Quick things to be aware of:
1. As soon as his interview starts to fade in, after the intro, there are two things going on that might bother you if you’ve got sensory sensitivities. There was a fire in the fireplace so there’s some audible crackling, and I included audio of Aaron opening a can of Guinness, because I liked what it added to the atmosphere, but you may want to just turn it down until about fifty seconds in. It happens again about 1/3 of the way through the interview again. So just be aware if sounds are a thing you need to manage or prepare yourself for.
2. Aaron and I got into politics, literature, music, and party affiliation at the top of this episode, and that conversation lasts until about halfway through. It seems off-topic, perhaps, but it’s important to understand who Aaron is. If you love Hunter Thompson, Pete Seger, Bob Dylan, Green Day, or banned books of any kind, you’re going to LOVE the first half of this episode so much.
Among hundreds of other things, Aaron is the chair of the Democratic Party in Warren, Pennsylvania, which is a small, incredibly red county within an overall red state. In 2016, Donald Trump took 68% of the votes, making Pennsylvania a turning point in the election that, for many of us, represents a dark day in American history.
From there, we transition (awkwardly, as is becoming my signature method of transition in interviews), to the fact that Aaron and his wife Carissa have made the choice to prioritize her career over his. This makes Aaron a full-time, stay-at-home dad. That alone is a unique perspective for a fella to have. I don’t think, before this interview, that I’ve ever sat down and had a candid conversation about the experience of taking on a full-time caretaking role as a man with someone who has. Mainly because I’ve never really found anyone who has.
The decision was a mutual one, Aaron said. After his second hip replacement (Aaron is 39 years old, and had two hip replacements by the age of 21, one while he was still in school…he’s also preparing for a third this coming April), he retired from his position with the state and took a retirement package that included monthly retirement pay. Still, he said, when the two made the choice to have Carissa take the role of primary breadwinner, family and friends – and everyone in between – had an opinion on that choice.
The most interesting, and probably the most meaningful, opinion within the cacophony of them all, though, is Aaron’s own. Aaron said that he dealt with snide comments and sideways glances from others when Carissa became the earner and he became the caretaker for their two sons. He’s able to richly describe the vitriol that exists for all stay-at-home caretakers. “What do you do all day,” he said he gets asked, as well as fielding comments like, “oh, Dad’s home with the kids all the time.”
“I internalize a lot,” said Aaron, who went on to say that he often feels, between himself and Carissa, she would have been the better primary caregiver for their children. “I know I’m not a detriment to them at all,” he clarified at one point, but Aaron confesses he still worries that things like his younger son’s speech delays may have been avoided had someone “better” at full-on parenting taken that role. Aaron identifies many ways in which he fears he may have fell short of his own expectations as a father, and as a stay-at-home dad.
It’s important to understand, though, that Aaron doesn’t regret a single day he’s spent, or will spend, at home with his kids. His older son, Aaron said, went through some things for which he needed his dad present and available immediately following Aaron’s retirement. “If there was ever a blessing in any of it,” Aaron said, “it was that I could be there for him during that time.”
And, Aaron says, while there are points in every day during which he enjoys being a stay-at-home dad, the majority of his anxiety over it stems from internalized rulings handed down to all men (and all women, for that matter), by the court of public opinion. “Men go to work and support their families,” said Aaron. “That’s what we’re told our whole lives. That’s how, we’re told, the world works.” So going against that deeply-ingrained gender expectation to become a stay-at-home dad, said Aaron, induces the occasional existential hiccup that he sometimes needs to take some time and distance to mull over.
Either way, Aaron said, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” Even with the sometimes pervasive cognitive dissonance stemming from what others feel The Stearns’ should be doing and what he and Carissa know, in their hearts, to be best for all of them.
“She’s brilliant,” Aaron said multiple times about Carissa. “She could do anything she wants. But if she wakes up tomorrow and says ‘I’m done,’ then that’s totally fine. We’d figure that out.” For now, though, Aaron said, he stands in awe of his wife every day, and his love for her rings clear and evident, in both his actions and his voice, as he talks about their “nontraditional” family situation.
There’s actually an additional 30 minutes of tape from this interview, during which Aaron goes into even greater depth about the subjective experience of being a stay-at-home dad. And you can unlock that content by visiting the Two Moms Day Drinking Patreon page and becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month. Depending on your pledge, you can unlock all kinds of other great bonus content as well, including behind-the-scenes production stills, monthly ramble and shoutout audios, the opportunity to workshop with me and shape the content of upcoming episodes – taking you from listener to co-creator. New patrons get a handwritten thank you car mailed to the address the give at signup (optional), as well as random cards, promotional materials, and more in the mail throughout the year. Most of the episodes run over an hour, and patrons enjoy exclusive access to that extra conversation each week. They also get their new content a week before it hits iTunes, Spotify, and the rest of the non-monetized platforms on which you can hear 2MDD.
So head on over, check out the tiers, and see if you’d like to get yourself a seat at the cool kids’ table. =) We love everyone, and the community is growing over there. You could also wind up interacting with past guests, so if there’s something you wish had been covered in an episode you can ask that person questions directly!
Alright. I’m all done with show notes I suppose, except to say this: Aaron’s candor and honesty as he discusses his experience of being a man taking on what many consider the “woman’s role” in his marriage and family, begs one enormous question that I think we should all be asking ourselves individually:
What gender roles have you accepted and chosen to live by in your own lives, and what keeps us invested in the gender roles and expectations we’ve all chosen?
Quick things to be aware of: