Before he was Batman, before he was Birdman or Beetlejuice, Michael Keaton was “Mr. Mom.” In a barely-remembered 1983 hit film, Keaton played the part of a laid off and laid-low husband who uses his professional failure as an opportunity to play domestic doormat, and the ensuing comedy of errors checks each rote box in its mission to give our once-proud protagonist a lesson in home economics. What if he cooked and ironed, and maybe even plugged in a vacuum? My, the montages we could have!
Andrew VandenHeuvel has probably never seen Mr. Mom, at least partially because he probably doesn’t have time, or a LaserDisc player, for that matter. The thirty-odd years that have passed since Mr. Mom introduced the world to a curiosity known as the “female breadwinner” have moved the impression of stay-at-home dads away from wacky, apron-wearing dance numbers and into the common consciousness where it rightly belongs.
Andrew is part of a growing number of Fox Valley stay-at-home dads, and perhaps one of its most visible. When the thirty-year-old was laid off from his IT job in 2012, it closely coincided with his wife’s discovery that she was pregnant with twins. Not one to content himself with balancing his twin boys on his giant hands — which he absolutely does, and pretty well, might I add — the VandenHeuvel’s followed up the double arrival with a solo act, meaning that they have three boys all under the age of four.
By and large, being a stay-at-home dad to three young boys is comprised of a lot of busy work. You have to keep the boys entertained. You’ve got to tire them out whenever you can. And, if you’ve got a wife who works long hours as a pharmacist, you’d better take pictures of said tiring-out. Bringing all of these loose threads together led Andrew to his next passion project: He was going to take his kids to every park in the Fox Valley, he was going to photograph and document it, and he was going to share the intel he gathered with anyone who wanted it.
The results can be found at Parks.AndrewVandenHeuvel.com, and so far, more than fifty parks have been given Andrew’s discerning once-over. Spanning a pretty broad swath of the Fox Valley, the site offers 360-degree photos of each park and valuable information such as the surface type, number of swings and bathrooms, and a general description of sun and shade. About the only thing a new parkgoer would think to ask is the relative number of nearby bullies, since some of us used to really draw bullies like moths to a skinny, loudmouthed flame.
To hear Andrew tell it, the website was a natural extension of his former life as a stay-at-work husband. As it turns out, his background in technology and hobby as a photographer dovetail quite nicely with his current gig as a hands-on dad. He laughs off suggestions that he find a way to monetize it, or that he see it as anything other than a resource that he happily offers to other like-minded parents.
“Honestly, when we started going to parks, we didn’t really know what to expect when we got there,” he explains. “So the site was a way to fill a need, I guess. It started with just a few parks, then twenty-five, and then I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll just do all of them.’”
Given his current rate of exploration, overviews of all of the area’s parks will likely be done soon. This begs a few obvious questions: Does he have any favorites? Any that he simply doesn’t care for? Are bullies as menacing and into titty-twisters as I remember?
Andrew, for his part, isn’t quick to outright recommend or disavow any park, instead following the three mop-tops that hold the most sway. “The boys seem to prefer whatever park we went to last,” Andrew said “so we tend to visit parks more than once. I tend to like the ones that have a good mix of sun and shade, ones that have water fountains and good bathrooms. I’m probably easier to please than the boys are.”
As for any association with the “Mr. Mom” portrait — a portrait that, it must be said, really takes the gas out of moms and dads alike — it’s a portrayal that Andrew takes in stride. Being a stay-at-home dad, he freely admits, wasn’t what he or his wife, Sarah, had initially planned. Neither had expected twins so soon after being married either, but life has a way of dictating and directing destinations in ways that no Hollywood throwaway could properly do justice. And, for Andrew VandenHeuvel, that destination, more often than not, has slides and a swingset.
“The way I see it,” he concludes with an unmistakable air of satisfaction, “I get to hang out with my kids more than a lot of dads. And as long as they enjoy going to parks with me, I’ll enjoy taking them there.”
To see the Andrew’s entire directory of Fox Valley parks, visit Parks.AndrewVandenHeuvel.com.