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How Tough Could It Be? the Trials and Errors of a Sportswriter Turned Stay-at-Home Dad


How Tough Could It Be? the Trials and Errors of a Sportswriter Turned Stay-at-Home Dad

Remember the old "I Love Lucy" episode where Ricky and Fred dare to trade careers with Lucy and Ethel? While the girls are off trying to dip and wrap bon bons, the boys make a mess of things around the house and, as the saying goes, "hilarity ensues."

The clueless husband/dad has long been a staple of radio and television sitcoms, from "The Life of Riley" to "Everybody Loves Raymond." How tough could it be, men patronize, to sit around the house all day, do a few dishes, toss some clothes into the washing machine, and put a simple meal on the table? Life on Easy Street.

You'd think they would have learned something after fifty or so years.

Austin Murphy, a writer for Sports Illustrated, is the latest link in this chain of fools to take up the challenge as he considers this age-old question.

Murphy makes what he considers the ultimate sacrifice as he takes on the challenge of being a stay-at-home-dad (SAHD) for six months, allowing his beleaguered wife, Laura (herself a magazine journalist), the time she has so richly earned to do her own thing. He is at times humorous and philosophical as he tries to convince the reader how difficult he has it between the car pools, grocery shopping and school bake sales. He expects us to feel sorry for him because of a marked lack of appreciation from his spouse; he makes no bones about this resentment. Recalling a difficult vacation (one of several his family takes over the course of the six months), Murphy gripes over his wife's attitude about his questionable choice for the kids' breakfast: "This is why our Ski Week is off to such a spectacularly poor start. Some nincompoop gave them cereal." Where's the love, he wants to know? As mothers and wives all over the world might answer him, "Welcome to my world."

You'd think the author's endeavor was a heretofore unheard of concept (despite the aforementioned comedy programs). For some reason Murphy's "whacky" story even merited airtime on a San Francisco news program. One of the moms in his new social circle expressed her bemusement (and those of millions) over such attention: "'I've been doing this for nine years, and there are times when it feels like I'm invisible, that what I'm doing doesn't matter. You're in, what, you're [sic] fourth month? And you've got a television crew following you around.'"

At least Murphy had the good sense to admit, "I'm . . . no more than a day-tripper, an actor immersing himself in a role." And of course, by book's end, he comes away with the obligatory epiphany and a new appreciation for the need to be not "Mr. Mom" or "Dad" (with their preconceived notions), but simply a parent, contributing to the daily rituals of family life.

Many will no doubt believe Murphy gets everything that's coming to him for being so out of the loop. It's difficult to believe that any adult male approaching middle age can be so unconscious about what goes on around the home.

In that regard, these readers might be understanding and sympathetic towards his wife who, after years of benign neglect, seems uninterested in lifting a finger to help him, to an almost cruel extent. Reading between the lines, one can almost hear it in her voice: "I told you so," "It isn't as easy as it looks, is it?" and even "Hey, not my problem."

As a SAHD myself for the past couple of years, I must admit I found HOW TOUGH COULD IT BE? a bit hard to take. Most of the everyday situations (for which you'd think he feels entitled to a Nobel Prize) are not rocket science but simple common sense. His complaints about the difficulty of making a reduction sauce for the pork chops (the Murphy family seems to be fairly well-off, as is their circle of friends) or keeping track of his young kids' idiosyncratic behaviors will no doubt be funny to those who still get a chuckle out of Ralph Kramden and Fred Flintstone, but the "duck out of water" concept --- which may have been novel for a generation in which the social order dictated that men worked outside and women handled the domestic chores --- is an anachronism that doesn't, or shouldn't, float anymore.

If there's one lesson HOW TOUGH COULD IT BE? teaches, it's to appreciate the hard work that goes into every aspect of family life. Earning a paycheck outside the home is no excuse for abrogating responsibilities inside.

HOW TOUGH COULD IT BE, Mr. Murphy? As tough as you want to make it.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan ( on January 22, 2011

How Tough Could It Be? the Trials and Errors of a Sportswriter Turned Stay-at-Home Dad
by Austin Murphy

  • Publication Date: May 3, 2004
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
  • ISBN-10: 0805074805
  • ISBN-13: 9780805074802