Isaac Ikonen sneaks into the pizza sauce while his dad prepares dinner at their home in Waterford, Mich. Paul Ikonen, who works part-time, is now the primary caretaker of Isaac. "I don't know if we'd be this close if the lay-off hadn't happened," said Ikonen. (Kathleen Galligan/Detroit Free Press/MCT)

When their preschooler was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition, the Amicucci family of Troy, Mich., decided that one parent needed to quit working and stay home.

Money matters made it clear that the stay-at-home parent should be the dad, John Amicucci.

As chief physician extender of the emergency center at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., Julie Amicucci out-earned her husband, who was working in the custodial department for the City of Sterling Heights, Mich.

But long after their now-10-year-old daughter Erika's daily medical monitoring has ended, and after the birth of a second child, 6-year-old Rachel, the Amicuccis have stuck with the arrangement.

"It has just made sense," said Julie Amicucci. "We need that rock at home."

John Amicucci, 49, is among the growing ranks of 158,000 dads in the U.S. who stay home for countless reasons.

For an increasing number of families, it makes sense, given that the recession has hit male-dominated fields the hardest; women wield more economic power than ever, and child care costs are rising faster than inflation -- according to a January report by the Center for American Progress from the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

The new mom

According to the Sphere Trending report "Women in 2010: The New Mom," men lost 82 percent of the 8 million jobs clipped by the recession. And the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that more than a quarter of working women now out-earn their working husbands.

"In this economic climate with people losing their jobs, losing their homes, with foreclosures out of control, people need to understand the family unit is different than it was in 1960 or 1970," said John Amicucci. "You're doing what you need to do to make your family whole, to run properly and to make sure kids have a place to come home to and feel secure.

"Whether it is the mother or the father, it's just important that it gets done."

Amicucci cooks meals, does the bulk of the housework, shuttles his two daughters to soccer and swimming practices and coordinates everyone's busy schedules.

"Every decade, more women went to work. Every decade, women became more educated," said Jeremy Adam Smith, author of "The Daddy Shift: How Stay-at-Home Dads, Breadwinning Moms, and Shared Parenting Are Transforming the American Family" ($25.95, Beacon Press).

"The traditionally male industries have been hit hardest by economic change. The men who refuse or are unwilling or unable to adapt will fall way behind.

"We now have decades worth of voluntary stay-at-home dads," Smith said. "The message to this new wave of suddenly unemployed fathers is that you still have something to contribute to your family. It's a pathway men can step into that they didn't have before."

Changing roles

Though many modern men aren't as wrapped up in job title as those of the past, Smith said, it is common for some to feel that it is their duty to provide financially for their families.

Consider Paul Ikonen of Waterford, Mich.

For Ikonen, 29, unemployment came in 2009 when he lost his job as a youth director at Shepherd Fellow Church when it merged with another Waterford church. It was right before his son, Isaac, was born. Since then, Ikonen has been the family's primary caregiver.