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A new Family tradition

Stay-at-home dad creates role model

Posted: Sunday, June 19, 2005

 

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  Kami watches from atop a truck as her father Dan saws logs for the family's home in Sterling. Martin has built the family's home by hand while helping to raise his children. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Martin does most of the family's cooking.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"Once a upon a time ..." is how Dan Martin — 52, father of four, husband of Suzanne, and voracious reader — would begin many of the thousands of stories he has spent telling or reading to his children, Kennison, Kristoffer, Kimberly, Karalee and Kamala (Kami), as a stay-at-home dad for the past 19 years.

If a book were to be written about him, it would be a combination of many of the different genres that can be found in the family's extensive library, which numbers more than 1,000 books.

"Parenting: Do What Works for Your Family" could be the title of the couple's philosophy on how their family dynamics work. They are a team and decide what is best for the kids.

 

Dan Martin, right, makes his daughter Kami happy with news that the two are going outside to play after showing a visitor some of the many books Martin has collected. Martin is a stay-at-home dad who will observe yet another Father's Day today.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

They also believe if you teach your children good principles, they will always follow them or come back to them, because they have the knowledge of right and wrong.

"If you address a child's needs, not their wants, then they are generally happier," Dan said. "We are here to be their parents, not their friends."

"My dad is the head of our household. My parents decide what is best, then they do the jobs that they are suited for," said Kimberly, 19, who is in the Navy and currently studying mandarin Chinese while stationed in California.

Suzanne, 48, has taught at Sterling Elementary for 10 years and has a master's degree in education. She has spent years studying the effects the role a father has in their children's lives.

 

When he's not working, Martin has been able to spend time playing with his children. Kami is the family's youngest and will start kindergarten next fall.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

"Girls that have dads in their lives tend not to go hunting outside affection so much, and lets (men) know more how a girl or woman should be treated if they were treated well by their dad," she said.

"We didn't plan for Dan to be the one to stay home. He fell in 1987 and injured his back at work," Suzanne said. "I was closer to my teaching degree so we swapped roles. It was practical and just made sense."

A devote member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dan said he believes everything happens because God has a plan for him and his family, and that his life has been a series of events that have taught him skills that would prepare him for taking on the role he describes as "chief cook and baby-watcher."

Chapter 1

 

Kami watches from atop a truck as her father Dan saws logs for the family's home in Sterling. Martin has built the family's home by hand while helping to raise his children.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Dan grew up the second youngest of seven boys. His father was a trapper, his mom a full-time housewife. The family followed his dad across Oregon, Utah, Washington and Idaho in search of fur.

"In the process, we had to help Mom out. We cooked, cleaned and learned to sew," Dan said. "It is what our family did. We helped each other out and took care of each other."

He said growing up Mormon gave him a sense of being secure, and with his family's encouragement he felt that all things were possible. Their support continued even when Dan decided to take on the role as full-time parent and Suzanne as the wage earner. He tries to support his children in the same manner.

Kristoffer, 21, a freelance graphic artist living in Anchorage, is slightly in awe of his dad's unwavering belief in him.

"When I got out of the Navy, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but he is so supportive of anything we want — it's almost nauseating," he said. "It makes you want to succeed, just so you won't let him down."

Keeping in the tradition of his faith, Dan went on mission when he was 19 to Argentina. When he returned to the states, he became an ambulance driver. His interest in medicine led him to join the Navy as a hospital corpsman.

A good thing, too, as this is where he would meet his future wife, and romance and comedy would enter into his life story.

Chapter 2

They are sure their meeting was planned by the hand of God.

"I was looking for a Protestant church and on a base the chapel serves as many churches, I got the wrong meeting time and went. When I found out it was a Mormon meeting, I didn't want to be rude and leave. Besides, I had a huge crush on Donnie Osmond," Suzanne said.

At the end of the service, Dan saw her in line and saved her from a deluge of questioning by the bishop.

"I knew when I saw her that I was going to marry her," Dan said.

"I am glad he knew, because I was just 19 and not looking for anything serious. He was four years older than I, but he had a car and it was my ticket off base," Suzanne said.

A few months later, they would decide to marry, and Suzanne converted.

"Our beliefs were already the same, and we came from stable backgrounds with families that supported each other. He loved kids and I loved him," Suzanne said.

"When I told my roommate I wanted him to be the father of my children, I knew it was right."

So the the old school rhyme goes, "First came love, then came marriage, then came babies to fill the carriage." And, according to Dan, a whole new dimension and adventure into his life.

Chapter 3

Suzanne also came from a large family. She was the youngest of seven. She and Dan loved kids.

"Dan wanted 12, I said five," she said.

Dan said he always loved kids and his role as a father is most important to him.

Suzanne said Dan was so in tune with the kids and her that he could always tell what she was having.

"Five for five even before ultrasounds, that is pretty amazing, but he just knew," she said. "He loves the kids, and he is a great dad."

Kennison arrived in December 1978, just as the couple left the Navy. Kristoffer followed in November 1983, Kimberly in November 1985 and Karalee in March of 1987.

During those years, the couple moved from place to place as Dan found work to support the growing family and he and Suzanne worked on continuing their educations. Dan's ability to think on his feet and his fearlessness at trying new things earned him the reputation by his family.

"Dad is a jack-of-all trades, he evens makes his own lumber," Kennison said.

"He is so capable. He can do anything and it will be in his own way. Like the house, he had a chain saw, bought an attachment and now we have a five-bedroom, two-story house that will eventually take over Sterling," Kristoffer said.

Until his injury, Dan worked as a gun smith, private investigator, EMT volunteer, custodian, carver, logger, truck driver, full-time dad when his wife was in school and a student.

Chapter 4

If the drama and suspense of raising a family of four wasn't enough, a fall at work caused Dan to give up working full time. He walked with a cane for three years, and the pain in his back kept him from continuing educational pursuits.

"He tried so hard after the accident to keep working, but it didn't make sense when he was so capable of caring for the kids and I was just a year and a half from my degree," Suzanne said.

Dan takes to his role with the gusto of a writer who has just found a blank page. Already an active parent — helping with diapers, running kids to activities and other day-to-day interactions, the full-time setting just meant more time to be in the kitchen, with the kids and to build a home.

Kennison, 26, who is married, lives in Chicago with his wife, Elizabeth, and works as a computer network administrator, was 7 when his dad became his full-time caretaker.

He said there are three things that stand out in his memory: his dad would spend time as much time out in the woods exploring as they wanted; the hundreds of hours spent reading or being read to; and the meals.

"My mom can't cook. She could burn macaroni and cheese," Kennison said. "And he makes everything from scratch. He even grinds his own flour. I would say, 'Hey Dad, there's nothing here to eat,' and he would say, 'What are you talking about? There's flour, water, eggs ... .' Then pretty soon there would be a whole meal — bam! — out of nothing."

Dan's cooking — especially his polenta, a south American dish — is the talk of the family, even if they are unable to put their finger on just what it is about it that makes it so good.

"You can't get a recipe from him because he doesn't make anything the same way twice," Kennison said.

"No recipes, just this and that. About the only thing he makes the same that I request when I go home is polenta — a corn, chili, cheese viscose slop stuff that is great," Kristoffer said.

"Dad can make or do anything. He is also our protector."

And what kind of story would it be without a hero?

Chapter 5

Super dad is the way the Martin kids describe their dad, whether he is helping ward off sickness or chasing bad dreams away with stories, they all agree he goes out of his way to make them feel safe and loved.

Karalee, 18, still at home until she leaves for the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the fall to study music education, looks back on the times with her dad with wistfulness.

"When I would be sick, he would stay up all night. He would be there until I was well. He would make up stories to make the time pass, to entertain me. My favorite is "The Beetle Bubs" stories. They are aliens that travel all over and visit different planets," she said. "He is the most compassionate man I know."

Kristoffer agreed.

"I had a fear of bees, and I was a bee magnate. Dad would come out of nowhere and take them down. Once, when we were outside working and he was using a blow torch, this huge hornet was after me. I ran past Dad and in a blink he whirled around and it was fried. I always felt safe."

Dan doesn't view his role as provider and protector of his brood any differently as when he was working outside the home.

"I still watch over and wait up for them no matter how late they come home," he said.

However, he has learned to contend with the looks and the "Why would you choose to stay at home?" questions.

"Probably because I am a guy at home I get a lot more questions," Dan said. "But I just would ask them does your day start at 5:30 a.m. and end at midnight? That usually ends the questions."

Dan's days include cooking, shopping, housework, homework, building on the house, reading, telling stories and volunteering at school. In the summer, Suzanne's schedule changes and takes over most of the child care, so he can work on the house.

The kids say they are hard pressed to think of a time when it bothered them or their friends that their dad stayed at home.

"I love having my dad at home. It makes our family special and different. We didn't miss out on anything, because my mom is here for us, yet we got to have experiences with my dad that we wouldn't have had otherwise. He let us try anything we were interested in," Karalee said.

"My friends where accepting of him. He was cool. It was never an issue. He made it comfortable so everyone else was comfortable with it, too," Kennison said.

Kennison and his wife plan to follow in his dad's footsteps.

"I feel that I am pretty successful for my age, but the reality of (having children) is that my wife will make ... more (money) than I, so I will still stay home and raise the kids," he said. "It is something I am confidant that I can do because of what my dad taught me."

For Kimberly, having a dad that you can even talk to about boys and bikinis makes her dad a hero.

"You can talk to him about anything. He always takes time to listen to you and consider what you have to say. Many kids are not so lucky," she said.

Then, when the family settled into a routine and everyone was comfortable and in a groove, the couple collaborated on a sequel ...

Chapter 6

In December 1999, the Martins added yet another addition to the house — Kami.

Suzanne said she was in disbelief and tears, worried about starting over.

For Dan it was just another affirmation that God was in control of their lives and had bigger plans.

"He was so happy, he would get to be a dad for many more years. He was so good to me and had cared so well for the kids before her, that I knew it would be fine," Suzanne said.

So Dan began again, a new little girl to sing his special songs to, read stories with and to teach to fish.

Another generation of neighbor kids to have over, drive around and be surrogate dad to.

A new set of teachers to build sandboxes, shelves, music stands for and trips to help chaperone.

With Kami going into kindergarten this fall, Dan will have more time to explore what he is interested in, such as painting, writing, carving and learning to make custom knives.

Whatever he pursues, Kristoffer is sure he will be successful.

"Forget thinking outside of the box. He sees no box," he said. "There are no walls or barriers to his thinking. That is how he gets things done and always in his way."



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