Meet Pat Byrnes, The Rocket Scientist/Cartoonist/Stay-At-Home Dad Behind CaptainDad.org
4:19 pm, January 23rd | by Hillary Reinsberg
Pat Byrnes is many things: a trained rocket scientist, a cartoonist for The New Yorker, the husband of Illinois’ attorney general and…a blogging stay-at-home Dad. Mommy bloggers — meet your male counterpart: Captain Dad. In our latest Q&A, we chatted with Byrnes about the term Mr. Mom, at-home dance parties, being a New Yorker cartoonist, and his “manly blog of stay-at-home parenting.”
What made you start the “Captain Dad” blog?
The idea came to me the way most great ideas do. My wife suggested it. She had been encouraging me to write a book about stay-at-home fatherhood for years.
Take us through your average day.
It begins with waking up, which is always too easy for the kids and too hard for me. But I scramble downstairs in the hope of arriving before the girls try to serve themselves breakfast. It’s not that I don’t appreciate their initiative, it’s that I don’t appreciate the blanket of crumbs that invariably results on the floor. Once the kids are fed, there is coaxing them into clothes, cajoling them into washing their hands and brushing their teeth, and somewhere in between all that I have to make lunch for the first-grader.
Then my wife drops the girls at school on her way to work, leaving me two and one half hours to cram in a day’s work — ah, bliss — before I have to make the preschool pickup. Next comes lunch. Then play time. Then we read a few books and have some Quiet Time. Then we pile into the car to fetch her big sister from school.
Once we’re all home, I dun the first-grader into doing her homework. Yes, for some incomprehensible reason, first-graders are assigned homework. Then the girls have each other to play with. Somewhere around this time, my wife (usually) gets home and we rack our brains for something meal-like to put on the table.
Dinner, more play, perhaps a Dance Party (my wife and the girls play Motown hits on the iPod and cut a rug), hopefully not a bath (though too often it is necessary), then it’s time for the bedtime ritual. As rituals go, it would cross the eyes of a Greek Orthodox liturgist, but it involves yet more books, plus prayers and singing and stock jokes and, God willing, sleep.
Your site says, “It’s not Mr. Mom. It’s Captain Dad.” What are your thoughts on the term Mr. Mom?
“Mr. Mom” was a fun movie, but it was definitely of its time, before it was normal for dads to take a bigger hand in childcare. Technically, according to whatever authorities have decided such matters, the term now applies only to men who are filling in for mom while they are off work or out of work. In other words, they are somebody’s substitute.
As a cartoonist, I work at home and make my own hours. My wife’s job has more rigid demands. So I am very blessed to have that flexibility and be able to dub myself a Captain Dad voluntarily.
Do you personally still feel stigmatized for your choices? If so, what have you done about it, aside from starting the blog?
Perhaps it comes as no surprise, given my cartoonist orientation, but I harbor a bit of the contrarian in me. So I don’t feel stigmatized by my choice. In fact, I am often the first to bring it up before anyone has to assume that I am filling in on my day off.
You have an Aerospace degree from Notre Dame, and you’re also a cartoonist for The New Yorker. Tell us about that.
I haven’t exactly been a slacker. So maybe that’s why I can choose this path so blithely. I have had several careers, all with their own intense pressures and demands. From being a proverbial rocket scientist to making it in the most competitive, elite cartoon market there is, with advertising and acting careers in between, I can say with some credibility that taking care of the kids is exactly what our mothers always said it was: the hardest job in the world.
Your wife is the Attorney General of Illinois. What’s it like having a high-profile spouse?
Every man thinks his wife is the most wonderful woman in the world. And every man is right. The only difference with me having a high-profile wife is that I often get to hear other people tell me.
Other than that, it’s not that different from having any other spouse who works outside the house.
Lots of dads are playing the stay-at-home parent role these days, but not many want to talk about it. Why do you think that is, and what made you want to talk about it?
I don’t think it’s that they don’t want to talk about it, I think it’s that there’s no one to talk to. And not much to say. You read my average day, didn’t you? Well, by the fourth or fifth night of reporting that same spiel at the dinner table, you get kind of tired of hearing it yourself.
Beyond that, there’s the matter of there not being many other guys at the park to talk to. I mean, other than the guy selling ice cream. The moms are still getting used to us being around, and unless they know us through other, safe channels, they reasonably limit their chit chat with us.
So we’re pretty much on our own most of the time. Me, I’ve worked and lived in isolation for decades, and it doesn’t faze me as much.