Sharing The Love Of A Father For His Daughter
Thomas Burger was a stay-at-home dad during the 1970s. Back then, only two percent of fathers stayed home with the kids. He said people often seemed confused when he told them he was a stay-at-home dad.
Forty years later, the number of stay-at-home dads has climbed to four percent. A Pew Research Center survey from 2013 found that eight percent of people in the U.S. said children are better off if their father is home and doesn’t work. More than half think kids are better off if mom stays home.
In 2018, Burger sat down with his daughter, Renee Frymyer, inside the Storycorps recording bus in Charleston West Virginia and told her what it was like.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Burger: I remember the first time I held you. And I can remember I saw your eyes. I didn’t want to scare you. In fact I thought, it’s a good thing babies can’t bring everything into focus because it’s so different out here than it is in the womb. I remember saying, ‘I hope you’re never afraid when I’m around.’ Anyway, I do remember that. But your birth was a big moment in our lives.
I took a year off to be a full-time father, an at-home dad from the time you were a one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half. Lots of good times during those years. Your mom was teaching school; we had moved to Milford, Delaware so she could teach school and support us while we did this so-called experiment.
Frymyer: At the time, this was 1978, ‘79 and there weren't a lot of full time stay at home dads.
Burger: There weren't. Well, not at all in our circle. We were always active in church, in the United Methodist Church, and we joined a church there. I remember taking you to bible study, and there were women with their kids around the circle and here's me with you. People would ask me, ‘What are you doing?’ and I said, ‘I'm a full-time, at-home father.’ People couldn't quite understand that. I often joke that they said, ‘Okay, what are you really doing here? Do you have some kind of terminal illness and you're just kind of waiting? What are you doing? Nobody just stays home.’
Well, I learned later that lots of fathers who are out of work, they're taking care of their kids at home. There are lots of circumstances where many men, fathers, would stay at home and take care of their children. I certainly wasn't a pioneer or the only one. But I wanted to experience fatherhood. I wanted to show your mom that I was committed to raising you. It wasn't just her job. And it was a real blessing.
I remember I had a bike and we had a little baby carrier in the back, not baby but a toddler carrier. It was a seat and we buckled you in. It's not like today where everything's surrounding you and you're wearing a hard hat and everything else. The only thing you had on your head was a little wool woven beanie, no matter where we went.
We would go grocery shopping. I had baskets, wire baskets on the back there just below your feet, where I put the groceries on the way home. And we were pedaling through the parking lot and a couple little ladies in a car drove by and said, ‘Look, look, look, look,’ I said ‘What?’ I turned around and you had gotten the carton of eggs and opened it. [You] just watched them roll out onto the pavement. Plop, plop, plop, there are eggs on the pavement.
You and I took a little walk down to the local pond that was not far from the apartment there. And I told you that [it was] steep there, you might roll into the pond. Well, you wanted to see the pond up close. So you kind of toddled over there and sure enough, headfirst right into this fishy, dirty old pond.
I picked you up, I don't remember if you cried or not, but I picked you up and hurried back to the apartment. Your mom was right by the door sitting at her desk grading papers or doing some teacher thing. And she said, ‘Oh, what's that smell?’ I said ‘That's fish. Your daughter fell in the pond.’ Anyway, we got you cleaned up and we moved on. We had a wonderful year, I thought.