When Daycare Closed, a Father Rediscovered His Daughter

When Daycare Closed, a Father Rediscovered His Daughter

WHEN DAYCARE CLOSED, A FATHER REDISCOVERED HIS DAUGHTER

Text by Christina Caron, Photographs by Rosem Morton

When it came to child care, Young Choi and his wife, Samantha DuFlo, had fallen into a predictable routine.

Choi, 47, a barber, would drop off their 18-month-old daughter, River, at day care around 9 a.m. before heading into work. At the end of the day, DuFlo, 36, who owns a physical therapy practice in Baltimore, would pick up their daughter, feed and bathe her, and put her to bed. Her husband usually didn’t get home until after 7 p.m., when River was already asleep.

Like many heterosexual couples, they relied on traditional gender roles when dividing their caretaking responsibilities, and most of the tasks, like potty training, meals and laundry, fell to DuFlo.

Samantha DuFlo spends some time with her daughter before getting ready to leave for work. Her husband, Young Choi, has been their daughter’s primary caretaker for the past three months. 
Samantha DuFlo spends some time with her daughter before getting ready to leave for work. Her husband, Young Choi, has been their daughter’s primary caretaker for the past three months. Credit…Rosem Morton

But that was before the pandemic.

In March, Maryland started shutting down to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and everything changed. DuFlo had to quickly figure out how to move her business to a virtual platform and stay afloat for the duration of the closure. Their daycare closed, and they were left without child care.

So, in less than 24 hours, DuFlo and her husband redefined their roles. Choi, who wasn’t cutting hair anymore, became River’s primary caretaker, teacher and “boo-boo healer.” DuFlo locked herself in their bedroom to get her work done, emerging only when River took a nap.

River, 18 months, sometimes likes to be on the move when she’s eating.
River, 18 months, sometimes likes to be on the move when she’s eating.Credit…Rosem Morton
With a toddler afoot, cleaning the floor becomes a family affair. “Whenever she picks up the broom, it’s my cue to pick up the vacuum and start vacuuming,” Choi said.
With a toddler afoot, cleaning the floor becomes a family affair. “Whenever she picks up the broom, it’s my cue to pick up the vacuum and start vacuuming,” Choi said.Credit…Rosem Morton

“Initially there was a lot of intervening,” said DuFlo. When her husband and daughter were playing in their backyard, for example, it was “not unusual to hear me banging on the window” and “momming from afar.”

It wasn’t easy for Choi either. The first week, River said “no” a lot and he quickly started feeling stressed in what he said seemed to be a real-life version of the movie “Groundhog Day.”

“I’m watching my daughter from morning till night,” he said. “How do I keep her stimulated but not overtax her with activities?”

But soon Choi said he began to enjoy his new role as nurturer. They went on long walks at 7:30 a.m., made morning glory muffins, sorted uncooked noodles and learned new words.

River wakes up early, usually before 6 a.m., so a morning walk is always part of Choi’s routine. 
River wakes up early, usually before 6 a.m., so a morning walk is always part of Choi’s routine. Credit…Rosem Morton
Choi and his daughter often bake together. On the menu: morning glory muffins made from carrots, raisins, nuts, flax seed and coconut oil.
Choi and his daughter often bake together. On the menu: morning glory muffins made from carrots, raisins, nuts, flax seed and coconut oil.Credit…Rosem Morton
Choi discovered that his daughter loves playing with raw noodles. And he likes them because they don’t create a mess.
Choi discovered that his daughter loves playing with raw noodles. And he likes them because they don’t create a mess.Credit…Rosem Morton

Choi is one of many dads serving as a primary caretaker during the coronavirus pandemic. An online survey conducted at the end of May by Morning Consult for The New York Times found that 27 percent of the 268 dads surveyed in the United States said they were mostly responsible for child care.

Rosem Morton, 29, a friend of DuFlo’s who is also a nurse and freelance photojournalist, became interested in documenting how the family’s dynamic had changed.

“They are surviving by taking it a day at a time, with so many beautiful moments sprinkled in between. I think this represents all of us in the time of coronavirus,” said Morton, who took photos of the family over two days in June. “We are resiliently trying to make do with the cards we are dealt with. While it is hard, it can be beautiful too.”

Slide 1 of 91/9

Young Choi asking his daughter, River, to point out her nose. Ever since River’s daycare closed in March, Choi has been serving as her primary caregiver and teacher. Credit…Rosem Morton

  • Slide 1 of 91/9Young Choi asking his daughter, River, to point out her nose. Ever since River’s daycare closed in March, Choi has been serving as her primary caregiver and teacher. Credit…Rosem Morton
  • Slide 2 of 92/9Choi offers River a snack as he talks on the phone. Multitasking has become a big part of their daily routine. “It is so hard to be a parent,” Choi said. Credit…Rosem Morton
  • Slide 3 of 93/9Samantha DuFlo, Choi’s wife, returns home after spending the day running her physical therapy practice. Young, a barber, is also transitioning back to work, but unlike DuFlo, he is only going in two days a week. Credit…
  • Slide 4 of 94/9Playing with River in the afternoon. “This is around the time I feel tired,” Choi said. Credit…Rosem Morton
  • Slide 5 of 95/9Choi helps River put on her shoes before they head outside. Credit…Rosem Morton
  • Slide 6 of 96/9DuFlo watches her daughter apply sunscreen, something Choi taught River to do.  Credit…
  • Slide 7 of 97/9It’s time to change River’s diaper, but she has other plans. Credit…Rosem Morton
  • Slide 8 of 98/9Choi and his daughter sometimes spend time at an empty baseball field because playgrounds are still closed. Credit…Rosem Morton
  • Slide 9 of 99/9DuFlo and River share a close bond. When DuFlo took a step back from being River’s primary caretaker, it was initially tough on both of them. Credit…

For Choi, having more time with his daughter has strengthened their bond. “Being a dad, I think it’s so special and amazing,” he said.

Other fathers have expressed similar sentiments. A recent survey conducted by Making Caring Common, a project run by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, suggested that almost 70 percent of the 284 U.S. fathers surveyed said they felt closer to their children during the coronavirus pandemic than they did beforehand.

A follow-up survey asked a different group of fathers about the ways they were feeling closer. The dads reported that they were not only appreciating their kids more, but also developing shared interests. They were taking walks, talking more and playing games together.

“I sort of feel like it took a pandemic for many fathers to start to talk to their kids more about important things,” said Richard Weissbourd, the faculty director of Making Care Common and the lead author of the study.

Choi has always been a loving dad. He likes wearing a bracelet with River’s name on it, a Christmas gift from DuFlo. It always “puts a smile on my face,” he said. But during the pandemic, he said, he has become even more in awe of his daughter and inspired by her, too.

Choi wears a bracelet with River’s name on it, a Christmas gift from his wife. Looking at the bracelet always makes him smile, he said, and that was especially true when he was away from his daughter at work. 
Choi wears a bracelet with River’s name on it, a Christmas gift from his wife. Looking at the bracelet always makes him smile, he said, and that was especially true when he was away from his daughter at work. Credit…Rosem Morton

“It’s been incredible to see her development,” added Choi, who said the joys and trials of caretaking had helped him become more compassionate and patient over the last few months. “As much as she’s learning, I’m learning just as much from her.”

In mid-May DuFlo went back to the office full-time, and last week Choi returned to the barber shop, though he’s only going in a couple times a week. The family says they aren’t going to fall back into their old patterns, where DuFlo does most of the caretaking. Instead, they said, they’ll create a new normal.

“I want to do this and be involved and be a better parent and a better father,” Choi said.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Choi was cutting hair five days a week. Now that the state is reopening, he works two days a week and continues to provide child care to his daughter. 
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Choi was cutting hair five days a week. Now that the state is reopening, he works two days a week and continues to provide child care to his daughter. Credit…Rosem Morton
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