Neighborhood resident Todd Lott says that when his wife comes home from work, “I have dinner on the table, and I try to look good for her.”

Though he cracks jokes about his lifestyle, he’s part of a growing number of men both in our neighborhood and nationwide who are taking their role as stay-at-home dad seriously. A 2002 census reports 105,000 men stayed home while their wives went to work, caring for 189,000 children between them.

In fact, according to a recent Pregnancy and Birth magazine survey of 2,000 women and their partners, a third of expectant fathers are either contemplating becoming a full-time, stay-at-home dad or cutting back their hours to spend more time with the kids.

Lott, like many stay-at-home dads, chose to do so for two reasons: His wife, Lola, has a lucrative career, and dealing with the rigors of childcare in a two-working parent household was becoming more hassle than it was worth. For three years now, he has been home with Laila, a junior at Booker T. Washington, and Sophia, a fifth-grader at Lakewood Elementary.

“I had a casting company, and our lease was coming up to renew,” he says. “With production hours, I was often getting home at 7:30 or 8 p.m., and we’d have to hire somebody to pick up the kids. And Lola’s company was doing well, and I was basically breaking even.”

So he quit his job and came home to stay. But how is the new gig working out for him, and for other stay-at-home dads in the neighborhood? For the newly converted, becoming the primary caregiver can come as a bit of a shock.

“When I started, I figured: How hard could it be? Our son was in his last semester of kindergarten, so he was pretty self-sufficient. And our daughter was three and a half, so she was way out of diapers and going to preschool,” says Scott McDonald, a Hollywood Heights resident whose children, Sean and Eliana, are now in third grade and kindergarten.

But of course, it wasn’t as easy as he thought, especially considering the new bosses were under the age of 10.

“The thing anybody contemplating this should consider is, even if you spend a lot of time with your kids after work, you really don’t have a concept of the level of patience that childcare requires,” McDonald says. “If you’ve been working, going into an office and interacting with adults all day, trying to communicate with a three-and-a-half year old for hours at a stretch…it’s quite a challenge.”

Lott says he asked himself the same question – how hard can it be? – and admits now that was naive.

“My wife’s work, and she calls and asks, ‘Hey, what are you doing?'” he says. “It’s just an honest, innocent question. But on some days I hear, ‘So what are you doing all day? Just hanging out? ‘ How do i answer that? I do a million little things, and none of them taken as a single mean anything. But all together, it fills the day and keeps the house going.

“At home, nothing ever ends. Everything melts into the next and into the next.”

Most dads say it’s this monotony of chores, rather than the child rearing, that provide the real challenges of running a household.

“I had never cooked to speak of. I could boil water, use the microwave,” says Jim Kipp, a former investment banker who takes care of a 7-year-old Michael and Andrew, 10.

“There is a little bit of learning curve. For example, I’ve learned to go shopping before the weekends, when it’s jammed. You go on Tuesday morning, there’s nobody in there. It’s much more civilized.

“But it’s certainly not the most stimulating things to be doing: shopping, laundry, mowing the yard,” he says.

McDonald echoes this sentiment.

“I’m really good at doing laundry, and I know exactly how it’s supposed to be done, but it’s become somewhat of a drain,” he says.

“I like to cook. And I’ll do the laundry and fold it,” he says. “But I don’t iron.”

And he adds that even after three years, there are still days when he thinks: What did I do today? What did I accomplish?

“Those are the days that I feel like I’m spinning my wheels, or I’ll start questioning my self-worth,” he says. “But then the good days are when you’re up, you’re involved and doing things. Or you feel appreciation from a teacher.”

In fact, all three men volunteer considerably at their children’s schools. Lott has coached girls’ soccer and softball, boys’ basketball, has served as the “only male room mother,” and is president of his children’s elementary organization for dads. McDonald helped found a pilot tutoring program. And Kipp, for the last two years, has been a member (and this year’s chairman) of his school’s site-based decision-making committee.

But even with homework and volunteer work, the men say they have plenty of time for just hanging out with their kids. It’s the best part of the deal, they say.

This last summer, Kipp took his sons on a month-long trip through Colorado.

“I tend to take a very relaxed approach to things,” he says.”We tent camp; no hotels, no reservations. When don’t have to be anywhere at any particular point in time.

“My wife says I’m using summer as a verb,” he adds with a laugh.

Last year, he and his sons took a six-week trip and visited national parks such as Yellowstone, the Tetons and Mount Rushmore.

“I hope they’ll get something out of it,” Kipp says. “But to be candid, this is for me. I get to have the memories and spend time with them.”

McDonald agrees.

“When I’m around more, they tell me things, tell me stories, things maybe I wouldn’t get – or at least not get all of it – if I had to wait until the evening to come home,” he says.

“I think I’m really going to appreciate the fact that I was able to be with them at this time in their lives.

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