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Mr. Mom

John Abrahams Berndt is working in the best job he's ever had. Sure, it's exhausting and frustrating at times, but when his daughter, Leah, 3, or his son, Even, 22 months, run into his arms and give him a big kiss, he realizes that being a stay-a...

John Abrahams Berndt is working in the best job he's ever had. Sure, it's exhausting and frustrating at times, but when his daughter, Leah, 3, or his son, Even, 22 months, run into his arms and give him a big kiss, he realizes that being a stay-at-home dad is exactly what he wants to do.
"I feel pretty blessed that I can be at home with my kids," Abrahams Berndt said, as he helped his son eat yogurt and whole wheat cereal for lunch in their cozy home in rural Duluth earlier this week. "My wife and I thought it was really important that one of us stay at home with the kids. I'm glad it was me."
In the last few years, as more and more families have decided that one parent should stay at home to take care of the children until they're ready to go school, men have stepped forward to take over that role.
"I meet more and more of them all the time," said Ron Deters, a stay-at-home dad who lives in Gary-New Duluth.
"I was in the library the other day getting books with my kids, and there were at least three of us there," Deters said. "It was pretty cool. The only adults in the children's section in the library were guys with their kids."
In fact, Deters said, he and his wife, Julie, and their two young children, Sam and Sylvie, are part of a play group at Washington Center. "At one point, about a year ago, we started noticing that oftentimes the fathers outnumbered mothers at the play group," he said. "They started calling us 'The Nursing Father's Club.'"
Deters laughed. Jokes like these about stay-at-home fathers are fairly common, he said. "It's not a big deal. Usually it's in good intention."
But not always.
Harry Welty, a member of the Duluth School Board who counts himself as, perhaps, a first generation stay-at-home dad because he got the job in 1987, says he still gets mixed reactions when people find out what he does with his day.
"It's not unusual for me to hear, 'Oh, that's a good thing for a father to do,''' he said, "but you really have that suspicion that they're really thinking, 'I'm glad I'm not doing it.'"
He can understand that reaction, he said. "This is not something that most guys aspire to. But I've thoroughly enjoyed the time I got to stay with my kids. I wouldn't trade it for the world."
All three men said their decision to be a stay-at-home dad evolved from a philosophy that one parent should stay at home to take care of the children. Usually the decision was based on who made the most money and had the most job security.
Welty, for example, said he was laid off from his school teacher's job. "My children were young at the time, and it made sense for me to stay home," he said, especially since his wife had a good paying job.
"We had kind of decided that one of us should stay at home anyway, and it was just obvious that I should be the one," Deters said. His wife, Julie, teaches at Cloquet High School.
In the Abrahams Berndt's case, the decision was a little more difficult. John's wife, Lisa, loves her job, which requires a lot of traveling. He, on the other hand, was the aquatics director at the YMCA. He was allowed to bring his children to work, but that wasn't the solution, he said.
"Either your job or your child is taking the second seat," Abrahams Berndt said. So he decided to be a stay-at-home dad.
It's been great, so far, he said. "I do everything that my mother did and everything my father did, pretty much. I mow the lawn, take out the garbage, clean the toilets and do the dishes."
Deters said, "I do most of the laundry, although Julie usually folds a good amount of it. And I do almost all the cooking and baking. At least half of our bread is homemade."
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And they take care of the children, changing diapers, feeding them, comforting them when they're sick as well as providing lots of personal attention and care.
It's made a tremendous difference in the women's professional lives.
"I don't have the same stress that a working mom does," said Lisa Abrahams Berndt. "I don't have to worry if they're sick. I don't have to worry if they're in good day care. He's become a really good 'mom.'"
Julie Deters said, "I can't imagine it any other way, I really can't. It makes an amazing difference, and I think it's especially nice having Ron stay home. The kids and I already have this natural bond that we moms are able to have, and now Ron is able to build a bond with them. He's the perfect choice between the two of us, because he gives the kids all kinds of interesting experiences. He's a very loving father."
The children like it, too.
Leah, Abrahams Berndt's daughter said she likes to have her dad at home, "because he reads me stories. And he helps me build (Lego) towers."
And Keely Welty, who is now in college, recalls she was always proud that her father was a stay-at-home dad.
"He was the cool parent," she said. "He always came to grade school and read to us. I felt very strongly about women being able to do what they wanted. He kind of showed me that we could do whatever we wanted."

Joan Farnam is the Budgeteer community page editor and can be reached at joan.farnam@duluth.com or 723-1207.

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