by Ken Gerber
Ken Gerber has been the primary caregiver and househusband for 16 foster children and two sons.
Or, right-click here to download the audio file: Raised by Ice Cream Truck Drivers
Right here at the beginning, I need to testify that when I started dating, I was not looking for someone who could keep me in the manner to which I had become accustomed. I come from your average home where dad worked and mom stayed at home. My dad was a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department for 18 years. Often he would come home after I had gone to bed and leave before I woke up. That is, if he came home at all. Sometimes instead of driving the hour-and-a-half home, he would just go the police academy and catch a few hours’ sleep before his next job. My mom ran the household. She did a good job, even though I think she hated every minute of it. I think she wished she could go out and work in the world.
I’m the oldest of seven children, one girl and six boys, so chores were not divided up the way they are in other houses. We didn’t have guys’ chores and girls’ chores. Thus, I ended up changing many diapers before I got married and had my own kids. Cleaning the kitchen, scrubbing the bathroom, and vacuuming the floors were all part of my life.
After a mission and four years in the Marine Corps, I enrolled at Southern Utah University, which is a great place to go if you want to get a few dates. But I did not run an ad reading, “man seeking a woman who will support him and their children—and buy him toys.” The stay-at-home-dad shtick wasn’t the dream I sold my wife or myself. I planned to be a normal working dad, and she had set out to be a stay-at-home mom. She’s very talented and has all the skills a stay-at-home mom needs.
I got a running start on being a stay-at-home dad when I volunteered to do foster care. We had 16 kids come through our home, most of them between 14 and 18 and living with us anywhere from six months to a year. They had all been court-ordered into a drug and alcohol program. I was the one who met them when they got back from school and took them to their drug and alcohol meetings.
But what really turned me into a stay-at-home dad was managing a retail ice cream outlet. Okay, I ran an ice cream truck—the kind that drives through your neighborhood playing the same three bars of music over and over and over. One day our child care provider called up and said, “I can’t do it anymore.” So I decided, “Well, until I find somebody else, I’ll just take the tyke to work with me.”
We had it all set up. I stuck his potty chair in the back, and he would play around while we tooled through the neighborhoods. He got all the free ice cream he could eat, and became one of my best sales people; when the kids would come up, he would point out the ice creams he liked. And the ladies would say, “Oh, he’s so cute. Can I buy your son an ice cream?” I didn’t argue. We did that for about 18 months, eight or nine hours a day.
At one point, I almost got the male provider thing right and was delivering for Schwan’s 12 to 14 hours a day. My wife and son would often meet me at a park in the area I was working, and we’d have dinner together for half an hour before I went back to work.
Eventually, we realized that we could make more money if we went back to school. We decided to live in my in-laws’ basement while my wife went to the University of Utah. I worked for a few months at the beginning, but one day I was sitting at my desk and then suddenly woke up lying on my back staring at the ceiling. I had no idea what had happened. I was rushed to the hospital, where they decided that I’d had a seizure. They didn’t know why I’d had it or if I’d have any more, so they sent me home. We had driven just a few miles before I had another seizure right there in the car. So my wife U-turned and took me straight back to the hospital.
Two-and-a-half months later, our second son was born. Because I was still recovering at home, I ended up being the stay-at-home dad. I also started assisting another family that had just lost their mother. Dad had five kids and was working full time, so he hired me to bring my two boys over and take care of his house and kids. My wife would come over after work, we’d all have dinner together, and I’d take my family home. So I was caring for two households. My wife has been very supportive through all this. Many times she has said she would put her husband up against any housewife she’s ever met.
We’ve met plenty of challenges along the way, including bias from co-workers, acquaintances, and even some relatives. They’ve made remarks such as, “She should be home with the kids, not in the workforce.” Even the people on the bus to the university assumed she was going to school so that she could be a teacher, since that’s obviously the only reason a woman would be studying chemistry and biology. She had actually planned to go to med school. That changed, and she’s now a lab technician. Even though my wife’s employer works hard at making everything equitable, there’s still evidence of women being paid less than men for doing the same job. We’ve lived in Oregon and Utah and have had similar issues in both places.
When my youngest son was about three, he started wearing his mom’s shoes around the house. It was really cute. When we asked him what his footwear choice was about, he said, “Well, I want to be a mommy because I want to go to work. I don’t want to stay at home like Daddy.” We explained to him that in most families, daddies are the ones who go to work—and he quit cross-dressing.
Sometimes people accuse me of being a slacker. But, you know, I’ve tried everything to make things different. I’ve prayed, fasted, gone to the temple, gotten priesthood blessings, applied for jobs, and started several businesses hoping for a different life experience. The experience didn’t change, so I decided I would. I just ignore the fact that what I’m doing is not normal or accepted. I figure if this is a sin, well, party on! I’ll go to hell knowing I was the best father I could be and that I filled the needs of my family to the best of my ability. If my family role is the biggest problem my boys have to complain about, they’re probably getting off easy.