Traditional gender roles take a backseat to real circumstances in some cases, and with stay-at-home dad Thomas “K.J.” Karjola, it’s all about making the best of a non-traditional gender role and adapting.
Karjola, of Stockton, is a former welding equipment technician, a job that required him to travel for six to eight months out of the year in order to make electronics repairs on broken or otherwise defunct equipment. Most of what Karjola, 38, did centered around maintenance of equipment inside nuclear power plants when those plants would be temporarily shut down. Karjola’s wife Megan is an obstetrician/gynecologist and recently left the military when the family moved to Tooele County. Between her residency to become a doctor and Karjola’s traveling, the two of them knew that one parent needed to stay at home with the kids.
“We had a child basically being raised without either one of his parents around,” Karjola said. “It just made sense for one of us to stay home. She was a doctor so there really was only one option.”
The Karjolas have three children: Christian, 9, Matthew, 7, and Nicholas, 4. Right now, Karjola does a little running around with taking the kids to school, and he knows as they get older and start playing sports the running around will only get more intense. One advantage Karjola does have is that his wife’s parents now live with them. He said it’s something they haven’t had in their other locations.
“We now have a support structure like we’ve never had,” Karjola said. “We’ve never had family or friends in the area.”
He said running around the country as a military family contributed to the lack of a support unit, but now that his wife is out of the military and the family is a permanent fixture in Tooele County, support from outside sources is something they can now count on. Before moving to Tooele County in September, the family was in Florida for three years. Before Florida the family lived in Idaho for four years and Mississippi before that. Just before leaving Mississippi in January 2005 was when Karjola decided to end his electronics career and start his stay-at-home dad career.
Karjola performs the typical duties one would expect from a stay-at-home parent, such as getting the kids ready for school, taking them to school, picking them up and cleaning the house. Karjola also has an additional duty not found on the usual daily chore list. The family owns five alpacas that Karjola takes care of during the day. When he and his wife moved the family to Stockton they found the alpacas for sale and bought them.
He said it gets hectic and he sometimes wishes he could go back to work, but he said he and his family are fortunate to be in a place where both parents don’t have to be working. He knows that a lot of people are in bad situations so he’s grateful for the comfortable situation he does have. Getting to this point took a bit of transition because being the stay-at-home parent was hard on Karjola. He took criticisms from former co-workers and even his own parents.
Karjola wrote a paper for his English class while returning to school in 2007 about being a stay-at-home dad. He wrote in his paper, “Most of my co-workers were union welders. These were blue-collar working men who sacrificed their backs, eyes and time with their wives and children to earn a paycheck to support their families. They took pride in the fact that they were the men of the house, even if they were gone for months at a time. Even before I knew I would quit to go home and raise my then only son, I caught grief from these guys. I heard things such as, ‘How does it feel to know your wife is going to leave you once she becomes a real doctor?’ or ‘How can you stand knowing your wife will be making more money than you?’ After revealing my intentions of quitting work to be at home with my family, any respect these men had for me was gone. … Even the reactions of our family members were not always supportive. My dad didn’t quite seem real thrilled with this situation at first, but he stopped giving me suggestions on where I could go to work. He has either come around or my mom has told him to put a cork in it.”
But Karjola has been at this new job for almost eight years, and he’s found other things to do around the house during his “stay-at-home daddery,” as he calls it in his college paper. Karjola built a wood shop in his garage where he plans to expand on his carpentry hobby. His wife gave him the idea to start selling some of his wood products from chairs, benches, tables and even doors. The wooden fence slats that surrounded his backyard were unpleasing to Karjola’s eyes so he’s started using those to make other things, including the door that leads to where the family keeps the alpacas.
Karjola said even though being a stay-at-home dad can be hard sometimes, it’s worth it to him.
“Some days it’s tough,” Karjola said. “But I really like it. You’re not answering to a corporation. This is mine and my wife’s house, and we get to run it our way. We don’t have to worry about people up the chain of command. It’s nice to have the freedom to just drop everything and take the kids and go out and do something fun.”