A father and child riding a bike.


I’m an Ugly Mother

Nov 13, 2017

My friend Jim is a real ugly mother.

Let me explain: A few years back, he was having a brain tumor removed and offered to drop by my place to flaunt his scars. “I could scare your kids into behaving all day,” he boasted. That’s Jim. He is always eager to lend a hand and put a pleasant, if not conventionally beautiful, face on adversity.

Yes, this story is about 'Ugly Mothers'. But it is not about people who are actually ugly, nor is it about people who are actually mothers. The name is tongue-in-cheek, inspired by the 1987 film Predator. Jim is a stay-at-home dad. He’s also an awesome parent, so I was chuffed when he asked me to help him establish a social club for stay-at-home dads. We don’t have a formal manifesto, but if we did, here’s what it might look like:

The Ugly Momifesto 


An Ugly Mother is any father who takes on at least 50 per cent of childcare duties. You don’t have to wash every dish or pack every lunch, but if your target isn’t parity, or better, you do not receive the secret decoder ring. The At-Home Dad Network defines their members in a similar way. And, yes, that means we aren’t strictly stay-at-home dads. We could be in a two-income home where the father takes more of a domestic lead, or we could be single parents. People wear many hats these days. We aim for inclusion.


Ah, that first time someone asks you what you really "do" for a living… It. Is. Awkward. The second time, too. We’ve been there. And, if you aren’t independently wealthy there is a good chance you do something else on the side. That’s great. Take pride in that, but don’t minimize your childcare work. You owe that recognition to all at-home parents.


I like to joke about the man code. The code is nasty and unspoken: To require help is an indignity, to ask for help is a disgrace and to offer help unprompted to another man is a special brand of humiliation. The man code is evil and self-destructive. Even the most capable people need help. Your kids will need help, but so will you. Ask for it.


We know we’re not moms. And we aren’t trying to be. We’re dads. But the stay-at-home part is still pretty new to us. It can be scary. Just about every role model you know will have been an at-home mom. And—let’s face it—maleness can often be reduced to simply not being a woman, but we're trying to channel the strength of every woman who mothers her heart out. 'Ugly Mother' is just a clever moniker that Jim cooked up to navigate the fraught and disorienting landscape of at-home fatherhood. An “ugly mother” sounds like a guy you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, but to us it actually describes a dude struggling to channel his inner “mom”.


Some moms are gonna be pretty impressed with what you are trying to do. Maybe they’re at home, too. Maybe they’re working and could use a hand on the home front. Some mothers will even go out of their way to tell you you're doing an awesome job. Take the compliment, because you’ll need it handy the next time someone makes you feel like a loafer. But whatever confidence these friendly words may bring, don’t forget the moms who are rocking this parent thing twice as hard as you for half the praise.


It can get lonely. This Ugly Mother thing is still pretty new and you might struggle with your identity as a man and as a parent. Not everyone is going to understand. Find another Ugly Mother and be their friend. Maybe that means becoming a regular at a daytime playgroup or talking to another dad in line at Tim Horton’s. Or take a lesson from my friend Jim’s playbook. For him, a brain tumor was a great excuse for an impromptu visit. Whatever inspires you to invite yourself over to a fellow Ugly Mother's home, do as Jim did and scare someone’s kids. You won’t regret it.


Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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