Lunch with Marjorie: Making a valid choice to be a stay-at-home dad—part one

Jim Maier wanted to tell me about Rockford Dads, a group he started after deciding to be the stay-at-home parent in his household. We lunched at Five Forks—a favorite—while soft jazz dimmed against the bustle of the lunch crowd.

Marcy took our order.

“My real name is Marsha,” she confessed.

Jim did Brady Bunch humor. Tall, handsome, contagious smile, he looks more GQ than Mr. Dad.

“When did you decide to stay home with Andrew?” I asked.

“It pretty much was made going in,” he said.

“Selecting Five Forks tells me something about you,” I said.

“I like good food,” Jim said. “I grew up in Lafayette, La. My mom has always been a very good cook, and she likes to eat in restaurants. I got exposed to a lot of really interesting cuisines.”

I salivated over the menu description of seared ahi with red onion, mango, blackberries, pecans in a ginger sesame dressing.

“That first sandwich on the list looks fabulous,” Jim said: smoked bacon, Granny Smith apples, triple cream Brie with cran-raspberry honey spread.

After high school, Jim moved to St. Louis, earned a degree in economics, then was off to Boston.

“Why economics?” I asked.

“The fewest and shortest papers,” he said. “I’m a very good writer, but not very good at tackling large writing projects.”

“I ended up working for State Street Bank and Trust…now a pretty significant player in the whole mutual fund (thing),” he added. “I did institutional investing…a portfolio accountant.”

“You’re here in casual wear,” I commented, thinking how un-corporate he looked. “It happens to women, too, at home after high-profile jobs.”

“Every man should have a tuxedo and a couple of suits in his closet, in my opinion,” he said.

“Where do you wear the tuxedo?” I asked.

“Mardi Gras…events at the Canadian embassy when I lived in B.C. area,” he said. “Wore it on a cruise on formal night. It’s nice to get dressed up.”

Casual suits Jim, whose boyish looks at 38 give him an easy-going style.

“I managed to follow the recession around the country,” he joked, telling me about his move from Boston to Atlanta.

“Boston was one of the most expensive air travel markets in the country—$600 and something for a plane ticket or a three-day drive to visit my parents,” he added. “I was making $19,000 a year. Not a lot of money, and a long way from family. My mom grew up in Georgia, and her sister still lived there.”

He wanted to work for the Olympics.

“The Olympics were pretty much all volunteer,” he said. “I couldn’t pay my bills. But looking for a job isn’t my strong point, either,” he confessed.

So he worked a political campaign.

“I did a lot…for the Clinton and Bush campaigns,” he said. “It was interesting. Then, a friend of mine from Houston was writing software…looking for someone to work in marketing. I applied over the phone, accepted the offer, and moved to Houston.”

“You like variety,” I said.

“I get bored quickly,” he said.

After four years in Houston, he enrolled for an MBA at the University of Texas in Austin.

“Were you a party guy at school?” I asked.

“No, no, no,” he said. “I’ve never been a party guy. Never been a guy who likes to go hang out in bars. Bars are smoky, loud and expensive.”

“How did you meet people?” I asked.

“I joined a mega church,” he said.

“Good place to meet people,” I commented.

“It is. Usually fairly nice people, too.”

He loved Austin.

“The only place in Texas I would go back to,” Jim said. “People are more open-minded there. There are the conservative fundamentalists—not religious—political. Then, there are the liberal fundamentalists, which I also have a problem with.”

Then, an opportunity to “get rich, working for an Internet start-up, arose. I moved to D.C. in January 2000.”

He lived a mile west of the Pentagon.

“I liked it a lot,” Jim said of D.C. “Lots to do—an electrically-charged area. I didn’t tune in to the whole political thing too much.”

Still no satisfactory career niche. When the technology bubble burst, Jim moved to Rockford.

“Michelle and I were seeing each other…we had a customer gig together,” he said. “That’s when things started to click. We got to where I was either coming out here, or Michelle was flying out there once a week. We got engaged before I moved here.”

Initially, Jim worked as a server at Rockford Chop House, then added MCI telemarketing.

About a month before marrying, Michelle told him they weren’t getting married if he didn’t have a job.

“Oh, you meant that?” he said.

Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at

From the Nov. 29 – Dec. 5, 2006, issue

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