A cruel twist of fate morphed Ron Mattocks into a daddy blogger.
The 37-year-old and his wife, Ashley, 31, both lost their jobs on the same day in February, 2008. Faced with a life of zero income, the Houston, Tex., couple pondered starting a freelance writing business. But in June, when Ms. Mattocks landed a job, the former vice-president of sales and marketing for a residential builder was left at home with his stepdaughters, Allie, 7, and Avery, 6.
That's when Clark Kent's Lunchbox, the blog he started in June, 2007, evolved into a chronicle of his new life as a stay-at-home dad.
"You're used to networking within your profession and now you're isolated at home. There's nobody there except for two kids and you're breaking up fights, you're doing laundry and you're finding Barbie doll heads clogging up the toilet," he says. "It's completely unglamorous, but you can't sit there and pout about it. … There are a lot of guys out there trying to understand that and trying to reconcile that new role."
Unemployed fathers have been hitting up daddy blogs and Web forums in recent months to pick up pointers and find some kind of community while grappling with the tough and, at times, isolating transition to the home front. Men between the ages of 24 and 54 have seen their employment plummet by more than 170,000 jobs since last October - four times more than for women, Statistics Canada reports. And the Web's provided housebound dads with a parenting gateway that simply didn't exist during the recession of the early 1990s, when a stay-at-home dad's best role model was Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom .
The burgeoning world of daddy blogs offers an outlet for dads who've recently met the axe and are wading into a sphere dominated by moms, says Jeremy Adam Smith, the father behind the Daddy Dialectic blog and author of The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms and Shared Parenting Are Transforming the American Family .
"I think when something bad happens to you - and being laid off is bad - it helps to talk about it, to turn it into a story that you tell people. That helps you grapple with this reality [of the]job loss," he says. "Then you run into this new role at home. Taking care of kids is no picnic, as these fathers discover. It can be gruelling. When the kids are napping or late at night, it really kind of helps to get online and bitch or share stories."
While many are excited to take on the new role of primary caregiver, some dads are equally terrified. The transition from being the breadwinner to the afternoon playground chaperone can be tough - a lot of identity gets tied up in it, Mr. Mattocks says.
"All of a sudden all of that [got]sucked out from underneath me. All the ways you kind of measure your own success, promotions, raises - that's all gone. Nobody's patting you on the back, nobody wants to take you to lunch."
The rise of daddy blogs, especially as a resource for men trying to cope with the way the economy has affected their families, is a step in the right direction for giving stay-at-home fathers more confidence and community, says Andrea Doucet, author of the book Do Men Mother? Fatherhood, Care and Domestic Responsibility and a professor of sociology at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Though there are more stay-at-home dads now, men are not as likely to join neighbourhood parenting groups, still dominated by moms. Cyberspace makes it easier to reach out to other men, she says.
"[Dads]are less likely to go to the infant groups and the toddler groups and the playgroups. That is changing. … But technology is something men feel very comfortable using and being part of, so it makes sense that they would feel comfortable connecting with other men that way."
The Web offers distance and anonymity to fathers who may want to keep their anxieties separate from their day-to-day lives, thus transforming other daddy bloggers into advice gurus by proxy.
Doug French, the man behind the blog Laid Off Dad, has been peppered with e-mails from dads who've been laid off during the current downturn. They seem to enjoy the humour and candour with which the Manhattan father of two approached his job loss back in 2003 from a Wall Street equity research company and his subsequent role as stay-at-home dad, he says.
"They would say, 'I read your blog … and I could tell you were obviously nervous, but for whatever reason there was an equanimity about it,'" he says. "They seem to draw strength from the fact that someone else could do it and then react in this way."
Now a math teacher at a private high school in New York, Mr. French says he was freaked out yet thrilled by the prospect of becoming primary caregiver to his sons, Robert, now 7, and Luke, 4. Blogging about his transition into staying at home helped him find his voice as a writer, he says, and he's met many great friends through the site.
San Francisco Bay-area blogger Mike Adamick says he recently reconnected with a childhood friend who had been laid off and was looking for a little help in his new role as primary caregiver. Though he's no newbie in the daddy blogosphere, the author of the blog Cry It Out: Memoirs of a Stay-at-Home Dad, says he still learns new things from creative dad bloggers - something he hopes discouraged laid-off dads may tap into.
"You can also read dad blogs and even mom blogs and just get a better idea of 'Oh wow, I'm having a really frustrating day - that nap didn't go well.' It may be mundane and boring, but you give it a read and you're not alone."
Seeing a boost in demand for daddy blogs, Joe Schatz started up dad-blogs.com in January. When it started, the site ranked in the top five or six million websites by Google PageRank and Alexa Rank, sites that measure how often a page is linked. Now it's in the top 80,000, says the Havre de Grace, Md., dad - a pretty quick rise for a niche site. The father of three has seen a lot of chatter among dads about how they've been affected by the recession - much of it about how dads can save cash.
Mr. Mattocks says he hoped to make a little money when Clark Kent's Lunchbox became a daddy blog. Though he never made enough to support his family, he did create a book, a collection of essays about his transition from an executive to a stay at home dad called Sugar Milk: What's a Drink When You Can't Afford Vodka? to be published in late summer. Writing about the startling switch and sharing it on his blog was therapeutic, he says.
And like many laid-off dads, Mr. Mattocks doesn't plan to be housebound for long. He recently received accreditation for becoming a high-school English teacher and is looking for jobs in the Chicago area to be near his three biological sons.
"[I'm]hoping to turn it around to where I'm back being the primary breadwinner."