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."
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.
But he's not ready for the stay-at-home-dad label yet.
Ikonen also has worked part-time selling aviation cleaners; he has taken classes at Oakland Community College, and he has continued to hunt for a full-time job.
The part-time work doesn't actually add to the Ikonens' bottom line, since almost all of his pay goes to the babysitter required to get him out of the house. But Ikonen said it's crucial for his mental health to feel that he is providing.
"I think for our marriage, we grew up knowing that the husband is supposed to provide," Ikonen said. "He's supposed to go out and work all the hours. That's certainly how my parents were, and that's how (my wife) Janelle's parents were. ... That's kind of the model we've been given. And it seems like that is the best-case scenario."
Those types of identity struggles are common for stay-at-home dads. "I'd describe those feelings as ubiquitous," said Smith, who spent two years researching stay-at-home dads and interviewing them across the country.
The goal for most families is to evolve to a place where both parents flourish in their roles.
Chris Singer, 38, and his wife, Deb Bailey, decided well before having children that one parent would stay home. It was always negotiable which one that would be.
The economy helped push Singer into that role when his full-time position as a communications director at a non-profit ended a month before 18-month-old Tessa was born.
Singer said it has been a time that he has cherished. He has loved being there to see Tessa grow. He also has tapped into what he dubbed a natural domestic side with ease.
"We cloth-diaper," Singer said. "I think I've done all but 4-5 loads since Tessa's been born."
In December, Singer started a blog called "SAHD In Lansing" to document his life and reach out to other dads.
Through the blog, he met another father from Portland, and the two began an online radio show called "Band of SAHD" in which they discuss parenting issues, among other things.
"It's a great opportunity," he said. "I know a lot of my friends will be like, 'I think it's cool you stay home, but I don't think I could do it.' But I get to see her grow, I saw a lot of the milestones, and it's kind of fascinating to see all the little changes that happen."
Singer also provides some income doing consulting work for Ingham County Intermediate School District, and his wife works for the non profit Michigan Fitness Foundation.
As much as Singer loves the stay-at-home arrangement right now, he said he knows it isn't forever.
"I think my wife accepted her role the same way I would if I was in her position," he said. "At times, she is envious and wishes she could stay home. But there will be a time when our roles will switch again."
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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.