Parenting today has a different face, and it sometimes comes with a beard. Gone are the days when it was just the woman who stayed home from work to look after the children. Though the majority of care-giving duties for kids still fall on moms, more and more dads are stepping up to the plate, to be the primary parent involved. The message is loud and clear; save a spot on the playground for stay-at-home-dad (SAHD).

Howard Ludwig is a former business reporter who now chases toddlers, not news stories. He loves being home with his boys and says his introduction to playgroups and meet ups with stay-at-home-moms was a little strange. However, Ludwig acknowledges that things are certainly better and more comfortable for everyone involved.

Mom vs. Dad
“The stay-at-home-dad thing is becoming more common. It seems like moms are becoming used to the idea of dudes on their turf. I don’t get the sort of strange looks that I used to when I show up at 11 a.m. at the public library with my kids. I remember feeling like some women thought I was using my kids as bait to get their phone number or others thinking I was Stranger Danger. That seems to be happening less these days.”

Local dad Richard Jones, co-founder of “A Dude’s Guide,” had quite a different, but pleasant experience when he first stepped into the stay-at-home-parent forum. “… little babies really are chick magnets. When I was toting around my youngest little dude in his Snuggly, I was often besieged by women wanting to chuck his chin and tickle his feet.” Jones admits that although he was always welcomed into a mommy-heavy parenting group, the conversation sometimes got a little awkward at times.

“It was a bit uncomfortable for them, though, since they often were discussing things Men Were Not Meant to Know and I was, technically, a man. Still, it was a cordial relationship.” Jones, also a former newspaper reporter, enjoys new friendships with other moms and their spouses and feels lucky and honored to take on the role.

“I absolutely love being the stay-at-home parent. I got to be closely involved in watching and helping my little dudes grow up and make huge steps toward becoming the sort of big dudes they want to become,” says Jones. There is one drawback for the daddy blogger. “…I’m around my kids so much they’ve heard all my best material.”

Ludwig concurs that being home with the kids is a fantastic opportunity. “. I get to see my kids make all these little discoveries throughout the day. Silly things like realizing that the tail of a plastic dinosaur fits in their nostril. Or watching them discovers the miracle of the light bulb going on when they hit the switch.”

For “Rookie Dad” columnist Brian Kantz, staying home provides “opportunities that vastly outweigh those opportunity costs…This have become my meaningful ‘work’.” Kantz’s latest article questions whether staying at home has been worth it, financially, personally, career-wise and otherwise. He does admit that he misses adult conversations, but feels being home with his kids is the better choice.

Virtual Man Cave
Adults need to be with other adults from time to time and most SAHDs admit they miss water-cooler quips and office interaction. To combat the feeling of isolation, dads have now joined forces in the virtual world swapping stories, sharing nightmares and congregating in their virtual man caves, with dad web sites, blogs and dad chat rooms.

For Ludwig, connecting with other dads wasn’t just about having someone to talk to. It actually helps his children understand that other dads hang out with their kids too. “The benefits of connecting with other dads online are considerable for me and my kids… they see they aren’t the only ones who goes to the park during the day with daddy instead of mommy.” Ludwig is connected with “The Father Life,” an online website for dads to band together.

Jones, on the other hand, has had a different experience with the virtual man cave. “As to getting together with other stay-at-home dads, well, I’m something of a failure there. Mostly I talk to them through my blog and hope for comments to know that the microphone is actually working. I tried going to message boards for dudes like me, but it took up too much time that I had to devote to the manly arts of cooking and laundry.”

All joking aside, Jones does physically meet up with a few local dads at the gym. Being with “like-minded” men helps him stay connected in the real world. His blog “A Dude’s Guide,” keeps him linked in with dads in the virtual world, and in-tune with a growing community of male caregivers.

Meaghan Clark is web editor for Charlotte Parent magazine.