CHAEL ZOREK wonders whether one day ? maybe within his toddler's
lifetime ? people won't be interested in choices like his. But right now
his son, Jeremy, is only 14 months old, and complete strangers are curious
about his father's role in his life. "You tell people, `I'm home full time
with my son' and they don't know what to say next," Mr. Zorek said.
"Usually they ask, `You mean you work from home?' And I have to explain
that Jeremy is the only work I do right now."
"I'm often asked about my child care arrangement," said his wife,
Shelly Friedland, a lawyer who arrives at their Upper West Side apartment
at 7:30 or 8 most nights. "When I tell them `my husband is home with my
son' there's a silence."
It has been a year since Mr. Zorek left his public-relations job to
care for Jeremy, and a year since I wrote about his decision to do so. His
tentative steps toward that choice began when his wife was pregnant and
they realized they would have to spend Mr. Zorek's entire after-tax income
on a nanny's salary, effectively living on his wife's income as a
"For almost the same money we could have a parent there full time and I
could also do the things that a nanny usually wouldn't do, like putting
the photos in the albums," Mr. Zorek said back then.
So he bought a filing system that would hold 900 photographs and he
left the office for home. A year later, what surprises him most (aside
from the fact that he is remarkably good at shopping, and cooking, and
entertaining an energetic toddler all day) is how unusual he is, even on
the progressive streets of New York. "I don't know any other stay-at-home
fathers," he says, admitting he yearns a bit for pals like himself. "I
hear they're out there, but I don't meet them."
For reasons he can't explain, he says, dads tend to come to the
playground only on Fridays, but he rarely talks to them. "I've become
friendly with a couple of the moms there," he says. "I have more in common
with them than the fathers."
When strangers see him out and about with Jeremy, they often call him
Mr. Mom ("No," he says, "I am just Dad") and they say things like
"Giving Mom a break, are you?" ("No," he answers, "she gives me a day off
His role as Jeremy's personal shopper has resulted in junk mail and
spam e-mail messages that read: "Dear Michael, right about now you and
your husband are finally getting a good night's sleep." And a toy company
sent a card that said: "Mike, you are so special, there's a day named in
your honor. Let us wish you a very Happy Mother's Day." He even threatened
to cancel his subscription to one parents' magazine when it ran an essay
contest that was open only to women with children.
"I'm the one who does the shopping and I'm the one who does the
cooking," he says, still angry. "Why is it only sexist when women are
The tentative plan is for Mr. Zorek to re-enter the working world when
Jeremy is in kindergarten. He worries that he will face the same awkward
silence from interviewers that he now faces at cocktail parties; the same
silence women face when they re-enter the work force ? and then some. So
he is doing what so many women do when they opt out for a few years of
motherhood: volunteer projects for causes he believes in "to keep my hand
in" he says, and to fill the potential résumé gap.
Mostly, though, his days are filled with Jeremy. Though he has yet to
tackle the growing pile of photos he swore he would catalog back when he
began this job, he is generally tackling fatherhood with all the organized
gusto he brought to his working life.
He has created a Web site for his son, filled with pictures of the boy
with the celebrities they happen upon as they wander around New York
(whoisthatwithjeremy.com.) And he has been shuttling Jeremy to "look-sees"
and photo shoots for his burgeoning modeling career. That has earned the
toddler nearly $1,000 in the last six months, which, the father notes, is
"more than I have made in the last year."