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Area Dads Are Making It Work Around The Clock For Their Kids

June 17, 2018 GMT

DRUMS — From 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., Eric Dudkowski works as an engineer. From 3 p.m. to midnight, he’s Dad. The father from Drums and his wife, Jen, have two children, two-year-old Grace and nine-month-old Andrew. After the couple had their first child, Dudkowski kept a schedule in which he began work early in the morning. Jen found work that began in the afternoon. One parent was always home with their child. Dudkowski eats dinner with his children, then plays or reads with Grace while Andrew watches or Dudkowski helps Andrew practice standing. After a bath and a snack, he puts them to bed. With their split shifts as parents, family time is at a premium. They try to make the time together special by taking trips together to nearby destinations for their kids to enjoy or by visiting grandparents in the Lehigh Valley. Starting in September, Grace will begin what he calls “day-care light,” two-and-half hours of a day care for two days a week. The goal is to help her socialize with other children and to get used to what school will be like when it’s time for kindergarten. For now, both parents appreciate the time spent with their growing children. He has been able to see his children grow, from Grace’s first words to Andrew’s early crawling. “We feel that Grace is really starting to come into her own and develop her own personality. It’s a really fun time and we don’t want to miss out on that,” Dudkowski said. For example, her parents took her to a new park a few weeks ago. Now, when her father suggests a trip to a park, she tells him if she wants to go to the old park or the new park. “It’s interesting to see how far she’s come in a short time,” Dudkowski said. “It went from ‘Dada” and ‘Mama’ to being able to express what she’s feeling and what she wants. And that’s really cool.” Staying at home Stay-at-home dad Joe Brugger of Barnesville does his best to not stay at home often. He’s a the primary caregiver for his 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Olivia. The most important thing, for him and his daughter, is to keep busy, Brugger said. He joined a “mom and tot” group soon after she was born that meets several times each week. The father and daughter are frequently outside on their own as well. Brugger’s wife is the superintendant at Locust Lake and Tuscarora state parks, which requires them to live at the park. That puts a wealth of outdoor activities just outside their front door. Olivia is an “outdoor kid,” Brugger said, used to camping with her parents and playing outside. It’s something he and his wife value and prioritize in raising their daughter. “With me being home, it’s easier to do those things and interact with that lifestyle,” he said. More fathers are choosing to stay home to care for their children than in the past. The Pew Research Center reported that in 1989, five percent of stay-at-home fathers who weren’t working were caring for their family. Other stay-at-home dads in that survey were unable to find work, ill or disable or attending school, retired or staying at home for another reason. By 2012, 21 percent of stay-at-home fathers were not working because they were their family’s primary caregiver. For the Bruggers, it was an easy decision. Joe was working part-time with L.L. Bean and Tarah was making more money working for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Day care can be expensive. With just one parent working, it would be easier for Tarah to take another DCNR job if it opened up at a different park. Staying busy at home has been helpful for Brugger. He knows friends who have stayed home with their children and not enjoyed it at all. He makes it a point to rarely watch television with his daughter. Instead, they spend a lot of time outside. Because he’s home, he also does most of the other chores necessary for running a house, like cooking, cleaning and laundry. His wife helps with the things he doesn’t get to. “We’re here for the kids first and everything else second,” he said. From nights to days After his daughter was born, Alan Keiper of Wilkes-Barre began working as the night auditor at a hotel. He wasn’t specifically looking for a night shift, but he needed experience after recently completing college, and the night shift would let someone be home with his daughter when his wife, Tamara, was working during the day. He took the job. He worked at the hotel for about a year and a half. Play time for Noelle, who is now four, was often either with just one parent at a time. “The problem wasn’t actually working overnight, but it was the next day, trying to catch up on your sleep, not feeling right, and especially when you have a child at home who really wants to see you and doesn’t want you to sleep,” he said. After gaining some work experience, Keiper decided to make a change. He found an opportunity to work in the accounting department at Clarks Summit State Hospital. It paid better and offered steady daytime hours. Now, Noelle spends more time with both her parents at once. He’s enjoyed fatherhood, and getting to see his daughter grow. “It’s a unique set of challenges, but it’s also an entirely unique set of rewards that you don’t get with anything else in your life,” he said. “When come home, and you get somebody that’s running toward you that’s excited to see you, it’s really something.” Contact the writer: bwellock@citizensvoice.com 570-821-2051, @CVBillW