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Dads caring for kids while mom works

When their first child arrived four years ago Curtis Cooper and his wife agreed that she would keep working and he would become a stay-at-home dad. It's working for them and many other families across the country.

"It's been great," says Cooper of St. Paul, Minn., who now watches Brett, 4, and Brooke, 2 1/2, while their mom, Pam, works in a marketing job.Cooper has plenty of company.

The Census Bureau reported Wednesday that 1.9 million fathers were their children's primary caregivers as of 1993, down a bit from 2 million in 1991 as the economy improved and more fathers found jobs.

Robert Frank of Loyola University in Chicago, who has studied stay-at-home fathers, says many of them "are really wanting to be part of their child's life and are sacrificing career opportunities to be with their kids."

But the main consideration in deciding who stays home is the desire to have the parent who made more money keep working, he said.

Peter Baylies of North Andover, Mass., an at-home dad who publishes the At-Home Dad newsletter, agrees that the number of men staying home "has leveled off, but I think it will slowly increase as more women work and more businesses are run at home . . . and dads want to be more involved with their children."

Years ago, when a man was laid off, he immediately went looking for another job. Now, with women more willing to take jobs and getting paid more, many fathers can choose to stay home while their wives work, he explained.

It takes some adjusting.

"A lot of guys find themselves going from the good old boys network to the good old girls network, Baylies said. "They find themselves standing in playground full of women and have no idea what to do. It's a whole new set of rules, and that can be very intimidating.

"I felt like I was on a different planet."

That's why he launched his news-letter and Cooper founded the Dad-to-Dad support group for at-home fathers across the country.

The new Census report, "My Daddy Takes Care of Me: Fathers as Care Providers," found that in 1993, 18.5 percent of fathers whose wives worked were the primary caregivers for youngsters under age 5.

That was down from 22.4 percent in 1991, a peak that Census demographer Lynne M. Casper speculated was due to the recession that began in 1990.

The declines since then appear to be "driven by changing economic conditions rather than fathers becoming less interested in taking part in their children's lives," she said.