watching their games. With both of us in business, it didn’t afford us that level of opportunity without one of us feeling guilty.”
Hambleton, a former accountant, is dad to Maggie, 17, and Michael, 12, and has been a stay at home dad since Maggie turned three. Before that he took Maggie to work with him at his family’s business.
“I built a wall around my desk area for her to crawl around in while I worked," Hambleton said. "It wasn’t really ideal because I’d work until 6 p.m. or so and then Wendy would come home. I would go back to work because I didn’t get a whole lot done.”
When Wendy Hambleton was promoted and transferred to Chicago, Chris decided to become a full-time, stay-at-home dad.
“We thought that somebody needed to be home with Maggie,” said Hambleton.
Not A Gender Decision
While some people might think that raising children is woman’s work, these two men have proven that gender is not a prerequisite when it comes to being a stay-at-home parent. Organization, patience, and a sense of humor is.
“The first year was the most challenging in regards to logistics," Folker recalled. "As you try to schedule a dance class, and baseball and basketball practices, the logistics of managing a family, it’s more than you give people credit for."
However challenging it might be to schedule three kids’ after school activities, Folker said that being a stay-at-home dad is not as stressful as the corporate world was.
“It’s afforded me a great opportunity to meet people within the school community and the general community as well,” he said.
Like Folker, Hambleton appreciates his role at home.
“It’s easier to be a stay-at-home dad," Hambleton said. "Work could be easy if you didn’t care, but I know that if I was working I’d be there 18 hours a day. It would be horrible. So this is easier for sure, I get to coach games, go to movies in the middle of the day, and go to games.”
Both men have also immersed themselves in their children’s schools and enjoy having the opportunity to get to know their kid’s teachers and friends.
Folker is currently the president of the APT, and volunteers in the classroom and as a lunch room volunteer.
“Jeff renamed ‘milk mom’ to lunch room volunteer at the school because it sounded sexist,” joked Julie.
“Everyone thinks my dad is awesome, my friends like to goof around with my dad and he likes to goof around with my friends,” said Lindsay.
“Everyone hugs him,” added Jeremy.
Hambleton helps at during the lunch hour and in the classroom. He still balances the books for his family company, and also ran a playgroup at St. Mary’s when his kids where younger.
“It’s always me and a whole bunch of moms,” Hambleton said.
“My friends all think he’s cool, but I don’t know what they’re thinking, it’s just a rule, you’re not allowed to think your own parents are cool, it doesn’t work that way,” laughed Maggie.
One of the biggest perks of being a stay-at-home dad is being able to coach the kid’s sports teams. Many teams practice after school, so it isn’t conducive to dads who have to be at the office or travel frequently. That’s not a problem for Folker and Hambleton.
Folker feels incredibly lucky to be able to be there to coach all three of his children’s basketball teams, and his kids like it too.
“I think it’s better [having his dad at home] because dad plays sports mainly and we get more active. Mom would get confused with the sports,” said Jason.
Hambleton, a baseball fan and softball player who played in four Chicago leagues before his wife made him cut back to two, can’t think of anything better than being able to coach and attend his kid’s games.
“He coached my baseball teams and he is always at my swim meets,” said Michael.
“He gets e-mails from parents thanking him for how he coaches his teams. He doesn’t get mad because it doesn’t always matter if you win or not, “said Maggie.
Juggling Multiple Roles
However, as all stay-at-home parents know, there are serious sides to being a full-time homemaker, and it’s not always fun and games. Cleaning, cooking, and making sure that the kids are on track academically are a big part of parenting.
Folker and Hambleton have both learned how to juggle the laundry, the cleaning, and the cooking. They are experts at making sure that their kids have finished their homework and chores, and they both cook.
“The fact that I can be an integral and active part of my kid’s lives, I’m happy with the other things that come with it, managing a house, doing laundry, that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that,” said Folker.
Added Julie, “He’s more apt to prioritize time with the kids rather than household stuff. Where I think women will more naturally have their list of chores for the house, he’ll prioritize going to play put-put with the kids. That’s the way it should be."
“Anything involving sports or academics he’s more serious about,” added Jason.
Hambleton isn’t a big fan of cleaning, but he doesn’t mind. His philosophy is that if you’re home all day and you have the time to clean ,why should you pay someone else to do it? He’s also delegated some of the household chores to his children. Maggie mows the lawn and does the dishes, and Michael takes out the trash. They both clean their rooms.
Playing Good Cop, Bad Cop
Another, and one of the most challenging aspects of being the full-time parent, is disciplining the kids and making sure that they make good choices in life.
“The onus of knowing that you’re influencing your children as they grow, it’s not a burden per say, but it’s certainly quite a responsibility that I try to take seriously. I have a bigger influence now than when I wasn’t at home, which is both a good thing and a scary thing,” said Folker.
Hambleton said that each stage of his children’s lives have had challenges. “When they were little it was changing diapers, then trying to juggle schedules, now it’s restricting the kids but still letting them have some freedoms,” he said.
Folker has had three years to adjust from the corporate to the domestic world, and it’s been smooth sailing the whole time.
“The only thing that’s different is that I notice after APT meetings that I’m not really asked to lunch. That’s OK, I completely understand so I sometimes try to get another stay-at-home dad to grab a bite to eat,” he said.
What The Guys Say
He added that he has never once felt as if his male peers look down on him for choosing to stay home with the kids. He was in the business world for more than 20 years, so he is able to hold his own in conversations that stray from kids and the home.
“I know other dads who stay at home and have recruited two or three in the Cherokee area to join the APT,” said Folker.
Hambleton recalls finding it hard to relate to the moms at the playground when his kids where younger because they would always talk about their pregnancies and child birth, something he couldn’t relate to. But today he said he feels completely comfortable when he’s surrounded by moms, and his male friends envy his life.
“They think I’ve got it made, they would love to be in my position,” said Hambleton.
Being a father is one of the most important responsibilities that a man will face in his lifetime so it’s fitting that families take one day out of the year to show their dads how much they are appreciated, especially stay-at-home dads.
On Father’s day, Folker has two wishes: to spend time with his children and to watch the U.S. Golf Open on television. Hambleton will spend the morning watching Michael’s swim meet and then make dinner for the family.
Their children will no doubt have something special to share with them, although none of them would talk about their secret plans for the day.
Folker and Hambleton love being stay-at-home dads and look forward to being celebrated for the hard work and love that they provide their families on a daily basis. They will also, no doubt, reflect upon the path that they’ve chosen and the influence that they’ve had and will continue to have on their children.
“The role of a stay-at-home parent, I have so much more respect and appreciation for, just because you realize that there’s more to it than anyone gives it credit,” said Folker.
“Family first,” said Hambleton.
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